GBS has left me with weak and impaired grip in both hands. My fingers and thumbs have impaired movement. When it comes to cooking and eating what I can hold and manipulate with ease and comfort is limited.
Sometimes there is nothing worse than having to buy an obvious disability aid because it screams disability as a constant reminder and is a signal to observers. I have a thick-handled spoon that does that. I haven’t been able to find an alternative spoon design. And sometimes there simply isn’t any option but a specialised disability aid.
Most kitchen and dining equipment can’t be modified away from being what they are. I found this with frying pans where the only thing I could do was be careful about the shape of the handle. I recently bought a small frying pan with a handle that was too smooth and round for my grip. I couldn’t tilt it to transfer the contents while it was hot.
I also learnt this lesson when my housemate bought a new electric kettle with a handle that arched over the top. The old kettle had a side handle I could grip. Now I have to tilt the new kettle from the edge of the sink to fill my mug. I can live with that work around, but it will probably have to have an accident so I can replace it with a side handled model.
Over the years I have been acquiring regular things that suit my accessibility needs to a high degree. Below are a few favourites.
If you don’t have a personal need, you may know others who do.
Victorinox 11cm serrated steak knives
I bought these knives before GBS. I haven’t used a regular knife since. The handles are thicker than regular knives and are made from some kind of plastic that gives a non-slip grip. The blade has some give that I didn’t value until I tried a regular knife. The knives I have are well over 15 years old and still cut better than a regular knife.
I have tried regular knives, including regular thick-handled steak knives, but none meet my needs the way the Victorinox knives do. Interestingly, thick-handled steak knives don’t work for me the way the thick-handled spoon does. The grip is different.
Ultra-light titanium plate from Alton
This is a 22cm wide and 2.8 cm deep plate that weighs only 132g. I struggle to hold a ceramic dinner plate or those confounded wide bowl-like plates that are popular. Its bad enough trying to carry one empty but is seriously risky with food in it.
This titanium plate is a little smaller than I’d like for an all-purpose plate, but it still meets 90% of my needs. It’s so light I can carry it with a decent amount of food on it with no worries.
The plate isn’t cheap at $49.99, but its unbreakable and its ease of use because of its weight make that money well spent.
Double wall titanium bowl
I found one on Amazon. There were several designed for camping with widths between 12.5cm [Boundless Voyage $36.00] and 14cm [EPIgas $46.27]. There is a Snow Peak bowl with seems to be somewhat larger, but the size isn’t stated. The price [$84.54] is the main hint that it may be wider and deeper.
The bowl is very light, and the double wall insulates from heat and cold. I decide the cost was worth it to have a bowl that was easy to carry when loaded, easy to hold, and unbreakable. The texture, too, reduces the risk of slipping from the hand.
Ultra-light cutting board from Alton
Cutting board come in all shapes, sizes and weights. Because I have to sit on a chair in the kitchen, I am often reduced to putting a cutting board on my knee. My housemate prefers cutting boards that are thick or have stubby legs. Reaching the bench top from my chair comfortably means even an extra cm can be a problem.
The Alton cutting boards are made from food grade HDPE and come in 2 sizes – 21cm x 14 cm and 29cm x 21cm. They are at the most 2mm thick. I bought the larger one. It is stiff but not rigid. It is fine on my lap for a lot of things short of vigorous cutting and chopping. A rigid board is needed for that.
Impaired grip and manual dexterity are a pain in the butt. It is astonishing how many things are difficult to access or use without some kind of tool or an alternative design. I have written earlier about my climbers’ knife which is my primary accessibility tool.
Some regular things are great accessibility aids because they are designed to solve functional problems. Like the way my climbers’ knife’s is designed to be opened wearing gloves and hence is kinder to impaired fingers, camping food preparation and dining equipment address weight and robustness issues that can be translated into serving the needs of people with disability.
We must remember that activities that require significant ability create tools that also serve the needs of people with disability. They are often designed for ease of use under less-than-ideal conditions. There is a good feeling that comes from using a well-crafted ability-based tool or utensil that meets the needs of a person with disability – as opposed to relying on disability specific aids. I can live happier if all I need is only one thick-handled spoon.
Go for good design first. We must learn to think in terms of universal and inclusive design when we evaluate how useful something is. This is an ongoing opportunity. After buying the frying pan, I became more conscious about the shape and texture of handles – and now, of course, the position.
Also, let’s not think that just because a person has a disability the solution to their need for access or inclusion is an adjustment or an aid. It might just be better, more inclusive, design.