Currently, there are more than 2 million people in the UK who are blind or have severe sight loss. They have very limited options when buying home appliances because few are designed with their needs in mind.
As more companies are moving towards digital displays, options can be even more sparse as these products can be difficult for blind people to use.
That’s not to say that advancing technology isn’t solving problems in other areas. The rise of connected appliances that can be controlled with voice commands is a positive development for many blind people.
But there are other ways to make products accessible to visually impaired users.
Last year, the Research Institute for Disabled Customers (RiDC) created a list of recommended accessibility features for washing machines. The body came up with seven categories of features to look out for, including tactile elements, audio output and simplicity of use.
In a washing machine’s control panel, visual markers can be paired with tactile elements. For example, the fill level markers in the detergent drawer can be raised. A dial may feature a raised marker that can be lined up with raised settings symbols around its circumference. Other visual elements can be simplified and boldly contrasted against the fascia.
Dials can audibly click into place. Buttons can beep and light up when pressed. Machines can also use audio output in the form of tones and alerts, to provide feedback at different stages of the process. For example, an alert can sound to let the user know the washing cycle is complete.
The GuideLine WDD131 WPS was designed with these requirements in mind. It has tactile controls and raised markings, so that it can be read and operated by touch. It also has audible indicators: each selection and setting is accompanied by an individual tone.
The user interface is in two parts. There’s a large dial with 12 wash programmes, each one indicated by tactile dot formations. When a programme is selected, a corresponding tone will sound.
A raised guide line leads the user from the dial to the touch control panel. This controls temperature and additional settings such as a pre-wash and a programmed delayed start.
The machine can be used in conjunction with Miele’s CapDosing technology, to help the user get the correct amount of detergent for any setting.
The GuideLine comes with a full user manual on a USB stick, in the DAISY format. DAISY, the digital accessible information system, is designed to be a complete audio substitute for print material.
The machine is rated A+++ and has an 8kg capacity (that’s the equivalent of 40 t-shirts). Like the brand’s other washing machines, it features Miele’s patented honeycomb drum, which helps to keep clothing snag-free.
In fact, the only snag is the price. At £899, it is not going to be affordable for everyone who would benefit from having an appliance like this. Hopefully, other companies will follow Miele’s lead and start bringing similarly inclusively-designed products to the market.
You can buy the GuideLine WDD131 WPS in the UK from Miele’s website.