The outward appearance of some major appliances has changed little in the past 50 years. This is not the case with stoves. The consumer of only a few years ago would barely recognize today's electric ranges. The familiar coiled burners that typified the average electric range for most of the 20th century have all but disappeared from the market. The ceramic cooktop has become ubiquitous, as have touch controls to operate the oven.

The impact of these trends on accessibility is significant and is at the heart of the difficulties that many Americans who are blind or have low vision struggle with. While our in-house user information and reports from the field suggest that alternative techniques can be used with the new ceramic cook surfaces successfully and safely, independent access to controls is another matter.

Current Accessibility

Many stoves, even those in the moderate price bracket, have a split control personality. Conventional turn knobs set and adjust the burner temperature, but the operation of the oven, broiler, and other related functions requires coming to terms with a touch pad. Our on-going survey of available stoves reveals a pattern of mixed types of controls. In a very few ranges, such as Hotpoint, roughened regions indicate the location of the oven controls and related functions. Pressing these regions results in a clearly audible beep. The controls default to a predictable setting, usually 350 degrees, when the oven is activated. For the broiler, 500 degrees is a common default temperature. As a group, stoves are the least accessible class of appliances we evaluated. The vast majority have flat, inaccessible oven controls.

Best Options

Hotpoint ranges and some Frigidaire slide in units use membrane controls, which offer textured regions indicating controls. For all other brands, plan to use alternatives including braille labels, adhesive dots which mark button locations and plastic templates with openings for controls which are in use with good results reported by many individuals.

Shopping Strategies

Check large appliance departments for stoves which offer textured or other tactile controls or landmarks. If you locate such a control, inform the sales associate that it is the kind of control you need. Manufacturers offer many models on order which may have similar controls, offering more choices. A skilled sales associate can evaluate these models once your specific needs are understood. Check several stores. Manufacturers offer many models and brand extensions which may differ in their controls. For example, Whirlpool and Whirlpool Gold may feature controls which are different from one another.