On the appliance totem pole, separate wall ovens and drop-in cooktops are at or near the top. While most of us are content to purchase and use a freestanding stove, for those with the resources and desire to purchase "the very best," separate units are the order of the day. It is in these units that manufacturers introduce their latest, and supposedly greatest, technology and design.

At the Great Indoors and other specialty retailers, you will find stoves that are priced from $400 to $900, which is typical of many appliance dealers and big-box stores. But if you move down the row, you will encounter cooktops that are priced in excess of $2,000. Behind them in nicely lighted displays are their wall-oven brand mates, with prices that often exceed $3,000. So what exactly can be said about a $5,000 wall oven/drop-in cooktop combo? You can say that, except for Whirlpool and KitchenAid, $5,000 will get you a lot of inaccessibility for your kitchen.

Current Access

Well-known brands, including Genair, Daycore, Electrolux, and GE, use inaccessible oven controls. Only Whirlpool and KitchenAid consistently provide some tactile contrast on the control panels of their ovens. KitchenAid units incorporate a subtly textured keypad, like that of a microwave, to set the temperature, time, and other settings. A basic or entry-level convection wall oven from Frigidaire is available with textured control surfaces. Several Lowe's stores carry it in stainless steel and black.

Many kitchens have a smoke detector, which occasionally makes its presence known when the broiler is on. If kitchens also included an accessibility alarm, it would sound the alert because cooktops with no knobs are here. Imagine that a cooktop and microwave gave birth to an offspring. Junior is a totally smooth, flat piece of glasslike ceramic, installed in the counter top. When you touch the Up and Down arrows, the burners turn on and off. That works well if you can see the Up and Down arrows and the indicator that show how hot the burner is set. After some attempts to use it, it becomes clear that this imaginary appliance offspring is, in fact, the proverbial monster. What is not a figment of our imagination, however, is the reality that these cooktops, while still in the high-end and ultra-high-end categories, will be moving down the line to a stove near you.

Best Options

For cooktops with conventional turn knobs, accessibility isn't an issue. Choose among the available models based on other criteria which are important to you. For wall ovens, a very expensive GE Profile offers large stainless turn controls which have distinctive clicks for each 5 degrees starting with 250. For more modest units, Whirlpool and KitchenAid units have some tactile features, but they are subtle and may not be useful to all.

Shopping Strategies

When shopping, locate a unit with a control style you can use. Educate the sales person you are working with about this control type. Manufacturers offer additional models, some of them may share the controls with the one which is the example in the store. A good sales person should be able to access the models from manufacturer literature and advise you. Many higher-end stores have units in demo modes. This is useful in eliminating the clearly unusable machines.