What’s Cookin’?: Kitchen Aids for the Visually Impaired

Some people find cooking intimidating. It requires culinary skills and knowledge of safe practices, topped with a bit of artistry. But we all have to eat to live. And since you have to eat every day, several times a day, it doesn’t hurt to improve your cooking ability or expand your repertoire of choices.

When you are visually impaired, you may have to find ways to do things in the kitchen that are different from the traditional method. While you do need to consider your safety a bit more, it’s not impossible to be a vibrant cook. You can find cooking information and inspiration online, buy gadgets that make life easier or make use of appliances that are compatible with the philosophy of universal design.

Cooking Without Looking: Information and Inspiration

Take a trip to www.cookingwithoutlooking.net. There you’ll find recipes, replays of shows, and excellent blog reviews of kitchen appliances. Cooking Without Looking is a show that used to be on PBS and now lives on through the internet.

According to the “about” page on their website, the show’s format is this, “Three hosts who are either Blind, Low Vision or Visually Impaired provide cooking tips, vision information, etc. along side our “guest chefs”…regular everyday people who are also blind, low vision or visually impaired as they prepare their special recipe, and provide cooking/vision-related tips.”

The website incorporates links to the show as well as some practical information. They have recipes that are low-vision preparation friendly, as well as a few reviews that discuss the positives and negatives of using different types of kitchen gadgets and appliances. They also include their phone number so you can contact them with any questions about the show.

Reading Labels and Directions

Trying to read the small print on consumer packages can be difficult, or even impossible. Fortunately, Directions for Me by Horizons for the Blind has been working to solve that problem. Directions For Me provides labeling information in a simplified format that is accessible online.

Their website says, “Directions For Me was designed to be completely accessible, with text-to-speech screen readers, magnifiers and braille displays as well as web-enabled cell phones. This information is presented in a uniform, easy-to-use format and eliminates features that hinder accessibility.”

One neat feature found on the website is the ability to connect it to a barcode scanner. This allows you to bypass searching for items in their “categories” section. With the scanner feature, you can plug in a scanner to your USB port and simply scan the barcode on the item to pull up its information.

Kitchen Gadgets

Kitchen gadgets usually focus on improving the safety or ease of cooking. There are plenty of items that were made for the general public, but that also improve kitchen accessibility for the visually impaired.

Sharp items, like knives, can be especially problematic. It’s important to keep your fingers and hands safe when slicing, so blades that come with guides are helpful. For example, the  Deli Pro Stainless Steel Knife comes with a slicing guide that is easily adjusted by turning a knob. The guide also stands out from the side of the knife and helps support the food as you’re cutting, which keeps your fingers away from the blade.

The Instant Pot, which is a very popular all-in-one pressure cooker and crockpot, now makes a model called Instant Pot Smart, which has a Bluetooth feature that allows you to program custom made recipes scripts which you can start wirelessly from an app. Instead of having to manually adjust the cooking function for each step of the recipe, the pot will do it automatically. This function also has the benefit of helping visually impaired users because they can set the pot using the app, which will work in conjunction with their phone’s Voice Over system.

Appliances

One easy hack to modify your kitchen appliances is to buy or make braille stickers to place on microwave or oven buttons. Some people even use stickers to mark the food or containers in their pantry.

Touch-to-see stickers are reasonably priced. And the braille letters and numbers are easy to use because they are pre-printed. All you do is peel and stick. But if you need more customization, or plan on labeling many things throughout your kitchen or home, you may want to invest in an Electronic Braille Label Maker. The label maker allows you to make an unlimited amount of customized stick-on labels. All you have to do is stay stocked up on the vinyl tape.

Besides improving the labeling in your kitchen, you can also improve the general safety of your appliances. Induction stovetops are cooktops that do not heat up. They work by using electromagnetic technology to heat up the pot or pan. This means there is no flame or scalding-hot surface. And not only does it reduce injury, an induction stovetop also heats up more quickly than a standard stovetop, and it conserves energy. It’s a win-win situation.

Many of these kitchen aids not only help someone who is visually impaired to navigate the kitchen, they have elements of universal design that make preparing food safer and easier for all users. Whether you find inspiration online, buy extra gadgets, or modify the appliances in your home, you’ll find that cooking will become a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Photo by Naomi Hébert on Unsplash

Tools For Following Televised Sports When You Are Visually Impaired

Sports fans love to watch a good game. But if you are visually impaired, it is a lot harder to follow the action on the TV screen. As you prepare for that big college rivalry game, Monday night football, or maybe Super Bowl Sunday, there are a few tools you may want to consider adding to your TV-viewing toolbox.

TV Glasses and Monoculars

TV Glasses are specially made glasses that magnify objects from about 10 feet away, to infinity. They are designed to provide clarity for a large viewing area. The glasses give telescoping binocular vision. Models like the SeeTV allow you to individually adjust each eye, giving you the ability to adapt to any discrepancy in vision between the two eyes or any vision changes that may occur in the future. Another benefit to using TV Glasses is that they are hands-free. The only drawback is that the maximum magnification is a little over 2x. If you need something stronger than that, monoculars or telescopes may be a better choice.

Monoculars are another option for magnification but are not usually the best choice when watching TV. Monoculars have a small range of vision. They are typically used for glancing at numbers or details signs in places like restaurants or grocery stores. They are also not intended to be used for sustained viewing because they are handheld, which eventually causes fatigue. All that said, monoculars do provide greater magnification than TV glasses. If your primary concern is reading the score on the screen or getting a close-up view of some stats, a quick glance with a monocular may be just what you need.

Remote Adaptations

“Honey, I can’t find the remote!” Have you ever said that before? Visual impairment isn’t the only reason for losing the clicker. But it doesn’t make it easier to find. Using a chunky, big button remote is one way to make sure you don’t spend too much time feeling around between the couch cushions. The TV Partner is an excellent choice for anyone who wants their remote to be ready at hand. This remote is one of the largest ones on the market. It’ 5.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches long and 2.5 inches high. The keys are  .75 inches tall. The size makes the numbers easy to read and the controller hard to misplace.

Bump dots are another tool that can be used to make your remote easier to navigate. If you don’t want to buy a whole new controller, you can purchase a sheet of Bump-on plastic adhesive dots to mark the most important buttons on your existing remote. This solution only costs a couple of dollars, and it’s simple to use. If you are familiar with your remote’s navigation but struggle to see which end is up, you can put a bump dot on the side that points toward the TV. You could also put a dot near the on/off button, or any other function you use frequently or struggle to find.

Audio Description and Apps

Depending on where you live, some TV stations are now providing video description for a certain number of viewing hours per week. According to the Federal Communications Commission, “FCC rules require local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC located in the top 60 TV markets to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter (about 4 hours per week) of video-described prime time and/or children’s programming. Local TV stations in markets smaller than the top 60 also may provide video description.”  Video description is a narrated description of important visual elements of the TV show.

Of course, if this service is not available for your favorite game, you can fall back on the original version, the traditional radio broadcast. People with visual impairment have been relying on radio broadcasts for years. Radio broadcasts have always included plenty of audio description and lively commentary. If you want, while listening to a radio broadcast, you can even play the game simultaneously on the TV screen, but you’ll want to turn off the volume.

Thanks to modern technology, being able to follow televised sports has also been made easier by apps. To cut to the chase and find game times and scores with no hassle, you might be interested in the app  Sports Scores and Alert. When there is new information on one of the teams you follow, the app can also alert you with a sound. And if you want to listen to that radio broadcast, instead of flipping around, hoping to find the right station, you can use Pro Radio, or College Football Radio Live, both of which allow you to search for radio broadcasts by your team’s name.

Whether you want to enhance your viewing experience through magnification, reduce navigation frustration with more accessible remotes, or just cut to the chase and get commentary and scores through audio descriptions or radio broadcasts, these tools will help you enjoy your televised sports. And if you don’t feel you are well equipped for this viewing season, ILA is happy to help.

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

Knock, Knock. Who’s There?: Doorbell Modifications For The Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The old joke starts off, “Knock, knock.” “Who’s There?” But it’s no joke when someone is knocking at your door, and you can’t hear them. Fortunately, there are solutions. Several modifications can be used for the deaf or hard of hearing. Whether you want to replace your entire doorbell system, prefer an add-on device to magnify your current doorbell, or need something to signal manual knocking, there are plenty of options from which to choose.

Doorbell and Intercom Kits

The first consideration for those who need to adapt their door is to ask if you want to buy an entire system. If so, you may want to purchase a doorbell or intercom kit. If you already have a doorbell, this kit will replace your existing one. If you live in an apartment that has an intercom system, the kit will work with your current system.

A doorbell kit usually includes buttons, speakers, and sometimes a strobe light. Depending on the product, multiple speakers or buttons may be included. Multiple buttons allow you to wire more than one entrance. The extra speakers are for placing in other rooms in your house. Many kits have the option of choosing from different melodies or adjusting the volume.

Intercom kits are meant to be used with existing intercom systems. Typically, the system will be wired so that you receive a flashing light or some other visual indication that someone is pressing the intercom button. Some intercoms are equipped with cameras. If your intercom system does not, you might want to see if you can find an add-on that would allow you to activate a camera to see who is waiting.

Wireless Doorbell Systems

Not everyone wants to replace or modify their existing systems to that degree. If all you need is a little amplification, a wireless system is ideal. Wireless systems are usually installed near the existing doorbell chime. They are quick and easy to add to your home.

A wireless system must include a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter is the part you hang near the doorbell chime. The receiver is usually portable. When someone rings the doorbell, the transmitter sends a radio signal to the receiver. The receiver then alerts you. Receivers usually have adjustable volume and frequency. Sometimes they have a choice of sounds or tunes or even a strobe light feature. Receivers should also be portable, so you can carry them from room to room and never miss a visitor.

Doorbell systems can either come in simple, stand alone packages with a bundled transmitter and receiver, or they can be part of a more comprehensive alerting system that has doorbells as one of several signaling or transmitting alerting triggers.

Door Knock Signalers

But what about people who don’t have doorbells? Door knock signalers are the solution. If you do not have a doorbell, and have no plans of getting one, a door knock signaler is a good choice. Door knock signalers hang over the top of your door. This feature makes them easy to install. It also makes them very portable. You can take them with you on trips to hotels, overnight visits with friends, or even to college. Door knock signalers aren’t made just for entrances or exits. They can be hung on bathroom and bedroom doors as well.

The door knock signaler is all one piece. It does not include a receiver or portable device to carry with you to alerts. The signaler works by lighting up when someone knocks on the door. So you have to be close enough to the door to see the light. Adjustable features may include the sensitivity, or how light of a knock it will detect, and possibly the brightness or flash pattern of the light.

One of these three options should work for most people. If answering the door continues to be a difficult task, you may want to consider getting a service dog to help with alerts, or a more comprehensive alerting system that could include a portable vibrating receiver, a super bright strobe light, or a flashing alarm clock. But in the meantime, trying a couple of different electronic products will give you an idea of what type of door alert system works best for you.

Photo by Brennan Ehrhardt on Unsplash

Four Outdoor Recreational Activities For The Blind Or Visually Impaired

Labor Day is many people’s last opportunity to have some outdoor fun. School is starting, summer vacation is over, and routines are switching back to what we consider our “regular schedule.” But the long weekend holiday provides a final chance for enjoying summer activities before the weather finally changes to fall.

If you are blind, or visually impaired, people may think that you don’t prefer to navigate activities that take place in the vast expanse of nature. Or even the smaller expanse of your yard. That’s why we’ve put together a list of four outdoor recreational activities for the blind or visually impaired. You can share it with your party-planning friends, or use it for your own reference.

Riding A Tandem Bike

“You’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two!”  Tandem bikes allow you to enjoy the recreational benefits of biking while having a navigational guide. Pedaling can provide exercise, but if you have physical limitations, you can also choose to allow the other biker to do most of the propulsion.

Tandem biking is also a good opportunity for socialization. You can enjoy the company of just the person you are riding with, or you can invite a group of friends to join you.

Tandem bikes are available online and at many bike shops and sporting goods stores. They can be as basic or as fancy as you like. If you don’t already own one, you may want to consider making the investment. Or, if you just want to enjoy an afternoon ride over a holiday, check with local stores to see if they have a bike rental program.

Yoga

For a more solitary, peaceful outdoor activity, you may enjoy yoga. Yoga strengthens muscles, improves balance, and helps you practice concentration. Yoga can be done indoors or outdoors, but when the weather is nice, an outdoor session will allow you to experience the soothing sounds and feelings of nature.

And while yoga is often used as a solitary relaxation exercise, if you are in the mood, you could join a group for outdoor yoga, or invite friends to come over and have a yoga session in your yard or at a local park.

Some people are experienced at yoga and able to use a traditional yoga mat, but another good option for the blind or visually impaired is a braille and tactile yoga mat. The Yoga Mat for the Visually Impaired is three dimensional. It has raised and depressed features, called “stations,” that are strategically placed to indicate where the user’s hands, feet, or head should be placed. These stations cover positions for all 24 of the basic yoga poses.

Five-A-Side Soccer

When the weather is nice, a pick-up game of soccer in your yard or local park can be fun.  It’s a great activity to do while waiting for the food to grill during your long-weekend holiday get-together. While you could just kick the ball around, using the five-a-side model gives you a more organized way to play with a smaller group of friends.

In five-a-side, there are four outfield players and a goalkeeper. The rules are flexible because it’s often played informally, and you can adapt your rules to the environment and any special needs. Goals are smaller than in traditional soccer, and game duration is shorter, so you won’t miss dinner to finish out your match. When playing while visually impaired, blindfolds are used to make sure that no one of the players has a visual advantage over the others.

Industry-standard soccer balls with bells are available that allow everyone to know where the ball is whenever it’s in motion. Exactly the same size and weight as a pro ball, these regulation soccer balls provide a consistent soccer experience for everyone, no matter their soccer background or physical abilities.

Basketball

Basketball is an almost seasonless sport. If you grew up with a goal in your driveway, or down the street from a local park, you know that kids will play it in the sweltering heat, or with snow banks piled ‘round. Basketball keeps you in almost constant motion and is one of the most popular Paralympic sports. And basketball has been adapted for the visually impaired through the use of buzzers and bells.

When playing an adapted game of bell basketball, it’s best to limit the court size. That makes bell basketball very suitable for driveway or cul-de-sac games. Ground passes work best for passing the ball, because it gives the passer more control over the ball, and the sound of the bounce gives an auditory clue to the receiver.

You can quickly turn any basketball hoop into and adapted one by using a bell basketball kit. The kit includes a regulation-sized basketball with internal bells. It also has a goal locator (buzzer) that can be placed on the basket, and an extra bell that can be positioned on the net to ring whenever the ball goes through it. You can use the kit on your own personal hoop, or pack it up to bring to your next get-together.

We hope you have the chance to spend time outdoors with your friends and family before that last bit of summer fades. If some of these ideas for recreation were new to you, and you didn’t have the specialized equipment necessary, don’t worry. Prepare ahead for next year and gather the supplies you need to make your next warm-weather holiday an even more enjoyable one.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash