Designed for 70%

I’ve been sick.  Hacking, coughing, suffering mightily with bronchitis and staying very close to my bed.  A bottle of water nearby along with tissues at the ready, faithful service dog alongside me, I was set except for one tiny thing: a thermometer.

Why don’t I have a thermometer?  I do, in fact I have two thermometers.  Two almost new electronic thermometers reside in my medicine cupboard.  I bought the first one but soon it seemed not to work anymore so off I went to buy a second.  Funny, that one didn’t work either.  Then one day I became ill and tried in vain to take my temperature.

When my husband came home I told him the thermometer was broken.  He looked at it and said, “Let’s try it again.”  Sure enough, it worked for him.

So what was the problem?  Why did it not work for me but work for him?  The signal on the thermometer is a high frequency beeping sound.  It is a very high frequency sound that is outside my hearing range.  It is outside the hearing range of most people with high frequency hearing loss, the most common form of sensorineural hearing loss.

All this means these newer thermometers cannot be used by almost 35% of the population.

Do companies stop to think, “How can we design and sell a product that cannot be used by 30% of the market?”  I can’t imagine they do.  Yet neither do they stop to think “How can we design a product that can truly be used by almost everyone out there in the market?”

A friend who is visually impaired recently built a new house and installed a security system.  When the installer came out he instructed her to make sure the system was activated by looking at the screen.

“But I can’t see the screen,” she told him. “Isn’t there a system that is designed for people who are blind or who have low vision?”

The answer, of course, was no.

Then there are smoke detectors.  The standard smoke detector relies on a high pitched beeping sound to alert people of danger.  This beep is supposed to be able to wake sleeping people in the middle of the night.  It does, or at least it does for some people.

Yet people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, again 30% of the population give or take, are excluded by virtue of being unable to hear the beep.  Those who can afford to do so must purchase add on devices that flash lights or shake their beds to awaken them.

But wait, we’re not done.  Studies conducted over the past 10 years have shown that the traditional smoke alarm’s high pitched beeping frequently fails to awaken sleeping children.  It seems that just like people who have hearing loss, children are not awakened by the high frequency tone.  They respond much better to an alert that is verbal.  So now there are smoke detectors that come with verbal alerts.

Why don’t manufacturers create a new, standard smoke detector that combines the verbal alert with a low pitched beep?  With one device they could let a much larger segment of the population know of potential danger.

More and more people in this country have at least one disability.  Isn’t it time manufacturers start designing things with that in mind?

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