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Setting Up the Low Vision Kitchen
by Ronda Del Boccio
I've been legally blind all my life, so I've learned some useful skills that help me do the things I enjoy doing independently. Cooking is one of my favorite activities. I don't know my way around a tool shed, but give me food and appliances, and I'm in my element. Limited vision certainly doesn't have to keep you out of the kitchen either. You don't have to buy a lot of expensive adaptive aids. There are plenty of easy, low-cost adaptations, most of which are available at local discount or kitchen stores.
First, think about what you want to do that you can't do now. If your vision is getting worse over time, think of what you used to do when you had more vision but can't do anymore. This will tell you what you need to change. Try to be patient with yourself as you learn to do things differently. Remember, it took time to learn how to tie your shoes. Cooking in a new way is no different.
There is one question you can ask yourself for each change you are considering: What can I do to make this task easier? I'll give you some ideas of adaptations and gadgets that make things easier for me. Some of them may work great for you, and some may not meet your needs. Because everyone's vision is so different, I can't say for certain what item or brand is best for you. Use your best judgment and, if possible, get opinions from people you know.
Mark the spot. You will probably need to mark some or all of your appliances. This is one time when an adaptive aid store is your friend. You may need a sighted person to help you mark things, but after that, you can work independently. Marking supplies are not expensive. Various options are available from suppliers of products for people who are blind or visually impaired. Some examples follow. I'm quoting prices from Beyond Sight, the "superstore for the blind and visually impaired" near Denver, Colorado. I loved shopping at the store when I lived in the area. Visit their Web site at www.beyondsight.com. Most of the staff is blind or visually impaired, and they are helpful if you want to speak to a real live human being.
Tactile Dots come in two sizes and a variety of colors. If you have diabetic neuropathy, you might prefer a larger dot. They cost $1.99. Transparent Round Bump-ons give a mark without being visible. You can feel for the mark and not advertise the fact to anyone in your kitchen that your appliance is adapted. They cost $4.95 and come in three sizes. I use the small ones and like the fact that they're transparent. These are only two examples. There is also a product called Spot and Line that comes in a bottle if you need something other than a raised dot.
If your refrigerator has a temperature dial, you may want to mark the 5 and 10, or middle and coldest settings. Mark the commonly used settings on the dishwasher, slow cooker, waffle iron, electric skillet, and other appliances. If your oven has a dial, mark it at 300, 350 and 400 degrees as they are the most common cooking temperatures. Anything else you can do by feel if you have those three points. It can also be helpful to mark the BAKE setting if your oven has bake and broil. Though microwave ovens have a lot of buttons, it's easy to mark what you use most, such as Defrost, Popcorn or Beverage. Mark the five on the number pad and, if needed, put a small dot or line on each number and a larger dot on the 5.
It's all in the timing. While you can get by without one, a timer is extremely useful. Large display and talking timers are typically under $15. Don't forget to check your local discount store. If you're a multi-tasking cook, you might want two timers so you can watch over foods you are cooking simultaneously.
It slices. One time a sighted friend thought I had magical power because my banana chips were absolutely uniform. If I hadn't been using my food slicer, I could never have done so well. No cook should be without one. I can cut thick or thin slices or juliennes without cutting myself. There is a finger protector to keep you safe as you run the food across the blade. You can find one at a kitchen store, from Pampered Chef, or from the television shopping networks.
It dices. I am one of the world's slowest choppers if I do it by hand. I much prefer to take some help from technology. Pampered Chef has a great manual food chopper. If you want to go electric, use a food processor or mini-chopper to make things easier.
Measure up. While you can purchase them from an adaptive aids company, discount stores now offer a wonderful supply of inexpensive measuring cups and spoons with easy-to-read numbers, as well as utensils with easy grips.
Get the third degree. You want to be sure your meat is thoroughly cooked. If you make candy or ice cream, a thermometer is very useful. You can find a meat thermometer at a discount store. Mine has lights that I can see. I recently got a wonderful Talking Digital Thermometer from Beyond Sight for $34.95. You can find digital cooking thermometers at discount stores for about $12. If you cook a lot and prefer things to talk to you, the talking one is worth the extra cost.
These are just a few ideas to help you get started. Don't be afraid to experiment, and remember to be patient with yourself as you learn to do things in a new way.