Ten or twenty years ago, if it got cold outdoors on a late September day, all you had to do was turn a dial or lever on your thermostat and you had heat. If you were blind, this was no trouble. You could easily make markings with tape or a dot would tell you if you were at 70 degrees. Heating your home in the dead of winter on a blustery January day was no problem–just turn the dial and you always had reliable heat.
Programmable thermostats came in to everyday use a few years ago, and blind home owners or apartment dwellers who used them required sighted assistance to start the heat during the winter season. Some programmable systems have buttons, but some are completely flat, making it almost impossible for blind people to set their heat at an optimal temperature. The ones that do have buttons utilize a general mode button that forces you to memorize and count through functions and settings. The only real accessible option is an expensive talking thermostat, which is not in everyone’s budget.
I just came across this problem in my new apartment. The kitchen and bathroom have dial controls but the living room and bedroom do not. I looked at the three buttons and asked the lady who takes me shopping what they did. She said that the larger one is a mode switch, but how am I going to get around this so I can reliably set my heat? The way I see it, I can either get a talking thermostat to regulate my heat, or hope that the landlord will give me an old-fashioned dial so I can regulate it. Is the large investment of a talking thermostat worth the expense to heat the living room of a studio apartment? It’s a question I will quickly need to ask myself, and so should every blind home owner or apartment dweller before the depths of winter are upon us.
A dial-operated thermostat would be cheaper and anyone can operate it independently, adjusting heat to their comfort level. The programmable thermostat is just one more step towards making us less, not more, self-reliant. It is another reason, if these are to become an industry standard, that they should be made totally accessible. In the next twenty years, barring a miracle, the visually impaired population is going to grow larger than it is now. Because of age-related diseases and diabetes, and new blind veterans, the need for universally accessible appliances will need to be made mandatory. This will be beneficial for people who cannot read, or for the swelling numbers of people with vision problems.
So, for now, if my landlord cannot put an old fashioned dial in my living room, I have three choices: buy a small, efficient space heater for the living room, wear extra warm sweaters or jogging suits, or buy an expensive talking thermostat. I will perhaps pick the second option, as less heat saves energy. It also saves on the electric bill, and on a tight budget, that is a blessing.
Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind