Accessibility designed out

If you like cooking, have you heard of Thermamix?  I made bread with one of these machines in Melbourne, Australia, with food writer and author, Dani Valent

Thermamix machines combine weighing scales, food processing,  heating etc –like a soup-maker on steroids.  They are pricey large pieces of electrical kitchen kit that many people in Australia and world-wide swear by.


Dani invited me to use either the sleek modern digital plastic version with carrying handle, touch-screen and more or the old metal TM31 with tactile buttons, knobs  and dials.  No choice: the new version is wholly inaccessible for a blind  cook whereas I learned the trusty and satisfyingly sturdy old one in a matter of minutes.  All the TM31 needs is an audio chip to speak the digital display and it would be the perfect cooking aid for anyone with visual impairment.  Meanwhile, those smug designers have excluded us from the market and   consigned us to find second-hand old TM31s.


But how did it make the bread?  Just excellent: two minutes stirring and warming the yeast before the flour was added for a 2 minute knead.  Then the dough was out of the machine, shaped and baked in under 20 minutes!    No excuse for running out of bread ever again.  The rolls were perfectly fluffy and light with a crisp crust – no wonder people like this machine so much!

Next time, Dani is talking about her Thermamix cook book and an ingredient that you can’t even buy!





Website accessibility

What do you think:

  • Website designers taking account of adaptive technology?
  • Which screen-magnifiers, screen-readers and voice recognition solutions are most used?
  • What about all the others who use adaptive IT?

You can cast an eye, screen-magnifier or reader over the results of a recent survey of the sorts of adaptive information technology used to access the website at:

Useful in parts although only just over 700 responses were gathered over six weeks from users of the Government’s main website – perhaps other users of adaptive IT (like me) have found websites so difficult over the years that we really don’t try them anymore.  There’s probably a good case for giving more visibility (excuse the pun) to all the developments in web design in more recent times.

Meanwhile, this data is likely to influence how Government websites are tested and further improved – so other designers might care to follow suit.

And the problem with pdf documents got another airing – no-one should be using this format unless the original document was properly designed for accessibility.

Don’t forget: any organisation that provides services to the public (whether a private business, public body or voluntary or community sector organisation) has the legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to make information and communications accessible to everyone.  And “reasonable” is usually going to mean that the larger the organisation, the bigger the effort they need to make.

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Poor accessibility review for Rome – but great assistance.

What do you think:

  • How to pick up men in Rome?
  • Accessibility more than just lifts and ramps?
  • Physical impairments limit work in the fitness industry?

How to pick up men in Rome?

Relaxing at destination


Completely impossible to book passenger assistance at the main Termini railway station in Rome –lots of long-distance phone calls rang impregnable option menus but never quite connected with a living, breathing human.    It feels rather like a metaphor for modern life.

Faced with a trolley-free panorama, I and utterly diminutive co-traveller, not-quite-shoulder length Rosemary, exerted our double death grip to drag stacked luggage towards the distant horizon beyond the station’s 20-odd platforms.  As Number 1 hove in to view, we knew that the struggle was succeeding –the medley of directions had all confirmed our train was just around the corner and along a bit.  Celebrations all round and Rosemary deployed on lunch logistics.

Nonchantaly confident, I stood guard over the bags and surveyed the station soundscape (basic building site).  Same sensors picked them up: incoming at 12 o’clock and another to starboard; close range; Intelligence limited but signalling native, purposeful, non-hostile – General Alert but Hold Fire.  “Are you Penelope and where is your friend?” was subtle opening gambit: superior Intel on force composition and deployment.  Need to avoid friendly fire and decode remaining unintelligible message.  Colossus-like, the enigma came through en Claire: SIGINT discarded as phone calls had target-error; honey trap HUMINT source confirmed as conversational airport assistance (code name Guiseppe) deploying tradecraft to side-step the system.

OK, it was two of the station assistance chaps offering us a lift in the buggy –but how was I to know? And, when Rosemary got back, we had to be persuaded that just around the corner and along a bit really justified the help.  But it seemed discourteous to decline. Buggy was duly mounted and Rosemary consigned to luggage bay.  Off we trundled, round the corner and on a bit – and a bit more and then a very lot more: down slopes and up again, out of the main station, along seemingly endless stretches of concrete with no perceptible alternative life forms except the odd birdsong.  It measured at least a mile by buggy and an impossible 10 by bag-dragging foot – we would never have made it alone.  Our laughter became increasingly hysterical as we realised the disaster so narrowly adverted.

Lessons learned:

  • Be as chatty and nice to anyone who helps you – you never know when you might need them and their friends again.
  • Tempering flight or fight urges is one of the advantages of being blind.

Taxis can be safer and easier – but far less exciting!

Accessibility more than just lifts and ramps?

Even leading UK retailer Marks and Spencer has realised that awful music doesn’t improve our shopping experience.  And you can imagine that noisy venues are even more difficult for people who rely on their hearing, have hearing loss or find that volume disturbs their mental health – we just spend our money elsewhere.  The new international Access Earth website allows anyone to rate venues on their accessibility and provide comments about places to eat and drink, sleep, shop and do other activities.  Hopefully they might extend this to other less-optional venues such as doctor and dentist surgeries, schools and colleges, hospitals and other public buildings such as Jobcentres and Council offices.  There will be a mobile app too in a couple of months.  Visit:

Physical impairments limit work in the fitness industry?

Of course not.  We all know that physical impairments don’t stop sports fanatics competing at the highest level such as the Paralympics.  So it makes complete sense that work in the fitness and leisure industry can also be open.  The award-winning “Instructability” programme run by charity Aspire is one route to such jobs.  Visit:


There’s also a vacancy for a part-time “inclusive sports coach” in Liverpool – a good way of getting on to the sports and leisure industry ladder.  For an application form, or if you have any further enquiries or issues, please contact Daisy Inclusive UK on 0151 261 0309 or email – closing date for applications is 8 August.


Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000