Recently, I was asked for tips on how to make refrigerators accessible for visual impairment and how to make sure accessible materials are in an easy-to-see area. The person asking me this question typically would hang lots of important information on their refrigerator door and could clearly see both what was inside and outside, but after a recent vision change, they were having issues with reading information on the refrigerator door and distinguishing different products. Here are my tips for how to make refrigerators accessible for visual impairment.
Print off information in large print or Braille
For people who traditionally read text in large print or Braille, it is helpful to use the same text preferences when printing off information to hang on the fridge. My friend will hang important mail that they receive in Braille on the door so that they can easily reference it, while other friends will print off large-print notes that they typed about their schedule for the week or other similar information.
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Use high-contrast pens to write information
Whenever I write out notes or grocery lists, I like to use high-contrast pens or markers that are easy for me to see on paper or hanging on the fridge. While I don’t have strict preferences for ink color, I do make sure that I write across the page and fill up all available space so that it can be easily read no matter where it is on the door. If I can’t read a handwritten note for some reason, I will use a visual interpreting app to recognize the handwriting and figure out what it says.
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Add textured magnets
While flat magnets can be great at holding up information, textured magnets or magnets that are different shapes or sizes can help with orienting users to where different items are located on the door, or even help with labeling what information is attached to the magnet. For example, I have large plastic letter/number magnets that have Braille printed on top of them, and I could use corresponding magnets to label information I would be hanging on the fridge, such as T for takeout or C for the list of cable channels for my university campus.
If helpful, add tactile dots to drawers
For the inside of the refrigerator, I have some friends that prefer to add bump dots to drawers or compartments within the fridge so that they can figure out what is in each drawer. While this wasn’t overly practical for the mini-fridge in my dorm, I helped another friend who had a larger apartment with adding plastic dots to label the fruit/vegetable drawers and the edge of their designated shelf inside the fridge that they shared with their roommates. For people who can figure out which items are on each shelf, this may not be necessary.
Use a barcode scanning app to identify products
Am I looking at a jar of marinara sauce or a jar of salsa? One of the tools that I can use to help answer this question is a barcode scanner, which is built-in to Android phones in the form of the Google Lens camera, and is also a built-in function for several visual interpreting apps and other third-party services. I love using the barcode scanner to check for product information, as well as to read the nutrition facts and ingredients list so I can make sure that I am choosing the right product.
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Have a visual interpreting app identify items
What if an item doesn’t have a barcode on it, or the barcode isn’t recognized? I like to use object recognition features within visual interpreting apps that allow me to figure out what items are holding. Personally, I tend to use apps that are based on machine learning and artificial intelligence such as Google Lens/Google Lookout and Microsoft Seeing AI, as I can easily take a picture to figure out what the item is. For people who prefer to talk to a sighted person for assistance, apps such as Aira, BeSpecular, and Be My Eyes can connect blind and low vision users with a sighted person 24/7 who can help them with identifying items quickly and with high accuracy.
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Checking for food safety
Food safety is important for everyone to learn, though it is especially important for people who may not be able to see visual changes in food appearance. Several different regional and national companies have started to put stickers that change texture when a product is expired, or have at least started printing out larger expiration labels so that people can read them. I typically just use some sort of magnification aid such as my phone or a magnifying glass to read what the expiration date is, though one of my friends likes to write the expiration date in large letters on the packaging or on a note that they hang on the door. Of course, if something doesn’t seem safe to eat or drink, I ignore the expiration date and throw it out.
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While it may seem strange to think about how to make a refrigerator accessible for visual impairment, it’s important to make sure that people are able to use the refrigerator independently to be able to find out what is both inside and outside of the refrigerator doors. I hope that this post is helpful for others!