Adapting to the world and using universally designed technology

The extract below is written by Will Hawkesworth who had a stroke in June 2010 that left him with little feeling on the left side of his body. Since then he has been trying to adapt to a world that is rarely attentive to people dependent on wheelchair use, and is inattentive to significant changes in the functioning of people’s body organs and parts. For Will, the seemingly everyday, mundane, tasks, such as adding pepper and salt to food, can be more or less impossible to do, given the state of the designed artefacts made for the job. The extract compares a traditional pepper grinder, with a newer, purportedly, universally designed model, and compares and contrasts how, in interaction with his body, they function.

“Adding pepper to some dishes that I cook is absolutely essential, in particular kedgeree.

I do not want to have to wait for someone else to assist with the preparation of the meal, so I devised ways of working the traditional, wooden hand operated pepper grinder, using non slip mats, a clamp board, locked in place with my non functional left hand and/or neck and chin. Putting the grinder down horizontally on the non slip mat and then holding it in place using the non functional hand as a stop and the neck and chin, turning the grinder head with the working hand. Alternatively, I discovered you can stand the traditional grinder vertically using the non slip mat to hold it in place whilst the top is twisted with my working hand. This allowed pepper to be collected on a plate or on kitchen roll and then added to the cooking. What it illustrates is that I can find any number of ways of doing things.

MVI_5995  Pepper grinding

However, to my delight, one of my Christmas presents was a battery-powered pepper mill. As the official press release claims: “Electronic mills are very easy to use – you can operate them with one hand – and variable grind settings from fine to coarse give accuracy and flexibility when seasoning food in the kitchen or at the table”. Now there are no issues of difficulty in applying pepper to the food as I cook it. A press of the button on top produces perfectly ground pepper. Now the issue is not to get carried away with the device. It would, potentially, be easy to get distracted and end up with a meal that was inedible due to the excess of pepper. It is a mistake that I will try very hard not to make as it would make me even less popular than normal. The matching salt mill is equally effective, but is less vital as I hardly ever add salt to any food.

These two devices are good: they allow me to be independent and function in a way that I did before suffering my injury (i.e. from a major stroke). The big test is how long will the batteries last, and will I be able to replace them without assistance? Issues that often seem to get overlooked by designers of equipment for those of us with disabilities. I will report further as the mills are used in every day life”.