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Washing machine and dryer features and AT for people with upper or lower body impairments

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This article examines the differences in washing machines and dryers, and their usability by persons with upper or lower body impairments. Upper body impairments can be described as issues with fine motor skills, as well as trouble reaching and/or lifting. Lower body impairments can be described as having difficulty with back pain, as well as having to use a walker or a wheelchair for aid in mobility.

What types of washers and dryers are available?

Front-Loading Machine.
Front-Loading Machine. [1]
Top-Loading Machine.
Top-Loading Machine. [2]

Front-Loading Machines

These machines have the loading/unloading door on the front panel of the product. The control panel is located on the front of the machine for easy access and use. The door, upon opening, will swing to the right or the left, and the user can load their clothes into the drum. When considering a front-loading washer or dryer, one should examine the force needed to open the door – users with back pain or use walkers may find that if excessive force is need to open the machine, their balance and/or comfort may be affected. Users with an upper body impairment, such as trouble reaching or lifting, might find typical front-load machines difficult to use. Front-loading machines without any added assistive technology would be ideal for those in a wheelchair, as the door is at a relatively comfortable reaching height.
Lifting drawers can be added underneath the machines to provide a lift in height, as well as a storage place for laundry detergent bottles and other items necessary for washing or drying clothes. These drawers act as a pedestal to lift the machines up to a more reasonable height. Machines with these lifting drawers would be more suitable for those with back pain or with difficulty bending over past a certain degree and lifting heavy clothes. Those with trouble reaching/lifting due to an upper body impairment would also benefit from front-load machines equipped with a pedestal – the reaching/lifting necessary would be closer to their center of gravity, thus improving their user capabilities.
Front-loading machines also have the ability to stack, reducing side-to-side movement of moving clothes from the washer to the dryer. These would be ideal for those using a walker. One simply has to move clothes up a few feet from the washer to the dryer, not affected balance or movement, giving them the ability to still rely on their walker for assistance. for those using a walker. One simply has to move clothes up a few feet from the washer to the dryer, not affected balance or movement, giving them the ability to still rely on their walker for assistance.

Top-Loading Machines

This style of washers and dryers are equipped with the loading/unloading door located on the top the machine. The controls are on a panel located on the top-back of the machine, similar to that of a traditional stove. The door is a simple lift-hinge with no door-lock. This simple door would benefit users with a lower or upper body impairment that affects their balance. Users with upper body impairments that affect their reaching and/or lifting skills should not consider this model unless they went through the motions of washing clothes in the store on a display model. Top-load machines have a vertically situated drum – once the clothes are washed/dried, they sit on the bottom of the drum. Users have to be able to reach down into the bottom of the drum to be able to retrieve all of their clothes.

Front-Loading Machines VS Top-Loading - Which is Better?

When looking for a washer and dryer, one should test out how they would use the machine on the display model in the store. Users should look for how the control panels work – don’t lean towards a model with a 30-button LED screen if you are not a very electronically inclined. Choose a model that has only buttons if your hands don’t have the dexterity to grip dial knobs. Look into adding a pedestal with storage to your machine if you are wheelchair-bound – both the machine door and all of your laundry supplies will be much closer at hand.
The front-load machines give the most advantage to those with either upper or lower body impairments. Users should consider knobs versus buttone, simple versus high-tech, standard height versus larger models, or those that can be equipped with a storage pedestal.


Author: Alexa Heddinger

Universal Design @ Georgia Tech.