I’ll never forget the first apartment I rented after graduating from college. It had one bedroom, a small bathroom, and a kitchen whose cabinets held enough space for a month’s worth of groceries. My kitchen was brand new and, of course, unusable unless I could learn how to mark its knobs.
I’m very glad I’d bought a stash of labels similar to the ones I used when living in Connecticut for an internship. As my dad, uncle, and I hauled in heavy boxes of books and clothes, Mom adapted the kitchen for me.
After all, “home appliances can sometimes be difficult if you have an eye condition,” says Vision Aware’s website on marking your appliances. “However, you can use products like a Hi-Mark pen (also known as a 3D pen) or bump dots (small colorful raised dots with an adhesive backing) to create bright, tactile markings that are easy to see and feel; this can help you continue to operate appliances on your own.”
For this post, we’ll focus on bump dots. They come in packs of twenty to eighty, depending on the company. Peel back the adhesive and you can find any number of ways to make life that much more accessible. An article on the San Francisco Light House for the Blind’s website tells of several things you can do and I’m sure you may think of others.
1. “Accessorize your home appliances”
I mentioned how my mom went to work on my kitchen that first day I came to my apartment. She put a large dot at the off position and one on the knob’s arrow. If they matched up, then my stove was not running. Then, she put smaller dots at the “low,” “medium,” and “high” positions so that I could correctly set the temperature for boiling water, cooking a hamburger, or scramble some eggs. She marked my oven at fifty dgree intervals, too. Much to my delight, the microwave I used on internship was still labeled.
2. “Enhance your classroom experience”
I can remember one assignment in junior high when we had to identify Indiana’s major highways and interstates, cities, and rivers. I didn’t have an atlas that could show me all these details per se. I’d looked at maps when I was still able to see, so I still had a good idea of my home State’s shape. I was glad to have my parents’ freedom for one Saturday afternoon when we put bump dots along the Wabash and White Rivers. We used large bump dots that looked like those stick-on eyes to mark cities, cut stretches of wire, for the roads, and traced puffy paint or glue (I can’t remember which) around the whole border of Indiana on a map. Years later, as I learned mobility around colleges I attended, my mobility instructors and I used much the same materials to map out sidewalks, buildings, roads, and other scenery.
3. Stick ‘em on a computer keyboard”
Do you remember the first time you sat at a ddesktop keyboard? All the keys looked or felt the same. With the end keys in each row, not to mention that num-pad on the right, it wasn’t exactly obvious where you’d center your hands to type.
We’ve all learned that home row is: a, s, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, ; (semi-colon), and enter. Since your index fingers start on the f and j keys, place a bump dot on each. That way, you can always make sure your hands stay in the same place while your fingers strike whatever other keys you need.
This was so important for me as Ilearned to use a braille display for my job at the Internal Revenue Service a couple decades ago. I’d be typing while talking with someone calling in to resolve their tax issues. So, having little bumps on the f and j keys always refocused me, even if it meant touching them amid a flurry of writing shorthand notes that to which I’d return later when inputting the case’s result into our intranet records. Even though I don’t use those bump dots now as a freelance writer, having them in place then solidified home row in my mind so much that I go to it without a second thought.
4. “Identify different colors”
Are you a braille reader? When labeling the colors on a board game’s surface, you can use bump dots in the shape of their initials: b for blue; w for white, bk for black, r for red, and so forth. Of course, in this or labeling your toaster oven, you can label them using dymotape..
5. “Increase the accessibility of your electronics”
It takes some time to learn how to navigate a cellphone’s flat screen. There’s no way to feel the icons on the screen. Only when you slide your fingers across them can you hear what they are. And what about the buttons on the sides of your phone? As I got used to my first smart phone, and iPhone 7, I had my wife put a small bump dot at the place where I needed to tap twice when answering calls. It was a good place where my fingers could return when checking out other apps. If you wanted, you could put a bump dot on either the up button on the left side of most cellphones to distinguish it from the down button.
6. “Label bottles or other containers”
It’s dinner time and you’re standing at your pantry. You’ve brought out the meat, potatoes, and vegetables you want to cook for dinner. Now it’s time to spice things up. Of course, you could sniff each bottle to identify what’s in it. But that’s going to take a lot of time which might have been better spent waiting for an order from Papa John’s. But no, you do want to cook for yourself.
Some of us use more spices than others. If you’ve only got a few, putting bump dots in the shape of braille letters to initial them might make searching for those spices a whole lot easier. For example: S for salt; P for pepper; C for cinnamon; O for onion powder. Of course, you’ll need a sighted neighbor, friend, or someone from your center for independent living to help you mark things up. Still, having those bump dot identifiers will make you much more confident in the kitchen whether you’re cooking for yourself or having others over for dinner.
I am a totally blind freelance writer and disabilities advocate living with my wife, Amy, in Fort Wayne, IN. My passion is sparking awareness among those who are sighted about the adaptations we who are blind make everyday and encouragement for others who are blind to be bold in navigating life's contours.
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