Debbie, a Re-Start customer, has been going to weekly cookery lessons at BALC and I was invited along to see how assistive technologies, simple gadgets and thoughtful support all enable her to take part in an activity she can't do at home.
'I can't get into my kitchen to cook at home, so this is the second course I have done here', Debbie says. 'They are in six week blocks and we have made a mixture of sweet and savoury dishes. Today we're making a chocolate mallow cake with frosted blueberries - I chose the recipe, so I'm looking forward to eating it!'
Sue, the tutor, says 'they're a great bunch in this class and it's not just about the cookery, but the social aspect of it too. and of course they get to eat the results!'.
The kitchen has workspaces at different heights and some with no cupboards underneath, so wheelchairs can fit under them and Debbie can get close enough to reach the stove, worktop and sink. Debbie also uses a kitchen aid which has a vegetable peeler built into it, as well as a vice and some prongs to hold whatever she is cutting in place, so that she can focus on using the knife safely.
'Because I'm blind, there are parts of cooking that I do need help with but in the past my support workers have sometimes been a bit wary of letting me 'do' by myself. Actually all I need is a bit of help finding things and someone to talk me through what's happening like Caroline and Liz do, and I can do a lot more than people think.'
Caroline, who supports Debbie at her class, thinks this is really important and makes sure that Debbie gets to do as much as she can for herself 'this is Debbie's course and she wants to experience cooking, so there's no point in me doing it all'. She guides Debbie's hands onto bowls and utensils, so that she can do the mixing herself and describes the changes in colour and texture, encouraging Debbie to notice the change in the way the mixtures feel. After last week's class, she also has an ingenious way of separating eggs as Debbie didn't enjoy the 'slimy feel' of the eggs in her hands! Together they use an orange juicer to catch the yolk, while the whites drip into the reservoir underneath.
'Because a lot of people have over protected me in the past, I've always been wary of using an electric whisk' Debbie explains when one is offered to whisk the egg whites. Once she's tried it though, she's a convert! 'It's brilliant!' she says - although she is wary of it splashing onto her face.
'This is the best bit', Caroline says as they begin mixing the egg whites into the mixture. 'The best bit is when you eat it' Debbie retorts.
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