Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Blindness Friendly Washer & Dryers

One of the many lessons I am called out to do in my student's homes is the laundry lesson. Laundry is one of the many essential independent living skills that all of our students need (and can participate in). Laundry lessons can start as early as infancy and go all the way up to adulthood.

Here's a quick sidebar of a easy peasy laundry lessons (then back to the original post):
Infant/Newborn: Dressing/undressing (just being part of the dressing routine is pre-teaching about dirty/clean concepts). The same goes with diaper changes (again it teaches about dirty/clean). I know you may think I am crazy to say that it starts this young but the pre-teaching seeds cannot be planted early enough!!
Toddlers/Early Childhood: More exposure to the laundry and dressing routines. Have you ever been a mom that had to get the laundry and have a toddler tag along? Have your toddler jump in the basket and push her to the washer with the clothes (towels tend to be the easiest). Have fun with loading clothes into the washer then unloading from the dryer. Let your little one sit in the basket as warm clothes come tumbling out of the dryer and into the basket. You can also work laundry skills into the dressing routine by having your toddler put her dirty clothes into a laundry basket (make sure you label it as "the laundry basket"). Whatever you do, don't let the laundry basket be some far and away place that your child never learns about! Let them be part of the routine (which of course naturally teaches about orientation and mobility, reinforces ILS and even dabbles in sensory efficiency skills and self-determination. You can also begin basic sorting. If color sorting isn't an option, go for sorting based on clothes vs. towels (or non-clothing items).
Primary grades through intermediate grades: Continue with the foundation of putting dirty clothes in the basket but build on to  retrieving the clean laundry, loading/unloading laundry independently, folding towels, putting away clean clothes. Pour laundry soap and use dryer sheets. Take time out to check out all the hundreds of options of laundry detergent, stain remover and dryer sheets. 
Middle school through high school: Keep working on those skills from intermediate grades!! Build on: start learning the control panel and set the washer & dryer with assistance/supervision until mastery. The goal is that by senior year, your child can independently wash their own laundry!  Bonus lessons: go to a laundry mat to compare and contrast washers or do what I do, go to Best Buy and check out all the different types of machines!

Back to the original post! I was just saying in the side bar that I hit up Best Buy stores and peruse all the different types of home appliances so I can stay up to date on what's out there. One epidemic that has come our way is in the laundry department. A few years ago it started to become all the rage to have electronic displays on the washers and dryers. It wasn't too bad because there used to be dials that our kids could use to help set the machines. Those days are gone because for the past couple of years the laundry game has gone completely visual! A smooth flat surface that just dings a quiet bell (if that) at settings. These new settings have really thrown a red sock into our laundry world!

 "old school" washer control panel

Enter 2014 with all fancy flat panel, visual, smooth display panels! I have done quite a few lessons with our kids (even our brightest, most typical) and yet the smooth visual displays have bested them. The new dials spin completely around with no auditory or tactual marking to align to. Even our kids with vision struggle because the contrast usually isn't strong enough for them to see with 100% accuracy. The new modern designs can really be a thorn in our kids' sides because everything modern is smooth, usually white on white (or gray on white) and just down right not blindness friendly.

I have frequented Best Buy several times looking over all these new washer and dryers. Even the cheapest models are ditching their tactual markings. What's a blind person to do? It can really be a pickle of a situation. 
Fortunately there is a light at the end of the tunnel! (The tunnel may be long but there is hope). LG and Samsung both offer smart phone apps to control their washer and dryers.  These smart phone apps are not available on every machine but at least there is a start. Do not confuse these machines with the "smart washers" (or anything close to that title). The "smart" title just means that the machines can diagnose problems by itself. You really have to read the details to find out if it is a smart phone app machine. I found 1 from LG and 1 from Samsung: LG's Smart Thinq Top Loader and Samsung's 4.5 Front Load. 
I then went online and read some reviews from cnet.com and some consumer reviews. These machines weren't exactly consumer favorites (complaints about the smart phone app working properly was the main problem) but at least they are a step in the right direction. I also hit up the App Store and read over the reviews for both machines. The app reviews had a lot of complaints as well. But again, at least it's a step in the right direction. I'm thinking we will see major improvements in the next year or two. Until then, our kids are just going to have figure out how to make it work. Remember there is nothing wrong with them receiving help as long as the task has them doing most of the work and (in this case) the parent just setting the machine. If anyone has a system that works or can recommend a washer/dryer, I'd love to know about it. I've spent several hours with the Best Buy staff researching machines that would be blind friendly. 



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