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February 2015: Cookers, hobs, ovens and microwaves

Tuesday 3rd February 2015

How  easy are cookers, hobs, ovens and microwaves to use?
 Not always easy enough, says a new step-by-step shopping guide

A new consumer guide, released today, gets to the heart of what makes some cooking appliances easier to use than others. Designed to help people blind and partially sighted people, the guide also reveals that the shopping-around experience isn't as straightforward as it could be.

Choosing Cookers, Ovens, Hobs and Microwaves (1), commissioned by sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust (2), was researched and produced by Rica (the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs) (3).  Based on the real-life experiences and comments of blind and partially sighted people, the guide highlights the pros and cons of different types of appliances and controls, and is packed with practical advice and tips. It is the latest in a series of guides (4) on essential household products.

"Clear markings, clickable controls and easy-to feel features – that's what our panel of people with sight loss would include in their 'desert island' cooker and microwave designs," says Chris Lofthouse, Outreach Manager of Rica.  "Anyone looking for easy-to-use kitchen appliances can use this guide to pinpoint design features that can reduce the obstacles to cooking easily and safely. However, our research for this guide showed that there's no one cooker, oven, hob or microwave with all the features wanted by people with visual impairment. And we want to challenge   designers and manufacturers to build in more design features - benefiting everyone, not just those with sight loss." 

Rica held workshops with 18 blind and partially sighted people aged 22 to 89, to discuss their ideal design features. Then 3 people from the workshops went shopping to see if these features were available. In the shop visits, it was not so easy and people have to be prepared to make compromises to find the appliance that best matched their must-have features. Other experts, including occupational therapists, housing and facilities managers and a kitchen design consultant for disabled people, also contributed to the guide.

“It’s crucial to go to a shop to check things out by touching the appliances and, if you can, talk to a well-informed salesperson. I am quite methodical and like to consider all my options. After visiting 3 stores with Eric from Rica, I now know what I want.”

John, Guide Dog owner and Rica researcher

The new guide provides a useful step-by-step route to choosing all the basic cooking appliances - from thinking through your own needs and resources to understanding the pros and cons of specific designs and finding advice on designing your kitchen.

The guide highlights:

  • Basic considerations: including design choices - eg split level or stand-alone ovens and hobs, the space available, power (gas or electric) and budget.
  • Useful features to look for: eg hobs that clearly define where to stand pans for heating; safety features, such as induction hobs which put heat into the pan and not on the surface of the hob; controls that allow hands to be kept clear of hotplates; and oven shelves that pull out without dropping out.  
  • Features to avoid: modern touch-screen controls with difficult-to-see information displays; red digits on a smooth black surface; handles sticking out that can easily catch on clothes. 
  • Shopping tips: eg think through basic considerations beforehand; find shops where you can touch and feel the product to understand the control layout; understand the importance of talking to a well-informed salesperson.
  • Information sources: eg where to get specialist advice on: kitchen design for people who are sight impaired, installation and grants that may be available.
  • Ideas for useful kitchen accessories:  eg improved lighting, tactile markers and silicon heat shields that protect hands from the edges of cooker shelves.

Lynn Watson, Head of Research, Housing and Community at Thomas Pocklington Trust says: "This new guide is full of useful tips and information for choosing cookers that are easier and safer for people who are sight impaired.  It's one more step in our drive to encourage manufacturers to think about sight loss in all essential household products, something which will be increasingly important as the population ages."

For more information please contact:

Sue Cooper, Thomas Pocklington Trust: 01759368286  sc2323@btinternet.com

Chris Lofthouse, Rica: 020 7427 2467 chrislofthouse@rica.org.uk

Editor's Notes:

1. 'Choosing cookers, ovens, hobs and microwaves'  is available at www.pocklington-trust.org.uk and www.rica.org.uk  

To obtain a printed copy of the guide, members of the public can send a large (A4) self addressed envelope with £1.17    in stamps to: Rica, Unit G03, The Wenlock, 50-52 Wharf Road, London N1 7EU. It is also available as an audio CD and in Braille on request from Thomas Pocklington Trust by emailing research@pocklington-trust.org.uk or telephone 020 8090 9268.

2. Thomas Pocklington Trust is a national charity for people with sight loss.  Its research programme commissions and funds social and public health research initiatives to identify ways to improve the lives of people with sight loss.  www.pocklington-trust.org.uk
 

3.  Rica is a specialist UK consumer research and information charity that focuses on work with older and disabled people www.rica.org.uk

4.  Previous guides produced by Rica with Thomas Pocklington Trust are:  ‘Choosing energy saving light bulbs for your home’ and ‘Choosing central heating controls and saving energy’

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