Heating controls are too difficult for people with sight loss

Published:  12 February, 2014

Many people with sight loss are unable to control their heating or cut their fuel bills because heating dials and switches are too difficult to use, according to research published today.

Conducted by the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs (Rica ) and the sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, the research highlights an urgent need for better design of heating controls for those with failing vision.

In a new guide, 'Choosing Central Heating Controls and Saving Energy', researchers report a catalogue of design problems that make heating controls difficult to operate, and offer practical advice on choosing and using heating controls to stay warm and save energy.

"It's vital that everyone should be able to control their heating but current designs simply rule this out for some customers. We need new heating controls to be made accessible to all," said Lynn Watson, head of housing research, Thomas Pocklington Trust.

The new guide aims to de-mystify heating controls, explaining how they work, giving product reviews and listing what to look for particularly if you have sight loss or failing vision.

"There's little point in government urging people to save energy if the most basic controls for heating are simply not workable for vast numbers of people," said Chris Lofthouse, outreach oanager, Rica .

Controls which can be operated by apps or through a website have great potential as testers felt these could be more accessible. However, testing revealed that they didn't work well with access software (screen readers/magnifiers) designed for people with sight loss.

One of testers commented: "I want to be able to use it myself, I don't want to have to ask somebody else all the time. Everybody else can use their heating, I want to be able to use mine".

Based on the most common problems, the guide provides a checklist of five key points for people buying new controls to consider:

For those who don't want to buy new controls the Guide shows how to improve old ones by adding tactile markers. It includes tips on cutting energy bills, keeping homes warm, and how to find and pay for energy-saving home improvements.

"The lack of easy to use controls on the market means people don't have much choice. We hope this guide will get consumers to be more demanding and act as a wake-up call to industry. Features useful for partially sighted people are useful for everybody," said Mr Lofthouse.