New IEC standard to help people with disabilities

We live in a world which does not often take the needs of most people with disabilities into account. While progress is gradually being made, many of the consumer electronics appliances we use every day are not designed to be accessible to this growing percentage of the population.

Visually impaired person in kitchen

Try opening a washing machine or a fridge with hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis or read instructions on a cooker if you are visually impaired: routine daily tasks can quickly become insurmountable and sometimes dangerous obstacle courses.

The risk of enduring a disabling condition increases with age. According to the UN, there are nearly one billion people in the world aged 60 or over, which is equivalent to 13 per cent of the global population. That figure is expected to more than double by 2050 and even triple by 2100. Countries like China and Japan are especially concerned, as well as most of Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland.

The needs of people with disabilities have always been at the forefront of IEC international standard development. A Systems Committee, IEC SyC AAL, was established to promote safety, security, privacy and cross-vendor interoperability in the use of active assisted living (AAL) services, which can be defined as systems which help people with disabilities to live independently.

The SyC also encourages AAL standardization at IEC technical committee level. IEC TC 59 prepares performance standards for household appliances. It has been working on accessibility standards for several years largely at the behest of consumer representatives inside the IEC, notably from the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) Consumer Council.

IEC 63008 is a new ground-breaking standard, which contains test procedures and requirements to improve the accessibility of household appliances for people with disabilities. These test requirements are described independently from the device. This means that they can apply to a wide range of household appliances, including washing machines as well as smaller items, such as egg-cookers or electric kettles. They concern control elements, for instance door handles and drawers on washing machines, push buttons on microwave ovens or vacuum cleaners and so on.

“In 2015, we issued a smaller publication dealing with accessibility for toasters, which was a pilot standard in this area. The information we used for developing IEC 63008 originates from scientific knowledge derived from the theory of ergonomics, product design and other relevant disciplines,” describes Gerhard Fuchs who heads the working group inside TC 59, which prepared the standard.

One of the challenges was to build a consensus on the requirements between the different participants who worked on the standard, notably between representatives from consumer groups and manufacturers. “One issue which was difficult to reach an agreement on was the size of letters on appliances, for instance,” Fuchs says.

“We have integrated input from consumer organizations like ANEC, household appliance manufacturers but also testing institutes such as Intertek based in the UK,” he adds.

A next step will be to investigate new technologies such as voice activation. “We are looking to produce a state-of-the art technical report looking at what the latest advances and breakthroughs can bring to further improve access for people with disabilities,” Fuchs explains.

In the meantime, IEC 63008 ensures home appliances are better designed for people with disabilities – making their everyday life in their homes much safer and more comfortable.