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FOLKS KITCHENWARE: an empowering solution FOR THE BLIND

Empowering the blind to cook safely with convenience, confidence and dignity: that’s what some specifically-designed tools are for

 

Cooking is challenging for the blind due to the lack of sensory references. To overcome the steep learning curve, Folks kitchenware leverages on natural, sensory feedback and tactile cues such that they can prepare food safely with confidence and dignity.

Background and inspiration

Even with sight, cooking can be daunting, much less without vision. For the blind, preparing food naturally becomes challenging as they learn to cope with the uncertainties of spills or injuries like knife cuts or burns. 

However, bBlind Master Chef Christine Ha works the stove and knife like a seasoned hand and that’s possible to accomplish only through rigorous practice. This process however takes time and can be demoralizing in early stages. The objective of the Folks project has thus been to imbue individuals with confidence so that they can overcome physical and mental barriers to appreciate and attempt cooking.

How it works

Introduced as a system, Folks taps onto the adjusted sensory strengths (like touch or hearing) of the blind.

Knife

Knife poor hand postures, irregular ingredients and dull knives result in cuts which dissuade the blind from cooking. To help them gain tool confidence, a retractable guard serves as a physical anchor and guides the fingers during the cutting process. This encourages blade contact (safer). It also allows the blind to clean off any food that is stuck on the blade with a simple trigger. After usage, the guard can also be removed for cleaning.

Chopping Board

The side tray, which pegs freely on the sides of the board, acts as an extension of the hand to gather and efficiently transfer ingredients with less spillage.

Teaspoon

Used in any cup/glass/mug, the spoon’s integrated buoy floats when liquid is added. It thus becomes a reference point that informs the blind of impending liquid contact. This lowers risks of scalds or burns.

Design process

The project is grounded by literature reviews on existing approaches and ethnography research.

To better understand the users’ pain points, interviews and observations were done in their homes. This provided first-hand information that was used for user experience mapping to highlight design opportunities. From research, the blind rely heavily on sensory references like touch to make spatial judgement – the lack of such often results in accidents. Thus the solutions physicalize tactile cues which they can rely on for the next step in the cooking process.

  • Knife: The retractable guard went from a pivoting cardboard sheath (which turned out to be difficult to clean) to a detachable, streamlined element with a trigger that draws references from a pair of scissors to clean off ingredients. Materials were later improved to food-grade nylon for user testing.
  • Chopping board: Prototypes focused mainly on sloped and storage profiles that were capable of transferring food with minimal spillage
  • Teaspoon: Cross section profiles of the spoon were revised for optimal buoyancy. User testing and evaluation were done bi-weekly with the users to gain feedback for subsequent iterations. This process helped to cover oversights that were missed during ideation.

Watch the video: 

How it is different

Existing solutions in the market are often function focused with little attention paid to usability. Product utility is hence foreign and unnatural to the blind as it contrasts with their prior memory of how a task is performed. Also, they unconsciously create social stigmas by relying on lurid sensory feedback (like a blaring beep) to inform a certain function or change. This may potentially lower the user’s self-esteem- something that the blind are not emotionally comfortable with.

In comparison, Folks kitchenware offers familiar, analogue tools that are natural to use. This lowers the learning curve drastically. The usage of tactile cues also provides the necessary assurance and confidence in the preparation and cooking process. More importantly, they are affordable, self-sufficient and does not require high maintenance like their battery-operated counterparts.

Used as a system, Folks assists the workflow and enhances the cooking experience.

Future plans

At the moment, Folks addresses selected, essential aspects of having a meal. This line can thus be expanded upon with further validation from a larger audience to thoroughly evaluate the collection’s effectiveness. Eventually, the designer behind it hope to optimise the products for a small scale production and launch the collection through social organisations like Project Dignity in Singapore. It is his humble wish that Folks can eventually reach the homes of the blind so that more individuals can prepare food with dignity and confidence like Master Chef Christine Ha.

The designer

The designer behind Folks Kitchenware is Kevin Chiam. Learn more about his works here

source: Prototypes for Humanity I James Dyson Awards

cover image: Folks Kitchenware / Kevin Chiam

author: Barbara Marcotulli


 

Maker Faire Rome – The European Edition has been committed since its very first editions to make innovation accessible and usable to all, with the aim of not leaving anyone behind. Its blog is always updated and full of opportunities and inspiration for makers, makers, startups, SMEs and all the curious ones who wish to enrich their knowledge and expand their business, in Italy and abroad.

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