Teaser: A Look at Laundry Room Accessibility

Date Posted: 11/14/2017

As more and more home appliances turn to touch screen controls, they become less and less accessible to the visually impaired. Sure, you can stick adhesive dots to the controls you use most. You can sometimes even find a braille template to fit over the microwave or oven touchpad control. But workarounds and complete accessibility are two different things.

Recently, when my own washing machine went belly up, I decided it was time to check out what’s new in laundry room accessibility. The news wasn’t encouraging. Several manufacturers now produce "networked" laundry sets—Samsung and LG come first to mind—but good luck finding one of these models that is set up and available for testing. I spoke with several salesmen who were happy to tout the ability of their machines to be controlled by a mobile app, but when I asked, "Is the app screen reader accessible," you can guess the response I received. I could find none with a "demo mode" that would enable me to take a dry run. Needless to say, I am reluctant to spend well in excess of a thousand dollars with the "possibility" that I could use the equipment accessibly.

Happily, there have in fact been a few recent advances that are of interest to the blind consumer. First, many manufacturers are now adding the ability to control laundry and other appliances using spoken Amazon Echo or Google Home commands. A second recent breakthrough is called the Talking Laundry Module, and it enables certain GE washers and dryers to announce each button and dial control as you set or review them.

The unit is available from First Build for $100, and it can work on both the washer and dryer, so you only need to purchase one.

Want to learn more about the Talking Laundry Module and its creator—a curious 13-year-old named Jack? Catch the full story in the November issue of AccessWorld!