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Washing machine and dryer features and AT for people with cognitive impairments

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This article examines the differences in washing machines and dryers, and their usability by persons with cognitive impairments. A cognitive impairment can be described as problems with paying attention, memory, and/or organization. Those with a cognitive impairment may also have trouble with reading.

What type of machine should users with cognitive impairments buy?

Look for simple text and matching indicator lights.
Look for simple text and matching indicator lights. [1]

Front-loading Machines

Simple and Intuitive Control Panels

The Front-Load GE Profile would be a good item to consider for users with cognitive impairments. Each button on the control panel is simply labeled - each push of the button is followed by an indicator light to let the user know what was pushed and what setting the machine is on. For users with organization/memory problems, the machine can be used so that a base program can be set with initial use. For every use after that, the user simply has to press the "My Cycle" button and the machine remembers what setting to wash the clothes on.

Machines with simple dials help with possible user error.
Machines with simple dials help with possible user error. [2]

The Front-Load GE Energy Star Appliance would be a helpful machine for those with attention or reading cognitive impairments. There are no LED screens to confuse the user – the control panel is equipped with simple turn dials. The dials are boldly labeled with exactly what function the user might want. There is an audible noise with every turn of a dial so that the user knows their actions are correct. With the dials lined up along the control panel, the user can check all the settings multiple times before starting the machine.

Top-loading Machines

Top-loading machines don't have a door lock.
Top-loading machines don't have a door lock. [3]
This top-loading washing machine by Whirlpool not only has a simple and intuitive control panel with clear and straight-forward dials and button, but also has the added advantage of simply being a top-loader. Most front-loading machines are equipped with a door lock, so that once the user has started the cycle, there is no opening the door until the cycle is finished. Top-loaders have the advantage because the washing/drying drum is vertically situated, thus allowing the user to add last minute items once the cycle has already started. Users with a forgetful cognitive impairment might find this feature very useful for any last minute, forgotten articles of clothing.
Top-loading machines may also be useful for users with cognitive impairments because as soon as the user opens the lid, the compartments for detergent or softener are in plain view. This simple location feature can remind the user to add detergent, fabric softener, or bleach to the cycle. Front-loading machines have these compartments hidden in a drawer, thus heightening the possibility that users with a memory impairment will forget to add detergents to the wash cycle.


When selecting a machine, users with cognitive impairments need to access what features they do/do not need in a washing machine or dryer. Machines with simple control panels that include straight-forward rotary dials or buttons with corresponding indicator lights are the most helpful. Whether to buy a front or top-loading machine is up to the user. For users with memory impairments, top-loaders lacking a door lock might be the best so that they can add last minute items, as well as make sure that laundry detergents are added to the cycle.


Author: Alexa Heddinger

Universal Design @ Georgia Tech.