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Household Appliances

In the past, using alternative techniques such as modification of controls, or learning additional operational steps to independently use household appliances was only a minor concern for people with disabilities. With the introduction of advanced electronic technology some of these alternative techniques are becoming ineffective. Because of the implementation of electronic controls on a majority of household appliances, accessibility is becoming an ever-increasing concern.

What are household appliances?

Household appliances are generally considered to be those that accomplish some routine housekeeping task, which includes purposes such as cooking, food preservation or cleaning. The terms "domestic appliances", "consumer electronics", "major appliances" and "white goods" are also used to refer to these items.

Photograph montage of some household appliances

Household appliances may include:

  • dishwashers
  • freezers and fridges
  • tumble driers
  • ovens; microwave ovens
  • washing machines


  • In 2004, 90% of households in the UK had a microwave oven
  • In 2004, 95% of households in the UK had a washing machine
  • In 2004, 92% of households in the UK had a fridge freezer or chest freezer
  • In 2002, 53% of households in the UK had a tumble drier
  • The Consumer Electronics Association estimates 2007 consumer electronics sales at 150 billion dollars
  • In 2005 each UK household spent an average £4.32 on appliances every week

Problems encountered by disabled people and the ageing population using household appliances

Blind and Partially Sighted

Blind and partially sighted people experience problems as more and more appliances use push buttons, touch controls and LED displays rather than old-fashioned rotating programme selectors which do not require the use of sight to operate correctly.

Hearing impaired

Household appliances that produce excessive noise levels when in use can effect those with hearing impairments. Complex electronic circuitry that is now found in most household appliances may create electromagnetic interference with hearing aids.

Physically impaired

Those who have physical impairments may experience problems when trying to manoeuvre around a household appliance, for example, appliance doors that do not open wide enough to allow wheelchair access. Small controls and buttons may also provide the physically impaired with problems.

Cognitively impaired

Complex instructions for using a household appliance and the use of unrecognisable symbols on controls may pose problems for some people with cognitive impairments.

Photograph of an elderly man using a microwave

Ageing population

The gradual loss of vision, flexibility and stability that elderly people experience can make certain models of household appliances either easier or more difficult to use. Other conditions, such as arthritis, can also cause problems in the use of appliances.

Problems encountered with specific household appliances

Washing machines

Some washing machines have electronic displays. These can be useful for a number of reasons. For example, the user can check which stage of washing a programme has reached and how long it has left to run. Some newer models are fitted with liquid crystal display (LCD) touch screens which let the user program a wash using a series of pop-up menus. This removes the need for more traditional dials and buttons. However, those with vision and dexterity impairments will have problems accessing and using these controls and pop-up menus.


Some dishwashers have lights to warn the user when the rinse aid or salt needs topping up, however these can not be seen by blind and partially sighted people.

Some models have hidden, flat controls, which sit along the top edge of the door that may not be easily seen or felt by people with vision impairments or reached by those with physical impairments. Front-facing control panels come in different designs including buttons that are raised, flush to the surface or most commonly, electronic touch pads. LCD displays showing details of the cycle are also common. These features are also unsuitable for those who have sight or dexterity impairments.

Labels and buttons are sometimes small and cramped, making them hard to read and fiddly to operate. If symbols are the only indication of different programs, then people with cognitive impairments may find these difficult to understand.

Tumble driers

Some models have remaining-time displays that indicate how soon clothes will be dry, others have program-stage LEDs that indicate that the clothes inside the dryer have reached different stages of dryness, and some may have warning LEDs that light up to remind the user to empty the water container or clean the lint filter. Despite these features providing useful information, people with visual impairments will not be able to access them.

Photograph of microwave controls

Microwave ovens

The controls may be either in the form of buttons, dials or a touch pad. Some buttons and most touch pad programming is less accessible for those people who have visual impairments as these types of controls rarely give any tactile or verbal feedback.

Checklist for Household Appliances


Photographs of washing machine controls


  • Good visual contrast between the keys and the appliance.
  • Key tops should be convex or flat with a raised edge.
  • Keys should be as large as possible without reducing the distance between the keys to less than half the key width.
  • Ideally the keys should be internally illuminated, but the internal illumination should not reduce the legibility.
  • The visual markings on the keys should be high contrast, clear, and as large as is possible on the key top.
  • The pressure to activate a key should be between 0.5 and 1 Newton.
  • There should be auditory and tactual feedback of control activation.
  • For controls that do not have any physical travel, audio or tactile feedback should be provided so the user knows when the control has been activated (e.g. a toggle switch or a push-in/pop-out switch).
  • There is a clearly labelled reset control.
  • Buttons, or keys have tactile markings.
  • Buttons, or keys (including touch screen buttons) are large and easily identifiable from each other.
  • Buttons or keys are operable with one hand.


  • The typeface should be clear and legible.
  • The display should have good contrast and use a clear typeface.
  • Text should not be scrolling or flashing while it has to be read.
  • There should be minimal visual flicker or image flashing.
  • Minimise glare on the display and control surfaces.
  • The user should be able to increase the font size.
  • Text should be in upper and lower case and not all in capitals.
  • Use Arabic and not Roman numerals.
  • On colour displays, red/green and blue/yellow combinations should not be used.

Instruction manuals / Documentation

Manufacturers should provide access to information and documentation including user guides, installation guides and product support communications.

  • Use simple clear concise language.
  • Have a table of contents and a good index.
  • Be task orientated.
  • Provide alternate formats (e.g. audio tape, large print).
  • Provide alternate modes of delivery (e.g. fax, relay service, Internet posting).
  • Use a typeface with good legibility.
  • Information contained in pictures should also be explained in the text.
  • Provide alternative help facilities.


  • Symbols should be accompanied by text.
  • Symbols should be easily recognisable.
  • The text and background colour combination should have high contrast.
  • A clear open typeface (font) should be used for text.
  • Text should not be placed over a background image or over a patterned background.
  • White or yellow type on black or a dark colour is more legible.
  • The typeface weight and size are suitable.
  • Upper and lower case is used.

Washing machines

  • Minimum strength is needed to open and close the door.
  • Controls are easy to grip and turn.
  • The door opens flat or as wide as possible for maximum access.
  • The dome in the door does not provide an obstruction to access.
  • Wheels are added for ease of moving top loading machines.
  • The door handle or button is easily activated.
  • The drawer for the soap powder is fairly large.
  • Noise emmission is at a minimum level.

Tumble driers

  • Minimum strength is needed to open and close the door.
  • Timer and heat controls are easy to grip and turn.
  • The door opens wide for maximum access.
  • The door handle or button is easily activated.
  • Noise emmission is at a minimum level.


  • Minimum strength is needed to open and close the door.
  • The door handle or button is easily activated.
  • The turntable is small or light and easy to remove.
  • The front edge is smooth so as not to hinder the transfer of dishes in and out.


  • EN 60335-2-5:2003/prA2:2007 Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - Part 2-5: Particular requirements for dishwashers
  • EN 60335-2-7:2003/prA3:2007 Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - Part 2-7: Particular requirements for washing machines
  • EN 60335-2-24:2003/A2:2007 Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - Part 2-24: Particular requirements for refrigerating appliances, ice-cream appliances and ice-makers
  • EN 60335-2-25:2002/A2:2006 Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - Part 2-25: Particular requirements for microwave ovens, including combination microwave ovens
  • The Household Appliances (Noise Emission) Regulations 1990 (SI 1990/161)
  • prEN 60335-2-11:2007 Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - Part 2-11: Particular requirements for tumble dryers

Further information