How to Stay Safe When Vision Impaired or Blind in the Kitchen

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 04, 2022
5 min read

Whether you’ve had vision impairment your entire life or it’s something new for you, it can be frustrating. The world isn’t set up for vision-impaired people. Luckily, there are things you can do to make typical activities, such as cooking, more manageable.

Vision impairment is the term used to describe situations where a person’s eyesight cannot be corrected to be within the normal range. This means that despite corrective methods like glasses, contacts, or surgical options, your eyesight is still poor.

20/20 vision is the standard of what is considered adequate vision in the U.S. This means that both eyes can see something 20 feet away clearly and without issues, which is about average. 

The World Health Organization defines low vision as between 20/70, meaning that you see something that is 20 feet away with the same detail someone with normal vision would see from 70 feet away, or 20/400, meaning you see something from 20 feet away the same way someone with normal vision would see it from 400 feet away. These measurements are made after correction options have been used. Blindness is considered anything worse than 20/400 with the use of corrective measures.

Visual acuity is not the only measure of vision impairment, though. Another factor taken into consideration is the visual field: how wide of an area your eyes can see without you needing to turn your head. A normal visual field is about 160 to 170 degrees. Low vision is considered a visual field of 20 degrees or less, while blindness is a visual field of 10 degrees or less.

In the U.S., vision loss and vision impairment are usually caused by age-related conditions. These include conditions such as: 

  • Cataracts. Within your eye, there is a lens that focuses light to help you see. Cataracts form when the proteins in that lens begin to break down, causing it to become cloudy or foggy.
  • Glaucoma. Your eyes are full of a fluid called the aqueous humor. In cases of glaucoma, that fluid builds up and puts pressure on the optic nerve, which leads from your eyes to your brain. This can result in hazy or blurry vision.
  • Macular degeneration. The backs of your eyes are lined with a layer of cells called the retinas. As you age, one or both of your retinas can become thin or damaged. This leads to macular degeneration, in which case your central vision may be lessened or fade completely.

Vision impairment and blindness can be the result of a congenital condition. Congenital conditions are conditions you are born with. Things like genetic conditions and an infection during pregnancy can lead to congenital vision loss. 

Other causes of vision loss include disease, infection, and injury.

The kitchen is perhaps one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. Appliances like microwaves, ovens, and stoves can all cause fires. The kitchen is also full of sharp tools like knives, choppers, and blenders.

Before getting started. There are a few things you can do before you start cooking to allow you to cook safely. One of the best ways you can make low-vision cooking safe and seamless is to keep your kitchen organized. Knowing where everything is located allows you to cook safely and seamlessly and helps you grab the right items when they are needed.

If you have items that look similar, find ways to label them. The labeling method may depend on your vision impairment, but try items like braille labels, large-print labels, or tactile options like rubber bands.

Low light can make vision worse for some people. If you find you struggle in low light, look for options to add light to your kitchen. Try additional lamps, LED light strips, or adhesive lights under your cabinets.

When it’s time to start cooking: 

  • Use a lunch tray or serving tray to prepare your food on. This is an easy way to contain messes. 
  • If you find it helpful, gather all your ingredients together before you start. 
  • Dress properly to avoid fires. Wear short sleeves or roll your sleeves up. Use oven mitts or potholders when handling hot dishes so you don’t burn yourself. 
  • Using a timer will help prevent burning or overcooking.
  • Using a meat thermometer will help make sure your food is cooked to a safe temperature.

Use color-contrasting tools. Using tools that contrast the food you’re using will help you see what you’re doing a little easier. For example, cut dark foods like broccoli on a light cutting board and measure light foods like flour or sugar in darker measuring cups.

Cooking on the stove. When you’re vision-impaired, cooking over the stove can be nerve-wracking, especially if your stovetop has gas flames. There are a few different tips you can utilize to keep yourself safe, though, when cooking blind over the stove:

  • Place the pan on the burner before turning the burner on.
  • Turn the burner off before removing the pan.
  • Use pans and pots with heat-resistant handles
  • Turn the handles in so that you don’t accidentally bump the handles while moving around. Be sure the handle is not over another hot burner, though.

Baking. Baking isn’t as tricky as cooking over a stove, but it can still be nerve-wracking if you’re cooking while blind or have low vision. Try these tips:

  • Position your oven racks before heating the oven.
  • Turn off the heat before removing things from the oven.
  • Instead of reaching inside the oven, use oven mitts to pull the rack out to reach your food.

Food prep. There are several different tricks you can use to make chopping, measuring, and pouring easier:

  • Use a vegetable peeler instead of a knife if possible.
  • Make sure the sharp edge of your knife is facing down before using it.
  • Use a pizza cutter instead of a knife for easy-to-slice foods like sandwiches.
  • Measure out foods over open containers or other measuring cups to avoid spills.
  • Transfer ingredients into a wider container or bowl. This allows you to dip the spoon or cup into the ingredients rather than trying to pour them into the spoon or cup.
  • If you’re heating a liquid, measure out the amount you need first, then heat it.

There are many products on the market designed to facilitate low-vision cooking and blind cooking.

  • “Talking” items. Devices like kitchen scales are available and will say measurements out loud.
  • Beeping items. Items like timers, thermometers, and liquid level indicators will beep when at the proper level.
  • Large-print items. Many kitchen items can be purchased in large print that is easier to read, including cookbooks, timers, and measuring cups.
  • Items with raised markings. Like large-print items, many items are available with raised print or braille. This includes measuring cups and cookbooks. You can also purchase 3D pens to make your own markings or labels.
  • Vision-impaired label makers. You can purchase label makers that will print in braille to make labeling products easier.
  • Use a barcode scanning app. Some barcode apps will read the product out loud to you when you scan the barcode.