Exploring Universal Design with The Amazon Smart Oven

The seven principles of Universal Design are broad in scope, making them somewhat difficult to apply in the physical world. So, to better illustrate the principles of Universal Design, I decided to provide a real-world example of a product which meets the definition of being truly universal.

The product or service I am evaluating is the Amazon Smart Oven.

This product has successfully implemented the following principles of Universal Design:

  1. Equitable use: The Amazon Smart oven (though discontinued a couple years ago) is a kitchen tool for cooks of all ages and skill levels. The smart oven provides a variety of cook modes which can be activated using multiple forms of interaction. Using the Amazon Smart oven, anybody can prepare food quickly and easily.
  2. Flexibility in use: Using the Amazon Smart Oven, you can microwave, air-fry, bake, roast, and toast using one appliance. The Amazon Smart Oven is paired with both an Echo Dot and an app on your smart phone. The oven can be controlled either manually by pressing buttons on the device, issuing voice commands to Alexa, or, by making selections in the app.
  3. Simple and intuitive use: The easiest way of operating the smart oven is by issuing voice commands to Alexa. You can tell Alexa to pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, then tell her to bake for 50 minutes at a set temperature. At the end of the cooking time, you will receive a notification both audibly from the Echo dot and as a text notification on your phone. The oven will also stop cooking at the end of the cook time.
  4. Perceptible information: You can control the smart oven by voice as well as receiving audible status updates on when your food will finish cooking. You can also purchase an optional braille overlay for the oven’s front control panel. The braille overlay only costs 99 cents from Amazon and turns the flat button panel on the device into a tactile control panel. Lastly, you can get information about cook time and mode through the accessible smart phone app.
  5. Tolerance for error: You can cancel/clear any operation by pressing a single button on the smart oven. Additionally, the smart oven stops cooking automatically at the end of the cook time that you previously set.
  6. Low physical effort: The buttons on the smart oven are easy to press and the smart oven door opens and closes easily using a large plastic handle/grip on the front of the oven. It requires the same amount of effort as opening/closing many modern microwaves.
  7. Appropriate size and space for approach and use: Measuring slightly larger than a standard counter-top microwave, the large oven door opens from the right side, swinging outward approximately at a 90-degree angle, providing plenty of space for inserting food and removing hot food/dishes. The buttons on the front panel have good spacing for easy use. And, because this device is designed to sit on the countertop, it can potentially be placed on varying heights of work surfaces to accommodate user reach and comfort.

This product or service could be changed in the following ways to make it more universal:

  • To improve its Equitable use, this product could be made more universally accessible by including the braille overlay in the box with the oven so that it does not need to be ordered separately.
  • It is advised that you only use the included pan for baking/roasting/air frying in the smart oven. To improve the Flexibility in use of this product, the manufacturer could have made it more universally accessible by allowing users to use any pan that fits the oven.
  • This smart oven was not available in stores. It could only be purchased by ordering from Amazon; meaning that new customers could not see or touch the product in person until it was purchased and unboxed. To improve its Equitable use, this oven should have been displayed and sold in big box stores.
  • Sadly, the Amazon Smart Oven is no longer being manufactured nor sold. Therefore, those loyal customers who have found the Amazon Smart Oven to be an extremely valuable and irreplaceable tool, may find themselves in a very uncomfortable and possibly inaccessible situation, if anything ever happens to make their current smart oven inoperable. To increase the smart oven’s Tolerance for error, Amazon should resume manufacturing and selling this amazing kitchen tool which has served to level the playing field for cooks of all types.-- 😊 I know this last one is a stretch in terms of matching it with a principle of Universal Design; but I truly believe that without the possibility of replacement, current users who depend on the Amazon Smart Oven for their independence, are only one power surge, failed component, or standard accident away from losing their cooking independence; as most modern ovens are not accessible at all.

In summation, it is rare to find a product these days that is universally accessible for everybody. For a short-time, the world was blessed with the invention of the Amazon Smart Oven. This kitchen gadget revolutionized the accessibility of cooking for millions of people (with and without disabilities), by adhering to the principles of Universal Design. Unfortunately, in all of their infinite wisdom, Amazon halted production and sale of its smart oven a few years ago, instead replacing it with their Smart Microwave, which lacks much of the functionality of its predecessor. We can only hope that Amazon or some other forward-thinking company will release a new all-in-one cooking device with the same attention to Universal Design, sometime in the near future.

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