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Stove features

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Contents

Introduction

Cooking can be a very enjoyable task if the user feels capable of safely controlling and handing the appliance, as well as the foods being cooked. This article looks at the usability of cooking ranges, cooktops and wall ovens for people with motor, sensory, or cognitive impairments. The accommodations reflect a combination of assistive technologies, accessible design and universal design solutions that enable people with disabilities to complete tasks in the kitchen. The goal is to provide information to people with disabilities about what to look for in products for the kitchen that accommodate their specific physical or cognitive needs and enable them to independently complete their activities. Some of the aspects listed look beyond the usability of the specific object and deal with the larger issue of creating a more inclusive environment that enables more universal usage.


Motor Impairments

Cooking Ranges / Cooktops

Look for the following features:

  1. Look for smooth ceramic cooktops with burners as flush as possible, or continuous grates on gas cooktops for easy sliding of pans and pots.
  2. Look for cooktops that have staggered burners and have an auto–shutdown function.
  3. Consider a range with sealed cooktop burners to ensure easy cleaning, as well as an oven that is self-cleaning.
  4. For cooktops, enquire about installation options that allow for provision of knee-space underneath the cooktop (minimum 27”) to allow someone to use the appliance from a seated position.
  5. For ranges, consider including under-counter knee space (minimum 27”) adjacent to the range to increase accessibility to the oven.
  6. Look for controls located on the front or the side so the user does not have to reach across hot burners.
  7. Consider the knob shape and size for ease of manipulation.
  8. Controls should be easy to read and intuitive in use.
  9. Consider raised-edge detail on countertops to prevent spills or a contrasting color border to provide a visual and tactile indicator of the countertop edge, to make the environment more inclusive.

Induction Cooktops

Image of an induction cooktop
Image of an induction cooktop

Induction cooktops, featuring a continuous surface and one touch controls make the task of cooking much easier for people with and without disabilities. With induction cooking, electricity flows through a coil underneath the ceramic cooktop, producing a magnetic field. A magnetic pan—such as cast iron or magnetic stainless steel—placed on the element of an induction cooktop creates a current that heats the pan and the food inside. The induction element transfers heat directly to magnetic cookware, making the experience safer and increases the tolerance for error. Induction cooktops in 30” and 36” sizes are available from leading manufacturers like GE Appliances and Electrolux.

Sink and Cooker Combinations

Sink and cooker combinations have been developed to obviate the need to carry water filled containers from the sink to the cooktop. The Kohler Pro CookCenter combined a sink with an adjacent heat element that cooks, boils, blanches, poaches, and steams food in an 8-quart pot right at sink side. However, the product met with limited success due to the hygienic issues with cooking in the sink itself and has now been discontinued.[1]


Wall Ovens

Look for the following features:

  1. These maybe installed so that one rack is level with an adjacent countertop, reducing the need to bend.
  2. Look for wall ovens that are self-cleaning, provide easy-to-read graphics, offer an easy-grip handle, supply control lockout, and that deliver generous interior lighting.
  3. Consider side-opening ovens that provide easier access for people with mobility impairments.
  4. Look for racks that easily pull out on ball-bearing extensions, reducing the users effort.
  5. Also consider increased glass viewing area and lighting for better visibility.
  6. Larger, easier-to-read graphics on knobs and elsewhere on appliance.

Side-Opening Doors

Side-opening doors for wall ovens give the wheelchair user the advantage accessing the oven from the side. Users appreciate products that have features allowing multitasking as this reduces the user effort and makes for efficient allocation of resources. GE Profile Advantium 240 is four ovens in one, doing traditional warming and microwaving. You can grill, bake, broil, brown and roast foods without a need to pre-heat the oven. It also features a side-opening door and provides the flexibility of mounting at various heights as desired by the user.

Oven Rack Puller

Image of an oven rack push-puller
Image of an oven rack push-puller [2]

The Oven Rack Push-Puller is another tool that enables easier access to push in or pull out hot oven racks while keeping a good distance from the heat.

Pull Out Counter

Pull out counter allows for easy transfer of dishes from the oven
Pull out counter allows for easy transfer of dishes from the oven [3]

A pull out counter beneath a built-in oven provides a space to rest dishes as they are transferred in or out of the oven. Overhead cabinets with pull-down shelves are another feature that make the space more usable to a wide range of users.


Sensory and Cognitive Impairments

Two possible sources of increased difficulty in using a stove are sensory or cognitive impairments. Sensory impairment can hinder a user with blindness or low vision, or any level of poor hearing. Cognitive impairments include problems with memory, reading, and attention and organization. These impairments can make it very difficult to safely use a stove, as many of the functions and warnings of the appliance may go unnoticed. Without being properly informed, a range, cook top, and a wall oven become difficult for a user to understand.

Standard Ranges / Ovens

Safety

When shopping for specific stoves, there are several variations and features the consumer should think about. First is safety.

For someone with a memory difficulty, the stove should be able to safely shut itself off. One product that may help a forgetful or busy user is the HomeSenser for the electric stove. This sensor notices motion in front of the oven. It begins reminding the user with simple auditory alarms the stove is left on and then shuts the heat off automatically a short period after that. This product comes from HomeSense Enterprises where it was developed to help senior citizens and Alzheimer’s patients, but can help prevent fires for everyone. These can be installed in anyone’s electric oven easily, and a gas stove version is currently in development.

With sensory impairments as well, a traditional stove can be very unsafe to use. Hot burners or other electric surfaces need to inform the user when a surface is dangerous to the touch. Ovens also provide danger to the user when loading and unloading food, with hot surfaces and areas, as well as heavy oven doors. If a stove has low contrast between burners, such as black electric burners on a black top, it can be impossible to distinguish with low vision or if it’s darker. Simple adjustments such as moving the controls to the front of the oven so that the user will not need to reach over hot food to turn off the heat can greatly ease use. Some homes with small children however may want to consider an alternative button layout to prevent accidental use.

Ease and Comfort of Use

Controls are positioned on the front of the stove for easy reach.
Controls are positioned on the front of the stove for easy reach.[4]

Understanding your stove is also important. The user must make sure to understand the buttons before using the appliance. One noticeable good design feature is when the buttons correspond to which burner they activate. This prevents confusion and can be used without words or color coding. This is not to say that adding picture signs, words, contrast, and color codes don’t help the overall design. Redundant delivery of information helps to communicate usage to consumers of multiple ability levels. Even bringing in the use of sound in the form of alarms, reminders, and physical location detectors for each burner can provide a wealth of information to the user, who may be deaf or just location currently in another room. Flashing lights and constant on/off reminder lights also provide vital extra information to how the stove is currently working.

Products

Some upper end stove and oven combinations, such as the GE Profile Slide-In Gas Ranges provides many features that are recommended for sensory or cognitively impaired users. The oven features front controls as well as knobs which correspond to each burner as well as click every 50 degrees to tell the user the temperature. The stove has contrasting burners and a lock feature to prevent any unintended use. Unfortunately, only some of the models have tactile buttons which alert the user to the purpose or location. Many have smooth touch buttons which may make it difficult for a blind user to find and understand all the buttons. However, GE claims that they are able to punch Braille into all the buttons and temperature gauges to specifically accommodate the needs of the user. A consumer must be sure to know which features the oven has before making an informed decision.


Countertop Ovens

A countertop oven may be positioned for easy access.
A countertop oven may be positioned for easy access.[5]

Another everyday product that may be especially useful is the Black and Decker Infrawave Speed Cooking Countertop Oven. This product can be placed on any counter and has a much smaller door so it requires a lot less strength. All buttons are also located on the front and a glass door protects the user from the heat while letting him or her observe the cooking food. This oven can be found at Sears, Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond.[6]


Summary

Overall, the best choice for an oven, range or cook top is probably one that is designed with good features intentionally by the manufacturer. There are many assistive technologies for stoves and ovens, but the highest quality will come from choosing exactly what you need and requesting it straight from the factory. A specifically made Braille button set is going to be much more informative than tactile paint knobs made by the user at home. GE has many high quality products which provide a wide variety of features, but the cost will be high, and if the consumer isn’t careful, will probably end up with many extra features he or she will not need. The best advice is to research what is needed, and make a trip to Sears or other home appliance stores to ask questions and for help on how specialty cooking appliances can be ordered


Resources

Product Links

External Links


References

  1. Kohler discontinues its food-cooking sink. Accessed October 13, 2009.
  2. Oven rack puller
  3. GE Universal Design Kitchen Tips
  4. GE Profile Slide-In Gas Ranges - Feature Gallery
  5. Prioli, J. Assistive Technology Around the Home. ThisAbled newsletter.
  6. Prioli, J. Assistive Technology Around the Home. ThisAbled newsletter.


Authors: Gourab Kar (motor impairments) and Christopher Hamby (sensory & cognitive impairments), Universal Design @ Georgia Tech.