The first frontier for the inaccessible, flat touch-panel control was the microwave oven. Although sold in appliance and department stores, the controls found in today's microwave ovens resemble a home stereo or TV tuner more closely than the other appliances in the kitchen. For this reason, design and manufacturing are driven by the same forces that shape the development of other home electronics.

Current Accessibility of Microwave Ovens

The overwhelming majority of microwaves require the use of braille or other tactile markings to be even marginally useful. Even with these modifications, advanced cooking features and knowledge of the remaining time are not accessible in any off-the-shelf unit that we examined. From time to time, manufacturers produce units which offer tactile controls. As a rule, these units appear and disappear quickly. Panasonic often offers a unit with actual button controls. Distribution is limited, however, and model numbers change.

For over-the-stove microwaves the picture is somewhat brighter. Whirlpool and the well-regarded Whirlpool Gold lines all have textured regions which indicate buttons. Many of the control panels are roomy with controls well placed for tactile access.

Best Microwave Options for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

The Hamilton Beach talking microwave is available from a few large retailer locations on an on-and-off basis. One specialized source of devices for the blind and visually impaired, Independent Living Aids, keeps the units in stock. Panasonic units with buttons may be found at online sites. A reader or assistant should be able to observe the buttons if a photo is provided. GE sells a few microwaves, which we have found at Lowes, which offer contrasting smooth and textured surfaces. The differences are subtle, and may not be useful for all. Textured control surfaces make Whirlpool and Whirlpool Gold over-the-stove units worth a first look.

Shopping Strategies

Since microwave ovens are sold in so many locations, shop in nontraditional places. Discounters such as Sams Club sometimes close out models which have been discontinued or represent less common product lines. Look on line for Panasonic models which use real buttons.