My apologies to those of you who enjoy following this blog as I have neglected it some over the past few weeks. Things in the Hartle household have been a little crazy and busy, but so fun. July was exceptionally busy for us. WE spent the first week in Dallas for the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. It was a busy week and a lot of fun to catch up with friends of ours who were also in attendance. I also had a lot of great opportunities to meet and talk with several parents of blind children. As soon as we returned home, it was full on packing mode as I had two weeks to pack up our apartment with a toddler a foot. I put things in, she pulled them out. I think it took twice as long to pack everything. But finally, at the end of the month, we moved into our new home.
We’ve been here now for three weeks, and are still settling in, but we love it. Our first week was spent running errands related to our move and cleaning out our apartment. I spent the next two weeks teaching a Braille summer program for blind and low vision children. More to come on that program as it is a great opportunity for children who otherwise do not receive Braille instruction to learn some of the basics. So needless to say, I feel like I can finally finish unpacking and catch up on a lot of other things.
For me, this is the fun part of the move. I now get to “set up house.” That is, I get to decide where to put things, organize closets, hang up pictures, buy new house items, and so forth. Love it! Being as blindness always seems to affect every aspect of our lives though, I thought I’d share an issue we came across with respect to settling in at our new home–being able to use our appliances independently. A lot of our new neighbors have asked us how we are able to use things in our house, so I thought maybe some of you would find this interesting, or even helpful if you are working with a blind child who is ready to take on some more independent skills around the house.
Before we moved in, we checked the appliances to see how “blind friendly” they were—i.e. no flat screens or panels only. We need things that have tactile buttons or knobs and dials which can be marked in some fashion for us to use them. Most new appliances are all going to flat digital touch screens which are nearly impossible for us to operate. These kinds of displays offer little if any audio feedback, and no tactile references for orientation as to where you are touching on the screen. . Fortunately, even though most of our appliances are new, they checked out okay, but we were going to have a little work to do. So, we purchased some different size bump dot stickers or high bumps as some people refer to them, and some clear labeling tape or dymo tape which we can use to create Braille labels with a Braille writer or slate and stylus. Another option which would work for creating labels is to use sheets of clear contact paper that has an adhesive back. You can write directly on them like a sheet of paper and then cut out the labels. I’m sure it sounds like I’m speaking another language to some of you who might be unfamiliar with these items, but stick with me. These items can be found at most places that sell aids and appliances for individuals who are low vision or blind (like your state division of services for the blind) and office supply stores. . Please check the links I’ve provided to learn more and get a better description. WE purchased ours from the Independence Market at the National Federation of the Blind since my husband works in the building. By the way, you can create the same effect for the high dots with hot glue or puff paint, but it’s a little harder to do nonvisually as you can’t touch the glue or paint to make sure you put it in the right place like you can with a sticker or label,, but if a sighted person like a parent is doing this for a child, these work as good alternatives. Bump or high dot stickers are really handy by the way. They look like little clear raised or convex circles. They also can be removed very easily if you need to remove them in the future.
WE placed little high dots on each of the numbers on the keypad for the microwave (since this is a flat button panel). We then put a larger bump dot on things like the start button, defrost, clear, and the buttons for the light, timer, fan, etc. Since we use these most often, we’ve already memorized which ones are which without putting any kind of Braille label with a letter or word to tell us what key it is, but there are some more advanced settings on the microwave, so for these buttons, we are going to create a Braille label with initials ion it which we can place over a particular button. For example, there is a popcorn button, so on this, I would just Braille a label that said “PC.” Since the labels are clear, anyone who is sighted who may use our appliances can still read what the buttons say.
Our stove is gas and has knobs to turn on the burners, so we didn’t need to add any kind of markers to it. I guess if we wanted to, we could put a small dot at different points to indicate low, medium, or high and one on the knob where the pointer was, and then line the pointer dot up with one of the temperature dots, but we didn’t do this. Actually, because it is gas, it is easy to hear the level of the flame because it hisses and gets softer sounding as you decrease the heat. Our stove’s knobs also turn counter clockwise, so we know that on our stove, medium heat is when the knob is pointed at about six o’clock. In case you are wondering, it’s really easy to turn the burner on too as you can hear the gas click when you first turn the knob and then can hear the flame ignite. I bet a lot of sighted people do this all the time without looking and don’t realize it.
The oven was a little trickier. It has flat buttons and a digital display which tells you the temperature or setting you are using. . Fortunately, our oven always starts its temperature setting at 350 degrees each time, so we always know what temperature we are starting with. Then, we can increase or decrease the temperature by pressing the up or down buttons. The temperature changes in increments of five, and beeps each time you change it. We are able to count the beeps to know what temperature we are setting it to. This wouldn’t work if the oven didn’t always start at 350 degrees. Some new ones now start at the last temperature you used, and we’d never remember that. In any case, we were able to put bump dot stickers on the arrow keys since these are flat panel buttons. We also put a different size dot on some of the main function buttons and will place a Braille label on the other buttons which we won’t use as frequently like the self cleaning button and clock settings.
Our washer is also quite complicated, but usable. It is this brand new energy efficient thing with something like ten different settings—delicates, whitest whites, heavy duty, no spin, etc. It’s been a little trial and error to figure out how to even use this washer, let alone how to label it. Last Sunday I spent fifteen minutes ringing out sopping wet clothes that I had hoped to throw in and dry before church. So, for now until I finish creating the Braille stickers for the face around the dial, I’ve opted to leave the dial on the “quick wash” setting” because this works for everything practically and I just have to hit the start button. By the way, the dial clicks when you turn it to each setting so once I create Braille stickers for each of the settings and place them around the dial; it will be easy to set the washer on various settings.
The dryer and dishwasher were also easy and only required a few dots for us to know where the settings started on the dials, and one on the pointer part of the knob to use for lining up with the setting. So there you have it, a crash course in some of the ways we make things accessible around our house.
Now, you may be wondering how we knew where to put our labels and dots in the first place. Obviously we needed someone to read us things that were written on the appliances and show us where to put the marks. My father-in-law helped with some while he was here helping us move, but there were still some things to figure out. So, I implemented what I thought was a great problem solving technique—I used Skype. My mom and I skype with each other often, so I called her up using a skype application on my iphone. She was able to read all the faces of our appliances and tell me where to mark things. It worked really well. She even took a picture with her webcam of some things and emailed me a list of the words from them so I have a list of what labels I need to make. Once I make the braille labels, (which doesn’t take any time at all), I’ll call her up via Skype again so she can tell me where to place each one. Pretty ingenious I thought. Who knew skype had so many purposes?
Well, I hope you found this interesting, even though it wasn’t the most exciting topic. Hopefully it also may be helpful to those of you with a blind child who would like to see him/her take a more active role around the house with daily chores. Go Braille and go accessible appliances! I guess this means we don’t have any more excuses for that pile of laundry building up in our wash room.