Confession- I never did my own laundry until I went off to college, and had no idea how to do laundry with low vision. Sure, I had made attempts to do laundry at home, but I had never successfully run a full load of laundry until I was standing in my dorm laundry room, trying to figure out how to work the machine, and silently hoping I didn’t destroy all of my clothes within the first week of school.
After living on campus for four years, I’ve learned a lot about doing my own laundry while living in college and dealing with dorm laundry rooms. Since this is an important part of the expanded core curriculum for students with blindness and visual impairment, today I will be sharing my tips for doing laundry in college with low vision, based on my own experiences.
During my freshman year, one of the most useful items I bought before starting college was a three-section laundry bin. While it was very large, it helped me so much with sorting clothes and taking them down to the laundry room. I would toss dirty clothes into their appropriate compartment- sorting towels, delicates, and other items, and just carry the entire laundry bin in the elevator.
Once I moved into a different dorm, I realized that the three-section laundry bin took up a lot of space, and it was really heavy for me to carry down the hallway- my new dorm was on the same floor as the laundry room, but the two rooms were nowhere near each other. I also realized that I didn’t use the three sections equally, and that I had to wash t-shirts way more often than I ever had to wash towels. At that point, I decided to just get a classic hamper and sort things before I washed them, putting items into large tote bags that I could carry to the laundry room more easily.
Options for labeling tags
Before leaving for college, my mom used a special Sharpie marker to label whether to wash something in warm (W) or cold (C) water. Sewing tactile labels or buttons into clothes is another popular choice for having clothes labeled for low vision, though I prefer to use a virtual assistance app like Be My Eyes, Aira, Google Lens, or Microsoft Seeing AI to read the clothing care instructions, as they work well for reading short amounts of text. This also helps me avoid accidentally putting things in the dryer that don’t belong there, or that otherwise have special washing instructions- I once covered all of my clothes in fuzz after I washed a blanket incorrectly.
Besides being able to read short amounts of text, many visual assistance apps have a free color reader built-in, or users can ask a visual interpreter for color information. While I don’t have any issues with my color vision, one of my close friends relies on a color reader so that they can separate their clothing by color.
Instead of worrying about measuring detergent, I prefer to use detergent pods that work well with my college’s high-efficiency washing machines. The typical brand I use is All Free and Clear because it does not have any artificial dyes or scents, and it’s easy to toss in the machine with my clothes. I typically throw two detergent pods in each bag before taking my clothes to the laundry room so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to put them in.
Learning button layout
While I can easily add a tactile label or shortcut to washing machines at home, I had to learn the button layout of the machines at my school since I can’t add any labels to help me as a person with low vision. My school washing machines don’t have tactile buttons, so I spent time magnifying them to figure out which buttons I needed to push in order to do a load of laundry. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about dials or anything like that. Another bonus is that the most common wash settings are enabled by default, so on some machines I just have to press “start”- no adjusting settings needed.
“Wait, which machine is mine again?”
Every student, vision-impaired or not, can forget which washing machine or dryer is theirs, or have trouble locating their machine. One of the ways I get around this is by attaching a magnet to whatever machine I am using, so I can easily distinguish which machine is mine. Students who use Braille can go one step further and use Braille number magnets. I recommend using magnets with a distinctive shape or memorable tactile features. Here is an example of where I place the magnet, using a random magnet I got at a conference.
Laundry alert website
I found a webpage on my school’s housing website that allows students to see how many machines are available, how much time each machine has left, and gives students the options to receive an alert when a specific machine is finished or when a certain amount of washers/dryers are available (though this does not reserve machines). I highly recommend taking advantage of these websites, so that no one is left waiting in line for a dryer with wet clothes.
Using a swipe card
My building requires that students swipe their IDs into a special machine in order to use the laundry facilities. Below, I have written out step-by-step directions, with pictures, on how to use this swipe system. Ignore the displays saying the cost to run the machines- laundry is included free of charge at my school, so I’m not sure why that is displayed.
Put the laundry in the machine, and push the appropriate buttons for laundry settings, but don’t press start. Note your machine number.
Swipe your card into the machine, which should look a bit like this. Listen for an auditory cue to confirm that the card was accepted
Select the button for your machine number. This menu is hard to read, and only displays available washing machines. I strongly recommend having a magnification aid of some sort. I usually use my phone as a video magnifier, but this is what the menu looks like normally.
Confirm your machine. Once confirmed, your machine will start beeping
Walk back to your desired machine and press start. The machine will blink like this, signaling for the user to press start and begin the laundry cycle.
Once clothes come out of the dryer, it can be tempting to just throw them over a chair or keep them in the hamper/laundry bin. However, there are many different options for folding and organizing clothes in a dorm. This can include folding long sleeve shirts differently than short sleeve shirts, organizing items by color, and using closet space/drawer space exclusively for clothes storage- no keeping items in other rooms. I wrote more about getting dressed with assistive technology for vision loss below, which can provide additional information.
Summary of doing laundry in college with low vision
- Sort laundry prior to going to the laundry room, either by putting items into different sections of a laundry bin or by separating them into bags
- Use large print or tactile labels for clothing care instructions, or use a smartphone app to read text
- Detergent pods are a great time-saving tool for measuring detergent
- Learn the button layout of the machine by magnifying buttons or using a visual assistance app
- Use a magnet to identify which washing machine/dryer is yours
- Check if there is a website that alerts users to open washing machines or dryers
- Fold clothes after laundry is completed