Future Reflections July- Sept 1985, Vol. 4 No. 3
by Ruth Schroeder and Doris Willoughby
The National Federation of the Blind is not an organization speaking for the blind. It is the blind speaking for themselves.
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Today the blind homemaker cooks, sews, keeps house, and raises a family, with no mote difficulty than her sighted neighbor.
When a person is learning blind techniques for the first time, however, he or she usually has many questions. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) offers this paper to help the young blind student, the newly blinded adult, the home economics teacher, and the experienced blind adult who wishes to enrich his or her repertoire of techniques. If you have questions which are not covered in this paper, we invite you to write to the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 for further information. As the largest organization of blind people in the United States, the NFB can help you locate any information related to blindness, and arrange for you to meet competent blind people and talk with them personally. We invite you to become acquainted with the NFB and join with us in our work to achieve security, equality, and opportunity for all blind people.
We hope that the suggestions in this paper will be useful to you. However, no particular method is always best for everyone. The most important factors in success probably are: (1) confidence that a blind person can succeed, and (2) creativity and flexibility in looking for a successful plan or idea.
If you are a blind adult, helpful instruction from your state orientation center or home teaching program for the blind should be available to you. If such training is very poor in your particular area, we invite you to join with the NFB in working for improvement.
Depending upon your particular needs, you may also wish to take a regular home economics course for adults, or correspondence courses such as those offered by the Hadley School for the Blind, 700 Elm Street, Winnetka, Illinois 60093.
Hundreds of blind men and women are successful managers or employees of commercial restaurants and snack bars. This paper, however, is not in any way a manual of methods for commercial operations. We invite you to write to the National Federation of the Blind and ask for information on commercial methods.
Many people who are legally blind have some useful vision. If this is true of you or of the student whom you are teaching, the use of that sight may mean that some of the suggestions in this paper will not be used. However, alternative techniques often prove safer, more efficient, and/or more sanitary. (Consider, for example, the effect upon guests or customers if the hostess examines each dessert by lifting it up to within two inches of her face!) One of the most important things a partially sighted person should learn is that his or her sight is not efficient for certain things, and that a blind technique is superior in those instances.
REGULAR HOME ECONOMICS CLASS
Today more and more blind students are attending regular schools and colleges, thus taking their places in the mainstream of society. They participate in home economics classes as a normal part of their education. Recipes and other written material can be transcribed into Braille or large print. When a demonstration is given, the blind student listens to the verbal description, possibly with a classmate quietly narrating as needed, and examines equipment tactually. Using techniques such as those described in this paper, the blind student takes part fully in all class activities. (For a more detailed discussion of the general education of blind youth you may purchase from the National Federation of the Blind the following two books: Your School Includes a Blind Student-#3.75; and A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators of Blind Children-#5.95.)
It is vital that the blind student actually do each kind of task, although he or she will often use alternative techniques. Other students may genuinely feel that they are helping the blind student by doing things for him; however, they must learn that unnecessary help is really a hindrance. If partners work together, they should keep track of how they divide the work (including clean-up duty) each time, and rotate this so that the blind student does each part of the work some of the time.
Cooking is one of the few situations where using a cane is not practical. Therefore, it is helpful to keep doors (including cupboard doors) either open flat or fully closed, and to inform the blind student about objects in the aisles.
The parents of a blind youngster should be careful not to exclude him from helping with cooking, dishwashing, etc., at home. A difficult time is in store for any student who enters a home economics course without having had any prior experience at home.
In most situations no special equipment is necessary; all that is needed is to use the other senses well, as in listening for when the carrots begin to boil. Many items of equipment designed for the sighted are especially appropriate for the blind as well--piecutting guides, needle threaders, and metal measuring cups, for example. The "Lux" brand kitchen timer, which is sold on the regular market but happens to have well-placed raised markings, is a particularly good example of such equipment.
Plan the storage of your equipment and utensils so that you will not waste time unnecessarily in looking around for them. At the same time, however, you should realize that your plans will not always work perfectly in practice; you should be able to hunt around if necessary and find an item which someone else has put away in a different place.
The blind person often uses the sense of touch to gain information that a sighted person would probably gain through sight. The beginning cook should keep his or her hands very clean and use them as necessary to gain information touch tolls to see if they feel done, check die shape of a piecrust, etc. The experienced blind cook can abide by any requirements of sanitation and formality as necessary, and is able to avoid directly touching any of the food with the fingers, by such means as wearing thin plastic gloves or using a utensil or appliance. Whenever this paper speaks of touching something, it should be assumed that the experienced cook can find a way to avoid using unprotected fingers if circumstances so require.
Many helpful tools and appliances are available. However, in most situations it is a matter of personal choice as to whether to buy a special appliance or to use another approach (such as adapting a regular tool or appliance, or using a different method). Avoid over-dependence on special tools or rigidly defined techniques.
Further discussion of specific types of equipment is included under many of the topics below.
Braille and large print cookbooks are available on loan from many libraries for the blind. A few cookbooks in recorded form also exist; these may be helpful to those who have severe circulatory problems or other special difficulties in learning Braille. If you do not know the location of your local library for the blind, write to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, 1291 Taylor St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20542.
Braille recipe files may also be made. Although the user of an inkprint recipe file prefers to have the front of each card facing toward him, with the title at the top, most Braille readers prefer a different arrangement. You will probably prefer to insert the Braille cards with the top down, with the Brailled side of each card away from you; this way your fingers will reach the Braille most comfortably. Because of this, the title of each recipe should be placed below the recipe as it is written; the titles will then be easily accessible, as the bottoms of the cards appear at the top of the file box. Similarly, labels on file dividers should be placed upside down on the backs of the tabs.
A frequently-used recipe will last longer if a plastic page or card is used. It is also helpful, while using a particular recipe, to tape it to the inside of a cupboard door, or in some other way support it so that it is not lying on the mixing surface, and thus keep it as clean as possible.
You will select, from many good alternatives, the method of marketing that works best for you in a particular set of circumstances. Most grocery stores, especially during the less busy hours, are willing to assign an employee to accompany you around the store and assemble your order as you direct. Alternatively, you may choose to shop with a friend or relative. If you hire a reader or a driver, you may decide to use him or her as a shopping assistant on occasion. You may wish to telephone a store that will deliver.
Be systematic as you place the groceries on your shelves at home. Plan where to keep each kind of item, and be consistent. If containers cannot easily be distinguished by touch, label them in Braille. (Store clerks and delivery men should be willing to read the inkprint labels for you as necessary.) One way of labeling is to write the name of the item on a 3" x 5" card, and then attach the card to the container with a rubber band.
Metal measuring cups and spoons sold on the regular market are very convenient for the blind cook. Using measuring spoons with dry ingredients is no different for the blind cook than for the sighted. For liquids, however, we suggest that you bend the spoon so that the bowl is at right angles to the handle; keep each liquid ingredient in a wide-mouthed jar, so that the bent spoon may simply be lowered into it and then lifted out full. A popular convention is to bend die one-half teaspoon and one tablespoon measures in each set, so that half of the spoons are adapted for liquids, and so that the spoons can be told apart by touch very quickly and easily.
It is very convenient to use nesting measuring cups, and fill the appropriate measure completely full in the usual manner. A one-cup measuring cup with raised fractional markings on the inside may also be used, however.
If a recipe calls for a measured amount of boiling water, we suggest that you measure the water before heating it. If you use the water immediately when it begins to boil, the evaporation loss will not be significant.
CUTTING, GRATING, AND PEELING
The actual process of peeling, slicing, or grating is no different for the blind than for the sighted. As in all phases of cooking, safety depends upon competence and care rather than upon sight.
It is much easier and more satisfactory to grate or cut into a large bowl rather than onto a flat surface. The food is then automatically collected and easily manageable.
If you are a beginner who has had little or no experience in using a knife, you may find it easier and safer at first to cut downward toward a cutting board. The experienced cook uses a knife in various positions, however; and the newly blinded experienced cook will probably not change her ways of using a knife.
A suggested method for chopping vegetables into small pieces is as follows: Slice the vegetables into a large bowl. Then use a "Kwik-Kut Food Chopper," which resembles a round cookie or biscuit cutter but is very sharp on the bottom. (This cutter is available on the general market.) Chop the cutter up and down through the slices, moving around within the bowl and continuing until the pieces are the desired size and uniformity.
POURING, DRAINING, AND MIXING
If a tray or cookie sheet with raised edges is placed underneath the bowl while pouring and mixing, messiness and loss due to spillage can be minimized. A tray is also helpful for the same reason when carrying things which might spill-- for example, a custard pie or gelatin dessert which has not yet set.
Place several small desserts or custatds together on one tray in the oven or refrigerator.
Whenever possible, avoid unnecessary carrying: for example, measure ingredients immediately beside the mixing bowl, and prepare gelatin near the refrigerator. You may even wish to place a piecrust on the oven shelf before pouring in the liquid filling.
An "Oven Saver"--a round metal sheet with crimped edges and with a hole in die middle for heat circulation--is also good for prevention of spillage problems with pies both outside and inside the oven. This item is sold on the general market.
There are many methods for pouring and draining. For large quantities, a nervous beginner may wish to dip with a cup or ladle; however, pouring from one container to another in the regular manner may be accomplished with some practice. You may keep one hand on the receiving container to keep track of its location. With practice it is relatively easy to learn to judge the fullness of a container by sound and weight.
Depending on formality and other circumstances, you may determine when the desired level is reached by placing your finger over the lip of die container, counting the number of dips with your ladle, estimating, or using a liquid level indicator. With very thick mixtures such as cake batter, check that the level is even all across the pan. When filling an angel-food cake pan, cover the hole in the middle with a small plastic bag or a tiny jelly tin.
Using a screw-top jar or other shaker to mix the flour with the liquid is helpful in making white sauce and gravies.
Probably the easiest method of draining vegetables is to pour them into a colander or strainer: if the colander or strainer is placed over a bowl, any spilled vegetables will be retrievable. The experienced cook may prefer another method.
There are several good methods for separating eggs. One way is to break the shell into two unequal parts; lift off and discard the small end; and then drain off the white. It is also possible to buy a special tool for separating eggs.
Stirling by hand usually presents no particular problem. Use a bowl that is large enough to minimize splashing, and be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary. If the bowl slides around annoyingly, set it on a damp cloth or some other non-slippery surface.
Although the beginner may feel nervous about an electric mixer, normal safety precautions make it as safe for the blind cook as for the sighted. The condition of the mixture may be observed and controlled by using a rubber spatula and/or by stopping the machine to check with the fingers.
For methods in pouring coffee or tea, see the paragraphs on "Serving the Food."
PLUGGING IN AN APPLIANCE
If you are a beginner who has not yet learned how to plug in an appliance safely, the following suggestions may be helpful: First locate the outlet tactually and observe the orientation of the holes. With your right hand holding the plug by the insulated portion, bring the plug up to the outlet, but do not begin to push it in. Checking with your left hand to see that the prongs are oriented in the same direction as the holes, being the plug up so that the prongs are over the holes, but do not yet push the prongs in, even part way. Remove your left hand, and be sure that your right hand is touching only the insulated portion of the plug. Now push the plug into the outlet.
DIALS AND CONTROLS
Dials and controls may easily be adapted to use without sight. With experience, you will be able to obtain the necessary information quickly from the appliance salesman or some other sighted person, and arrange a plan to operate the dials easily and accurately.
For each dial or knob, you will need to define at least one reference point on the moving part and at least one reference point on the background behind it. Often you will need several reference points on the dial and just one on the background.
Look first for already-existing features which you can use. Following are several examples of settings which can be used without any added markings: (1) Turn the dial clockwise, or counterclockwise, as far as it will go. (2) Move the dial to the next clearly defined "click." (3) Place the pointer straight up, straight down, etc. (4) Place the dial halfway between two clearly-defined positions. (5) Feel a screw, raised letter, or other tactual feature which happens to be on the dial already.
When the existing features are not sufficient for accurate use by the blind, you will need to add one or more tactual markings. Ideas include: filing small notches; applying actual Braille dots or letters, as with a special DymoTape set, placing drops of glue, paint, etc.; and etching glass. (Glass may be etched by using a portable high-speed grinder with a V-shaped silicon carbide stone, or a vibrating engraving tool with a silicon carbide or diamond point.)
Many knobs and dials can easily be removed to facilitate marking. Observe carefully before removing, however, so that you will be able to replace the dial correctly.
The tactile markings need not necessarily be the same as the inkprint markings, as long as they produce the desired results. If the dial is particularly hard to mark, for example, it may be possible to do most of the marking on the background instead of on the dial.
Use the minimum necessary marks, avoiding confusing clutter. Probably you will not mark nearly as many points as are designated on the inkprint dial. On an oven heat control, for example, marking every 100 degrees is entirely adequate. In fact, many cooks prefer to mark only three points to show a "Cool," "Moderate," and "Hot" oven (275 degrees, 350 degrees, and 425 degrees.) It is easy to set a dial one fourth, one half or three fourths of the way between two marks.
USING THE STOVE, OVEN, OR ELECTRIC FRYING PAN
Food may be placed in a pan, and the pan on a burner, before the heat is turned on; this way, the pan and burner may be examined tactually with safety. However, with experience you will rarely if ever need to turn off the heat in order to replace a pan on the burner.
Similarly, if you ate a beginner you may wish to examine the oven carefully while it is cold. Once you ate familiar with its arrangement, you will then be able to wotk confidently when the oven is hot, using a mitt or a potholder. It is usually better to pull out the oven shelf in order to insert or remove something; the danger of a hand burn is then minimized because you need not reach far inside the oven. Be sure that die shelves are properly attached so that they will not pull out too far or tip over.
Although the beginner may feel hesitant about lighting a gas stove or oven, the blind cook need only follow normal safety precautions and observe the operation of the stove by means other than sight. Listen for the sound of the flame lighting. If necessary hold your hand above the burner or pilot light, at a safe distance, to see whether it is still burning. With experience you will be able to set the flame to the desired level by observing the position of the control and the amount of heat generated. If matches ate requited, the beginner may prefer large wooden ones, and may need to practice lighting them; however the experienced cook uses any available match.
Usually you can tell when something starts to boil, by listening and/or by feeling the vibration of the pan handle. However, if the liquid is very thick, a Braille thermometer may be useful. A beginner may wish to have the mixture stop boiling temporarily befote adding ingredients.
Monitoring the cooking of a confection by placing a sample in cold water and checking for die "soft ball stage," etc., is done by touch anyway, and should be no problem for the blind cook.
If you use a pressure cooker, select a type which makes use of sounds, as with a jiggling weight, rather than an inkprint dial. Notches may be filed in a weight which has multiple settings.
To turn meat which is frying, locate each piece by touch and flip it in the usual manner. If necessary, wad up a piece of paper toweling as a pad to protect your hand. (Especially at first, you may need to use your hand to find the piece of meat and/or to keep it in the tight position while you ate turning it over with a spatula.)
A suggested method for frying chicken is as follows: Do not cut the drumstick and thigh apart until after cooking; the larger combined piece is mote easily managed during frying. Tuck the ends of each wing together for greater compactness and ease in handling. Plan your arrangement of the pieces in the skillet so that you remember where each one is. Arrange the chicken in a relatively cool skillet (warmed only enough to melt the fat); turn up the heat appropriately until the meat is teady to turn; then turn the heat off again while you are turning the pieces. In turning large pieces, it may be convenient to exchange two of them with each other.
Since bacon is so thin and flimsy, a bacon decurler may be used to make turning unnecessary. This is a perforated metal plate with a small handle in the middle, available on the general market. The bacon cooks on both sides simultaneously when this device is placed over it. After the proper time has elapsed, touching the bacon with a spatula, or lifting it up slightly, will indicate its crispness. Scoop out the pieces with the spatula, pushing them against a paper towel to collect them.
In frying pancakes, the beginner will probably start with just one in the middle of the pan; however the experienced cook can fry several in the same skillet. Ladle in the appropriate amount of batter for the size of cake desired; for a thinner cake, shake or tip the skillet slightly. The appropriate time for turning may be judged by time and by the consistency of the cake as the spatula is slipped under it.
In preparing waffles, spread the batter around evenly as you dip it into the waffle iron. You will know when the waffle is done by observing such things as the amount of steam escaping, the odor, and whether the lid comes free easily.
The beginner frying an egg, and the experienced cook frying several eggs separately in one pan, may use an egg ring for each egg. Remove both the top and bottom of a small tuna or pineapple can, leaving a metal ring about one and one-half inches high and three inches in diameter. This ring is placed in the pan, and the egg is broken into it. When the egg becomes firm enough to keep its shape, the ring is removed.
Time, touch, odor, taste, and/or sound will indicate when a product is done.
SERVING THE FOOD
Many aids are available for cutting cakes, pies, etc., into portions. From a restaurant supply house it is possible to buy a pie-cutting guide featuring slots for the knife. A different type of pie cutter, consisting of a wire frame with blades, is available from restaurant supply houses. A hexagonal-shaped pie pan may be bought on the regular market, and a straightedge may be laid across between opposite corners to guide the knife. A straightedge may also be used in a similar manner with any metal pan, if notches are filed at appropriate places along die edges of the pan; cakes, desserts, and gelatin may be cut evenly in this manner.
Setting the table usually presents no particular problem. If you have trouble spacing the place settings evenly, we suggest that you push each chair up close to the table in its proper place. Then you can center each place setting in front of the corresponding chair.
A tray or cookie sheet helps in serving soup or other liquids. A filled bowl may be carried on a tray to minimize the problem of spillage. Alternatively, the bowls may be filled at the table just before the diners arrive, with the tray being placed under each bowl in turn as a precaution.
Many blind hostesses prefer to serve food to their guests from a cart or sideboard. If each serving dish is passed around and then returned to this location, the hostess easily finds out when a dish becomes empty.
The popular modern custom of a self service buffet style meal is particularly convenient for the blind hostess, as it is for the sighted. The hostess need only arrange all the necessary items appropriately, and then replenish empty serving dishes as necessary.
The beginner may experience difficulty in pouring from a coffeepot. We suggest the following: Set the cup near the edge of the table. Lift the coffeepot completely off the table, and lower it so that the bottom of the pot is lower than the surface of the table. Then place the spout so that it touches the lip of the cup and reaches inside. (With experience, you may or may not come to prefer some other method.)
When pouring beverages in an informal setting, you may place your finger over the lip of the cup to tell when it is full, or you may estimate the amount of liquid. For pouring hot cofee or tea, and for formal situations, however, use of a "liquid probe" is preferable. This device clamps over the lip of the cup and makes a sound when die liquid reaches the desired level.
Much of the need for cleaning up spots and spills can be prevented by careful work habits. As mentioned above, a tray is extremely helpful in catching spills. Unpleasant accidents, such as dropping a pie or placing one tray of unbaked cookies on top of another, can usually be prevented by care and thought. For example: Remove spills from the floor at once before someone slips. Check die oven shelf to be sure it is clear. Replace lids tightly onto the proper jars. Put utensils and appliances back into their proper places, and always turn off appliances rather than merely unplugging them. Plan ahead in all respects rather than proceeding haphazardly. (All of these precautions apply to the sighted as well; however die blind person learning new techniques may need to be reminded.)
Often the need for cleaning or washing can be felt tactually. It is important, however, to anticipate dirt which may not be so readily noticed, and to do routine general cleaning such as wiping off the entire counter after mixing on it. In cleaning a surface such as the counter or floor, a planned approach is very important: clean in strips rather than random strokes here and there. Dishwashing usually presents no particular problems.
Cleanliness and neatness should be considered at every stage of the food preparation procedure. Organize equipment and supplies beforehand; keep your hands thoroughly clean; plan carefully; clean up spills when they occur; wash all utensils and wipe off die entire cooking area afterwards. Double check after the cleanup is completed, to be sure nothing was missed.
A positive attitude is essential to success. If you really believe that the blind cook necessarily takes many safety risks, needs a great deal of special equipment, has only a limited repertoire, and produces questionable products--then you will do a poor job. If you really believe that the blind cook may choose among many good methods to work with all kinds of food and produce high-quality products--then you will find a way to succeed.
If you have questions which have not been resolved by die suggestions in this booklet, we cordially invite you to write to the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 for further information on cooking techniques or any other subject pertaining to blindness.
(p.s. Another helpful source of information is the book, A Handbook for Senior Citizens: Rights, Resources and Responsibilities. It is available at a cost of 5 pounds 95 pencefrom the American Brotherhood for die Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.)