Monica speaks with Kristen Lopez, a writer and disability advocate in media and also our first community member guest. In this episode, Kristen shares her favorite kitchen devices and hacks to create more autonomy and reduce effort in the kitchen.
“In a world where disabled people, you know, autonomy is so fleeting for us in many ways, food really does become this element of control, and not in a negative way, although it can be negative, but a way to take back that autonomy.” – Kristen Lopez
- 01:53 When Kristen realized technology would be such a big help in the kitchen
- 04:08 Kristen’s favorite kitchen gadgets and transformations
- 07:27 Products and services that have come out of the pandemic that have been beneficial to people with disabilities
- 09:16 The ideal disability items for those who are newly disabled
- 12:02 Finding easier recipes for cooking and autonomy
- 15:26 The impact of digital accessibility on cooking
- 18:42 Kitchen gadgets that help with time management and safety
- 21:14 Examples of ways that kitchen appliances are inaccessible
- 24:54 The lack of disabled representation in media
- 29:45 The cost effectiveness of using kitchen gadgets over food delivery
- 31:02 The stereotypes people with disabilities face around spending
- 34:23 The impact inflation has on the disabled community
- 37:31 Where Kristen sees technology going in the future
- 39:45 The importance of making tech easy to use
- 42:51 Kristen’s ideal tech
There are tech devices, resources, and apps out there to support you in the kitchen, but not all the tools are gonna be for you and some might require some trial and error. Don’t give up! Keep trying different tools and see what hacks will help support you the most.
Sometimes simple accommodations are so much more effective and helpful than expensive innovations. Calling in the actual needs of the disability community allows for the right accommodations to be made when developing accessible tools.
Cooking can bring joy and autonomy to people in the disabled community. Utilizing technology to help save your energy and reduce the overwhelm allows for more space to enjoy the process of making food. And, I’m gonna bet that cooking at home is going to save you some much-needed money.
If you want to make your kitchen more accessible in a cost-effective way and you just don’t know where to begin, try reorganizing your kitchen to make the things you use regularly as accessible to you as possible. Look into the way that professional kitchens and bakeries are organized.
If you’re interested in any of the tech that we mentioned, go and check out our show notes – all the products will be linked in the resources section. These are products that Kristen and I love, however they do not sponsor our show in any way.
Resources Mentioned in the Episode
Kristen’s favorite gadgets:
- Hand Grippers (One Example)
- Pouring lid for pots – (One Example)
- Electric skillets
Meal Delivery Kits:
Food Delivery Apps:
Quick and Easy Cooking Appliances:
- Monica’s Ninja Hot and Cold Blender
- Monica’s Bread Maker
- Slow Cookers
- Slow Cookers with Air Fryers built in (One Example)
Kristen’s Disability Gift Box Recommendations:
Gadgets for Time Management and Safety:
- Oven where you can see inside with an app (One Example)
- Induction stoves with auto-shut off (or overheat protection) (One Example)
- Tray that doesn’t spill (One Example)
- Spoon that doesn’t spill (One Example)
- Watermelon cutters and slicer
Additional Mentioned Resources:
- Yummly – the app that helps you find recipes and create a grocery list all in one place
- The robot Monica mentioned that can carry items for you with its own docking station
- Website: Kristen Lopez
- Instagram: @kristenlopez88
- LinkedIn: Kristen Lopez
- Twitter: @Journeys_Film
- Tik Tok: @kristenlopez88
More kitchen gadgets to help people with disabilities (and websites that have them):
- 8 Kitchen Aids
- Health Products for You
- Ability Superstore
- Bluetooth meat thermometer – a great resource recommended by one of our team members, this item allows you to be able to see the temperature of meat you are cooking on an app on your phone, so you can check from another room or bed.
Adaptations and modifications for making your Kitchen more Accessible:
- ADA Guidelines to Designing a Wheelchair and Handicap Accessible Kitchen
- Modified and Accessible Kitchens
- 6 Low-Cost Updates to Make Your Kitchen Wheelchair Accessible
About Kristen Lopez
Kristen Lopez is the TV Editor of IndieWire and a pop culture essayist whose work has been published at Variety, MTV, and Roger Ebert. She writes regularly on disability representation in media. In her free time she contributes to the classic film podcast, Ticklish Business.
[00:00:06] Kristen: In a world where disabled people, you know, autonomy is so fleeting for us in many ways, food really does become this element of control, and not in a negative way, although it can be negative, but a way to take back that autonomy and really be like, “okay, this is what I’m choosing to eat today. This is how I’m going to make it. I’m making it just for myself”.
[00:00:30] Monica: Hi. Welcome to Technically Sick – This podcast explores how technology can increase access to education, employment, transportation, and improve socialization for the disabled and chronic illness communities.
[00:00:44] I’m your host, Monica Michelle.
[00:00:49] [Music Ends]
[00:00:49] Today I will be speaking with Kristen Lopez – a writer and disability advocate in media and film. She is also our first community member to be a guest on the show. When we started creating this podcast, I wanted to speak not only to tech experts, but also disability community members that utilize technology to support their lives.
[00:01:12] In today’s episode, Kristin and I will be talking about some of our favorite kitchen devices and hacks that helps save us energy and allow us to prepare our meals independently. If you’re on the search for new kitchen gadgets, like I always am, make sure to get out a pen and paper, or open your notes app, to jot down some of the devices we highlight.
[00:01:33] As always, we’ll be providing links to anything mentioned in the episode show notes under resources. Please note that the products mentioned are tools that Kristin and I find useful, but they are not sponsored or endorsed by this show.
[00:01:48] Welcome to Kristen Lopez!
[00:01:53] [Music Ends]
[00:01:53] Monica: Kristen, I am so excited, not just to talk to you, but this is one of my favorite topics ever, because it’s an issue of autonomy and also the ability to like, kind of make your food the way you want it. [Laughs] When did you realize that technology was going to be such a huge help in your life in the kitchen?
[00:02:10] Kristen: I came to a lot of this really late, probably far later in life than I should have as somebody who is in their thirties. Cooking was something that up until late in life I had help with. You know, I had a family member that was my go-to sous chef. I was maybe a sous chef every now and then, I’d hand them something, but I didn’t really actually do any extensive cooking.
[00:02:33] When I was about 27, 28, my mom who was my primary helper, went to the hospital for a week with a back issue. It was a real come to Jesus moment where I was like, “oh God, I don’t actually know how to do any of this stuff”. It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of finding things on Amazon and really just trying to see what technology was out there, because I had always assumed you needed to have a wheelchair friendly kitchen, which required all of that to be implemented in the building process. I did not know there was stuff that was available to help if your kitchen wasn’t wheelchair friendly.
[00:03:13] A lot of it was both searching what was out there, and kind of adapting what I already had to suit me. I think a lot of people assume that disabled and chronically ill people, like we have all this figured out, at an early age we’re given a guidebook on how to live our lives. And that is so not true. It takes maybe a couple of years, like it did me. [Laughs]
[00:03:35] Monica: You’re bringing up such a good point, because I think that people assume that, like being a parent, you have a child, you know what to do. It’s like you are disabled, you suddenly know all of this and there’s no resources. I’d assume that there would be someone who would come in and explain, like how do you transfer out of a wheelchair? How do you clean from a wheelchair? How do you cook from a wheelchair? Oddly, no genie has shown up out of my wheelchair to explain any [Laughs] –
[00:03:59] Kristen: [Laughs]
[00:03:59] Monica: – of this to me yet. I have an Amazon graveyard of gadgets I’ve bought that I was sure would make things easier [Laughs] and things that have definitely worked. What have been some of your pleasant surprises that you were able to – because you’re right, when it comes to a kitchen, to transform your kitchen is a very expensive endeavor to make it wheelchair friendly, mine still is not. I’m so curious what you’ve done to your kitchen to change it, and what some of your favorite gadgets have been?
[00:04:25] Kristen: I wrote an article a couple years ago about cooking and kitchenry. There’s a real interesting kind of divide with the disabled community, people that are in the very privileged position that are able to design their houses and design their kitchens. I talked to some amazing people that have kitchens I can only dream of having one day – with lowered counters and little islands that they can kind of go into when they’re working with their stove or their oven so that they don’t have to stand in front of a hot door and lean in. So, there’s amazing things if you have the money to create a designer kitchen.
[00:04:58] For me, it was a lot of stuff that I don’t know necessarily comes out as being “disabled-specific items”, but that do end up having a lot of benefits for people with disabilities. One of the big things I got was I got a little hand gripper that a lot of people utilize to like pick up trash, outside. And I use it for a lot of my opening shelves because most shelf space is up. It’s not down. For me, it helps me open doors. I’m fairly dexterous with my hands and wrists, so I can kind of loop it around a mug, and pray that it doesn’t break. And most of the time it does not, which is great.
[00:05:37] They have little spouts that go on the ends of pots that, maybe for the average college student is a way for the pasta not to fall out of their pot. But for me, you know, as somebody who is fairly strong, but can’t really lift something over a sink and turn a full pot filled with water and food, it’s easy to get a spout and really work with that.
[00:05:59] My big claim to fame is I’m a big electric skillet person, which usually again, is utilized for people with small spaces, maybe who don’t have a stove. For me, it’s something I can place anywhere. I can place it on the floor and work on the floor and totally avoid a counter, and work with meat and vegetables and do all of that.
[00:06:18] These are items that I don’t think really get sold as disability items, but really are imperative for a lot of disabled people, many of whom maybe live in small spaces, maybe live with very high countertops. So, stuff that is used for able-bodied people for maybe space saving becomes vital for those of us that actually need to work with these things so that we can cook something that is not mac and cheese every day. Not that I don’t love mac and cheese every day. [Laughs]
[00:06:51] Monica: I mean, I’m right there with you! Throw in a ramen once in a while. I can deal with the college student diet. That’s fine. That’s such a great point that you’re bringing up, and it’s something that across the field in technology we have been finding, which is that most of the things that help disabled people are not made for us. They just are a convenience for other people.
[00:07:09] Which is such a good decision for companies to start bringing in disabled people as workers, because we’re so innovative. The thing that you’re talking about is so true. And I can tell you that the grabber thing is something that’s come up multiple times when I talk to disabled people about the thing they can’t live without.
[00:07:26] Kristen: Definitely, and I think that even some things that came out in the wake of the pandemic, and even before that, are so vital to disabled people. At the same time, our great technology elements, but still have problems. I remember Home Chef, or Blue Apron, all of those kind of boxed meal places are great, especially if you’re a person with a disability who doesn’t get out of the house a lot, can’t go out to shop and wants the ability to make something really great at home and have everything there. But it’s really expensive.
[00:07:58] I think cost-saving measures – I snidely have tweeted to Home Chef and a couple other places like, “hey, you know what you guys? There’s a lot of companies that offer discounts for people with disabilities to utilize their services. Something to think about”. Postmates, Door Dash, the food ordering apps – they get a lot of flak for accessibility issues, which are valid. Not all drivers are created equal and I’ve had numerous embarrassing moments where somebody’s like, “hey, can you come out to the street?” “No, I can’t. Part of why I’m using this app is so you can come to the door and leave me my food.”
[00:08:31] But again, those are things that, when the pandemic happened, became invaluable to disabled lovers of food, and foodies, and are just not presented as such. It’s kind of like an added benefit, like, “oh, this is for everybody, but also it helps you”. I think the biggest thing I always want with tech is to have that concept reversed. It’s great for disabled people, plus it benefits everybody else.
[00:08:56] Monica: I call everyone else temporarily-abled, because anyone has the opportunity, if they are lucky and live long enough, to become one of us, or thanks to the pandemic, we have a whole new group of people in, which it goes back to our original discussion, which is that no one explains disability to us. And there’s a period of adjustment that has to happen.
[00:09:16] I feel like we need to get together like a disability gift box for people. Like, what would be your gadgets that you would throw into a disability gift box for someone new? Like, for me, it has to be my Ninja hot cold mixer. I’m not an advertiser for Ninja. I swear they don’t give me any money. I just buy everything they make because it’s so easy.
[00:09:36] And I feel like they must have someone disabled on their team because everything is front and center. It’s buttons so you have to push it or dial it. So, you can like, even for people who have sight issues, it helps. It makes takeout irrelevant for me. I can make almost all the Indian food and Thai food that I take out just by throwing the ingredients in and hitting a button. And in 20 minutes I have chicken tikka masala. It even like cooks it for me. It’s amazing.
[00:10:01] I talk about my bread machine nonstop. It is my obsession. I have Ehlers Danlos, so I dislocate my wrists, and my family is mountain people, and baking is a part of our DNA. It’s a part of our like family heritage. And when I stopped being able to kneed bread, it made me so sad. [Laughs] And so now I have my bread maker. Besides your wonderful idea of the little arm gadget thing, what would you be like, “you have to have this to be able to live”?
[00:10:28] Kristen: You have to have a gripper of course, that’s number one. Portable blenders, they have those nice little blenders now. They look like the size of a water bottle and you can just put in some stuff and blend, you got a blender that you can just work with. I think that’s a necessity. I know a lot of disabled people who love an air fryer. It takes a lot of stuff out of baking, it’s slightly healthier. I think that’s a must if you want to have variety.
[00:100:55] And the other thing that I always say, it’s an oldie but a goodie: spice rack. I love my spice rack, because I think that a lot of people assume, especially if you’re disabled, you’re working with a lot of ingredients, right? It’s too hard to not only have to navigate a kitchen that is not built for you, but a lot of food that maybe requires excessive cutting, excessive blending, all of these different things. Sometimes you can just have some meat, whatever protein you want and a spice rack, and you can go to town and get all sorts of different things just off of those two things alone. Those are musts for me.
[00:11:33] Monica: I love that. Also, like the slow cookers and they now have like the slow cookers that have the air fryer in them. I don’t know about you, but I’m on so many meds I can’t remember anything. So, I am barred from ever cooking at home with fire without another adult in the house. It feels like all of a sudden, I’m five again, and I can’t do that, but if I use something that’s a plugin thing that doesn’t have any fire on a, a countertop I feel like it’s safer. And lots of them have apps and automatic stop times.
[00:12:02] Kristen: Another thing that I always recommend – one of the things that I get frustrated by is I’m not a person that scours the internet looking for recipes. To go back to the Home Chef, Blue Apron, both of those websites have the recipes and you don’t need to actually buy the product.
[00:12:19] Monica: I’m just gonna write that down. I did not know that. [Laughs]
[00:12:23] Kristen: Exactly. You can look at their recipes without having to actually utilize the service. That’s often something that, if I’m feeling lazy and I’m like, I don’t wanna be adventurous, I’ll go to their website and look at their recipe list, what they’re sending out to people this week. That’s a great thing because A – a lot of their recipes are fairly basic. There’s not a whole lot that is particularly over the top. You’re not making French cooking here. You don’t have to be Julia Child. When there’s so many options, it gives you a nice way to kind of focus your mind on one thing and be like, okay, there’s five recipes here, which one of these sounds appealing to me.
[00:13:03] Monica: I have a 15-year-old at home, and we’ve been watching a lot of TikTok on YouTube. So, I’ve been getting the skinny on all of the new recipes [Laughs] on TikTok. And I love it because TikTok kind of vibes towards the 20, like the 16, like the ones who are just kind of like starting to figure out that they can be in the kitchen and food does not magically appear.
[00:13:23] Kristen: Yes, it’s very hard when you realize that.
[00:13:26] Monica: I have a 21-year-old who I just got a phone call from saying, “mom, what do I cook?” It’s very cute and sweet. But again, we’re getting back to the idea of like, just because it helps disabled people doesn’t mean this is not incredibly helpful for everyone else. [Laughs]
[00:13:39] Kristen: Exactly. I think that even something like recipe selection becomes, to many disabled people, an insurmountable thing, because again, it’s a privileged position to have transportation, reliable transportation, to get to a store, to be able to physically leave your house. In my case, my apartment has three stairs, so I do need somebody with me in order to help me get in and out of the house to go shopping. That element of cooking alone can cause somebody to be like, well, screw this. I’m not even gonna bother. It’s gonna be Mac and cheese or takeout.
[00:14:15] And I think that there’s, not just a real relaxation quality to cooking, but in a world where disabled people, you know, autonomy is so fleeting for us in many ways, food really does become this element of control, and not a negative way, although it can be negative, but a way to take back that autonomy and really be like, okay, this is what I’m choosing to eat today. This is how I’m going to make it. I’m making it just for myself. Maybe I’ll share it with the rest of my family, but I don’t have to.
[00:14:46] Monica: I love that. I have one of the most lovely, amazing husbands in the world, who was a chef at one time, but I’m very picky eater and it drives me insane cuz he’s doing this incredibly nice thing, but I have very specific textures and foods and then I have Mass Cell Activation Disorder, so at any point in time I can become allergic to something. So, I really like to have things in a very specific way. [Laughs] It’s such a sweet thing, but that autonomy to make things the way you want is huge. We lose so much control anyway.
[00:15:15] Kristen: Exactly. I’m picky in the sense that I’m just 10 years old. So, you know, a lot of pasta. [Laughs]
[00:15:21] Monica: Me too! I like cheese pizza.
[00:15:23] Kristen: Cheese pizza is the best.
[00:15:26] Monica: So, we were talking about recipes and I wanted to ask you, I have other friends who are disabled and they know how I am a tech freak, I am always first adopter of anything I can afford. One of my friends found this app called Yummly, and I am obsessed because just the idea of – instead of just going into the kitchen, just grabbing stuff and making things, it’s too much to think through. And then I need to get aa recipe, and then I need to see what’s on the recipe. Then I need to get the things in the recipe. My ADD is already like checked out and I’m already making mac and cheese I’m done.
[00:15:54] This app called Yummly – you kind of figure out what recipes for stuff you like and you tag it, and then you decide what you’re gonna make for the week. And you just put it: “add to the grocery list”, and it adds everything you need from that into the grocery list. And then if you do the delivery services, it will just go directly to the delivery service.
[00:16:10] Kristen: That is amazing.
[00:16:12] Monica: It’s kind of a miracle app. I’m obsessed. [Laughs] Like I won’t lie, usually I’m a Pinterest person, but Pinterest drives me nuts because you go to the recipe and you have to scroll down someone’s entire life story, and like their inspiration for making the meal. I’m not here for that! I will watch Great British Bake Off for all the stories, thank you. I just need to know how to make the marshmallow fluff.
[00:16:34] Kristen: That’s the big thing that I think that a lot of food writers in the blogosphere do not understand about how us as disabled people approach their stuff. I’m one of those that I don’t necessarily wanna have to scroll all the way down this, I’m sure lovely, memory about this food that you made with your grandma when you were 12. I just want the recipe.
[00:16:56] And I often think that in this world of trying to get clicks, trying to chase views and everything, that it does end up discouraging a lot of disabled people, or anybody with, you know, ADD, any of that from really cooking. Because if I gotta wade through all this stuff, just to get down to the recipe, because you wanna make sure that you’re getting your hit count for this month, it’s not really working for me.
[00:17:19] And it’s one of many elements, I think, of online accessibility that does not get talked about enough. I think of people who are blind that have like text readers that are having to read all this stuff until they’re trying to just get to the recipe. It’s one element of many with interacting with the internet that I think again, needs to be catered a bit more nuanced to the disabled community.
[00:17:45] Monica: I have the huge range of the “click on this to get my program” before I’ve even looked at the thing, and then the little flashing videos that show up. I finally got it down to the place where the recipe is. And then I look back and it’s moved again because there’s a new ad that’s come up.
[00:18:02] And I know it sounds stupid to regular people, like what feels like a small convenience for the temporarily abled is this is desperately painful for me. I budgeted just this amount of spoons, because I knew this would take 10 to 15 minutes. And now that I’ve had to reach for my phone again, I’ve just popped my wrist out, trying to like close the thing while holding the phone while having a thing that’s boiling over here. [Laughs]
[00:18:25] You’re right, there’s a lot that needs to be bridged but I don’t think it should necessarily be the content creators. I am a content creator and I don’t have the energy. This needs to be a thing that Google or the big tech agencies take on as AI to help content careers manage this.
[00:18:42] Kristen: You also brought up something that does not get discussed enough, which is the stress that comes with cooking because of the time element. I’m one of those where I try not to rush, but at the same time when you’re cooking, you can’t exactly take your time. Sometimes stuff is boiling. There’s a rhythm to it. There’s a movement. And if you’re navigating a kitchen in a wheelchair or with crutches or something like that, you need all the information at your fingertips so that you can move from one to two to three without burning your garlic, because you were reading what you were supposed to be doing, or your water overflows, and that is one thing that always stresses me out about cooking.
[00:19:24] And it’s why I think that if we have these tech accommodations, like being able to work on your floor, or being able to have an electric skillet, there is again, more control where you can say, okay, I have this on what? Like I can physically turn this, because I have this in front of me and maybe I can then take a couple extra seconds to scroll down this impossibly long story to figure out what I have to do next.
[00:19:49] Monica: We just had an issue with – our stove broke, so we were looking for a new stove and I have not looked for a stove, I’m gonna say 20 years. There’s been a lot of tech changes for better and for worse, I was just speaking to someone who’s blind who was screaming, rightfully so, about everything becoming a touch screen because she can’t feel the dials. It’s just touch and she can’t work her stoves because there’s none of that tactileness.
[00:20:15] For me, who dislocates, or faints, if I stand too long or move in the wrong way, a lot of the issue is exactly what you’re saying. I’m boiling over water. I have now passed out on the ground. This is now an issue. [Laughs] So, this new stove that I found has an app and I could actually see inside the stove. That happens all the time, where I start a cooking project, I end up in bed, and then I have to ask my 15-year-old or my husband, “is it done?” Neither one of them in their amazingly brilliant minds, in so many other respects, can understand the difference between like a golden-brown crust and charcoal.
[00:20:49] Kristen: “Just looks brown”. [Laughs]
[00:20:52] Monica: So, to be [Laughs] able to like see that. That was a nice idea to have that. And the induction stoves that will actually turn itself off, which my gas burner does not do. That became an issue one day. These things are really cool safety features, but I do find it confusing that a lot of the stoves I looked at were labeled ADA, but yet weren’t okay for people who are blind.
[00:21:14] Kristen: Exactly. I hadn’t encountered, cuz I’m not making the big bucks yet, to get touchscreen appliances. I’m hoping one day I will, but I think a lot of it too is you can always tell what has not been designed with actual disabled people utilizing them, but is more mandated to maybe look disabled.
[00:21:32] I’ve seen a couple touchscreen stoves, and the problem is that they’re still back against the backwash. So, if you’re like me in a wheelchair, and you’re very short, and you already can’t get over the stove, I mean, when I interact with my stove, I have to get a big ladle and poke the buttons because I can’t reach to touch it. I’d be like, it’d be great if you put it maybe on the front of the oven so that I could actually interact with it. You put it in the back I can’t, and those text screens require a certain pressure that sometimes the ladle is not gonna work.
[00:22:03] Touchscreen refrigerators – a lot of them are really tall and the touchscreen is taller than me. So, it still requires me to have to like slap it in some way. For all the technology that we have, I wish there was more autonomy. Drag and drop is a great thing. How have we not invented a refrigerator where you can just kind of drag the touchscreen element down to where my height is so that I can interact with it. Those are simple things.
[00:22:32] I give designers the benefit of the doubt, they don’t know what they don’t know. But it’s why disabled people, and the blind and deaf community, need to be part of the design process so that they can tell people, “hey, not everybody is five feet and can interact with this touch screen at this height. Can’t we move it or make it adaptable so that it could be adapted to any height”. According to technology, I mean, we can do anything. We can put iPads all over a wall. Let’s make it so that you can adapt a fridge touch screen so that it is adaptable to any height.
[00:23:08] Monica: The thing that always gets brought up is that disability is a niche thing and we’re not, we’re [Laughs] we are in the billions of people.
[00:23:15] Kristen: One in four.
[00:23:17] Monica: Right? And aside from that, anything that helps us, I swear, will help any temporarily abled, distracted person. Like most of the ideas I get for what I end up getting for gadgets, I find on the TikTok dorm rooms. It has changed my life to watch like the dorm room makeovers [Laughs] because I swear you half the stuff that they use, because I spend 80% of my life in bed. It all helps. And like what you’re saying I’ve actually considered getting the Ikea induction thing, so I could have it in my bedroom so that I could just make things right from the side of my bed.
[00:23:50] There’s so many cool ideas. There’s not a lot of disabled influencers who really get out there and talk about – and if I’m wrong, please send me their names – I found this thing that you hold, it was like a tray, and due to physics and I’m guessing some sort of magic, it does not spill. It sways side to side, you can like spin it in circles and your food stays. And then there’s the spoon that won’t spill. They just happen to help other people, but really, they’re [Laughs] they’re for us. [Laughs]
[00:24:17] Kristen: I see a lot of complaints about stuff like watermelon cutters, where they look like pizza cutters, but they’re for watermelon or stuff like that. They’re like, “oh, well, why can’t you just take a knife and just do it?” And I’m like, “a knife requires a certain amount of dexterity and fine motor skill. I’m privileged to be able to utilize that, but I don’t have the strength to cut a whole watermelon”. It’s a great example of, you don’t really know how much control and fine minute skill you need to handle a lot of common kitchen items. This is not necessarily laziness, but accessibility. It’s accessibility in action.
[00:24:54] One of the big things that I talked about, and I was fortunate to write an article about this a couple years ago, it all goes back to the lack of seeing disabled people in regular spaces. I wrote a great article about why are there no disabled people on the Food Network? There’s all these cooking shows, I don’t see any disabled chefs doing any of these amazing shows. How does that then tell us that disabled people don’t cook, because we’re not seeing it? I talk to a lot of great people, a lot of chefs in the industry and that’s a big thing.
[00:25:26] I think if Food Network or any of these shows actually showed us disabled chefs, and I think a couple of them have showed maybe a blind chef or a deaf chef, which is great. But I think that we also need to be talking about space and we need to see more chefs in wheelchairs. How do you navigate that? How do you navigate Chopped if you’re sitting in a wheelchair.
[00:25:48] A lot of what I was interested in talking to some of these people about is they talked about, well, we’re willing to make accommodations, but there’s this misguided belief still that a disabled person’s gonna require more things which are perceived as advantages. So, in a competition show about food, how do you make it fair? That really struck me because again, the goal is to A, show that disabled people eat and we cook, but why does it continue to go back to this stereotype that anything we’re given is thus perceived as an advantage, a cheat, in a way.
[00:26:25] It was a really complicated topic that I think again, we need it. We need to see more disabled people in kitchens and realize that this is something that we shouldn’t be reliant on others to have to do. We should be able to do it ourselves. But if the mentality is still, well, it’s a special thing that helps you get ahead over something, then we’re never going to change those paradigms.
[00:26:49] Monica: Someday you and I need to have a complete discussion on disability in the media, but I would so love to see like Bon Appétit, which just had major issues in their business, this would be such a great time for them to actually look at their cooking staff on their web show and be like, “you know, we should really bring in some disabled people to be cooking”.
[00:27:29] I watch Great British Bake Off and I’m obsessed. I’m not that good yet. I still can’t master the Swiss roll, but they have been having disabled people on. They’ve been having people with limb difference, even hand limb difference on. And it’s been really great to see that because it’s never made a big deal about. I didn’t realize until the third time I watched that season, which yes, every time the world goes wrong, I watch Great British Bake Off. And then I convince myself, I could totally master caramel. No problem. Yeah, cute. [Laughs] But they do have a lot of disability on that they don’t make a big deal about which I actually really appreciate that vibe. It’d be great if some of the U.S. channels would start doing that as well.
[00:27:47] Kristen: It’s amazing. There’s so many culinary schools, and it was hard for me to find statistics. All of these schools had a disabled student service, but nobody could tell me how many disabled students were actually utilizing those services. How many disabled culinary students are at these schools? I couldn’t find statistics. And that’s a huge thing because if you have a disabled services department, but it’s all performative, it’s just there to exist, and you’re not actively making sure that disabled culinary students are out there, then what’s the point?
[00:28:18] A lot of it is because, I get this a lot in my day job, I get a lot of young people writing to me saying, “I didn’t know this was a job I could do until I Googled disabled writer. And your name popped up.” Well, if they’re Googling disabled chefs and they’re not seeing anybody of significance, it’s discouraging. It’s gonna say, well, nobody’s in this space and I’m not gonna be the first person to do it.
[00:28:41] It’s a vital, vital component of all of this, that if you’re not seeing disabled people in culinary spaces, then you’re going to believe that: well, that’s just because it’s impossible. There’s many disabled people. You and I who are cooking, we’re not professionals yet. Who knows, anything’s possible. But, that’s a necessity. I think a big element of that is seeing it in pop culture. So, more disabled chefs! I’m all for it.
[00:29:09] Monica: I remember the first time I saw – it was a Triscuit ad of all things, but it was a mom in a wheelchair just using a microwave, because, it was a long time ago, but she was using a microwave and showing like, oh yeah, I can make a snack for my kids. I cried the first time I saw that because I had just been told that a wheelchair is definitely your future, but I could not visualize how would that work with the family? Because I never got to see.
[00:29:33] Like the only things I saw, especially at that time, were disabled – you are not going to be doing a whole lot, and you’re certainly not gonna be happy about your life. And you certainly won’t be planning a family. That really made things an issue. And that’s part of why I wanted to do this episode is because feeding yourself is such a fundamental right. To be able to afford things like Blue Apron, to be able to afford delivery services, that’s all almost impossible on disability, which just is not a living wage. [Laughs]
[00:30:00] Kristen: You can’t do it every day, let alone every week. It’s not possible.
[00:30:04] Monica: But with these gadgets, what makes me so excited about these things, cuz I am a cheap skate, fundamentally [Laughs] and, and part of why I love it so much is like where I live to get a large pizza and a soda it’s about $50 delivered with tip and everything, but I can make the dough in my mixer. And then I can ask someone else to stretch it out [Laughs] and then five minutes later, we’ve got a pizza and the whole cost was maybe $2.
[00:30:29] We make our bread and our bread costs 50 cents a loaf because the maker I bought, that was maybe $80, you just throw the ingredients in and you close it and you tell it what kind of bread. And it makes a loaf. It’s done. The mixer, I can make almost any restaurant sauce meal in that thing, or soup. It’s incredible, but it saves so much money with that initial return on investment that output of a hundred dollars for some of these gadgets creates this amazing way to save money throughout the rest of time, basically. [Laughs]
[00:31:02] Kristen: It goes back to a pretty pervasive stereotype that I see a lot, which is this belief that when you become disabled, you automatically get somebody that does all your stuff for you, which is nuts! Not a partner per se, because we are perceived as romantic objects, in media, but you know, you just get somebody that makes all your food. I think a lot of people still subscribe to the belief of options that elderly people have, you know, Meals on Wheels. Like everybody gets those, right? We don’t actually need nutritious food that you would wanna cook.
[00:31:34] And I think that It’s all part and parcel of it. Because we’re not seeing it, because there’s so many stereotypes about what we are seeing, which is usually connected to the elderly community, that it all just globs into this big ball of like, well, you guys are being taken care of, you guys are eating, who cares, you don’t actually need to make it. Somebody in my situation, when I realized I was gonna have to learn how to cook, yeah, I had brothers that probably could have, but it becomes on their timeframe. It’s what they want that’s available.
[00:32:05] Again, it’s about autonomy. I think that there’s still this rampant, rampant, disinformation campaign about disabled people that places everything that we need as an entitlement, as something special, when really the concept of eating is fairly universal. It’s like food, water, shelter. Those are the top three things any human needs. And at the same time, we’re also being told like, “oh, you disabled people are getting all these things so, you should just be happy with your lot in life”. A lot of it is just common necessity. You want us to be autonomous, independent people, give us the tools to do that independently. Something’s gotta give, and technology I think is at the forefront of that.
[00:32:48] But I think a lot of it too needs to be revising the misinformation campaign of what we, as disabled people, are capable of, and what we’re getting, and what we want, and all those other things. That’s such a deep well of things to overcome. It takes all of us. A lot of us have different opinions because the disabled community is not built in a vacuum. So, we all have different opinions, just on the subject of food alone, I think, which is great. I’m all for difference of opinion within marginalized communities, but it also makes it hard for all of us to unify to be like, “hey, let’s up upend some narratives here”. [Laughs]
[00:33:28] Monica: I like just about any idea as long as it does not preclude me having bread and chocolate. Those are the ones that I refuse to listen to. I need certain things to live.
[00:33:37] Kristen: If there’s any entitlement I feel that disabled people should be given I feel like we’ve earned a monthly allotment of bread and chocolate. I’m willing to write my congressman to be like, “listen…” [Laughs]
[00:33:50] Monica: You’ve got my vote, right there. I love the smell of fresh bread in my house. It’s amazing. I like making food. It makes me happy. It’s a part of, of what I remember doing with my mom and my grandma. These were loving, wonderful things that brought me a lot of joy, and it was not something I wanted to let go of. And that’s where I fall in love with technology is: I feel like every time I say I’m not ready to let go of this, technology comes in and goes, “well, have you tried…”
[00:34:17] Kristen: Exactly, and I think that it’s only become more challenging as the world changes. Inflation being a huge thing right now, I’m one of those that I work with, my mom in terms of like crafting my menu, what am I getting this week? And then, we can work on purchasing that, and that’s been hugely upended. I’m somebody that loves fresh fish, loves seafood, and seafood is incredibly expensive right now. It’s something that I’ve had to kind of cut back on or cut out entirely just because on the budget that I’m working with it’s not possible.
[00:34:51] I think that the technology is really there to help you stretch your dollar, especially now when we need it so desperately. And I think what I keep coming back to is: a lot of the same criticisms that I think are applied to people who utilize welfare, really do get slapped on disabled people as well. Because, I’ve had a lot of people, when I talk about cooking and the things that I like to cook, where they’re just like, “oh, that’s really high end”. Apparently cooking salmon is high end and fancy. And I’m like, “no, it’s just stuff that I like, and if I’m going to cook and do all that I want to be able to eat what I enjoy”.
[00:35:27] But there is this belief that as disabled people, we’re supposed to be living on a college diet of like ramen and [Laughs] all these other things. It’s all part and parcel. If the food is high priced and the technology is high priced to suit the inflation, it’s been really challenging. I mean, I can only imagine somebody who is living off of the basic tenants of SSI disability of this country, which is a very fixed income, how their food usage has changed in such a short amount of time.
[00:36:01] Monica: You make such a good point. That’s deeply true. And also, that many of our disabilities require good nutrition, and some of them have required very intense nutrition, depending on like seizure disorders that require very specific diets. Diabetes -that requires a very specific diet that does not include the food that’s deeply subsidized, like the sweets, the corn syrup, all that. A lot of our diets require things like salmon with all the omega-3, omega-6, and fatty acid. There’s a lot of important nutrition in there that we need that is not being subsidized by the government. So, those ingredients are deeply expensive.
[00:36:36] Kristen: Exactly, and you also throw in COVID to the mix. One of the things about COVID is you have to be as healthy as you could be in order to survive it, which is just insane. I love that the CDC guidelines for what is high risk is disability, any type of disability. And so, I’m screwed from the get go.
[00:36:56] It requires you to be in peak physical condition, as much as you can be, in order to navigate that. And part of that is having good food at all times. And that is just so stressful. Like it just adds such a layer of stress onto an already stressful situation of just being disabled in this country, let alone on a fixed income, let alone with a small house, let alone with a pandemic. I mean, again, bread and chocolate just subsidized to me monthly would be great to help me ignore a lot of these issues.
[00:37:28] Monica: We need to have a bread and chocolate party. Absolutely. Where do you see this technology going? I was watching CES, which is the big electronics show in 2022. And they actually – drives me nuts cuz they almost never have a disabled news anchor showing CES. And there’s a whole bunch of really cool kitchen gadgets that came out this year, including a robot that had its own little robots docking station. It would go to your bed, you could put your tray on it, it would go back out to the little thing and that little thing could have a full meal ready, and it would go onto that, and then come back to you. I’m like, oh my, I’m drooling!
[00:38:01] Kristen: I need this in my life now. [Laughs]
[00:38:05] Monica: I mean, granted, I would never be able to afford it. This is all the new technology, it’s in the $20,000 range, but it’s an interesting idea of where we can go with AI, and care, and feeding. Where do you see this technology going?
[00:38:21] Kristen: I think that it’s a double-edged sword. I say this when I see, anytime somebody invents like a new wheelchair: “this wheelchair can climb stairs”, “this wheelchair can fly”. A lot of it, like you mentioned, becomes very cost prohibitive. And none of it’s covered by government subsidies or insurance or anything like that. So, I think we’ll get a lot of really great technology that would be great for the disabled community. The question is, is will we be able to afford it? Will we have access to it?
[00:38:47] That’s where I get a little cynical and be like well, no, of course not. It’s always gonna be for the top 1%, the Elon Musks of the world, the people that live in billion-dollar houses here in LA. But I do think that eventually a lot of these, as we see, you get a lot of, not necessarily watered down, but more affordable versions of these things. So, it might not be the first pass. That robot might not be the first thing we get, but I do think that there will be versions that are something that a regular person can afford.
[00:39:18] Cuz the goal always is, as capitalism goes, to make money. You might sell one of those things for $20,000 to a couple people, but eventually 10, 15 years down the line, you can sell a hundred dollar version of that to a million people. So, I’m definitely optimistic. The worst part of it is the time factor, we’ll get it eventually, which always seems to be the disabled mantra, right? We’ll get it, it’s just not gonna be quick.
[00:39:45] Monica: I love what you said about the wheelchairs, cuz that’s what scares me about the kitchen gadgets. And it goes back to our, “please hire disabled people”, because I feel like so many of these, “we can make you walk again”, “stand again”. I’m like, no, I just want ramps. I don’t need, I certainly don’t want my wheelchair to climb stairs. And I feel like all these innovations are happening without our input.
[00:40:04] Kristen: It’s working harder, not smarter, is my big thing. Like, okay, great. You made this bio-exoskeleton that I gotta screw into my spine, and then I can walk for five minutes, at a billion dollars a pop. I don’t need that. You know what I need? Making ramp technology that is adaptable to any type of stair surface, little things like that. And I think that, I mean, we could get deep into the weeds about the limits of universal design, but I’m shocked that that’s not the next great frontier.
[00:40:36] I don’t know how universal design is not something that architects and building planners are just not excited to utilize because it’s way fricking easier than building me a billion-dollar robot suit for me to climb up those five stairs, but it poops out after 10 minutes and then you gotta charge it for three days. Like that’s not beneficial to me. There’s a way to do that that’s actually a lot easier. I don’t know. People just I think like working a lot harder than they actually need to for a community that, most of the time, they don’t really understand.
[00:41:08] Monica: I used to live and work in the Silicon Valley, and there’s a Tim Ferriss quote, [Laughs] which feels very Silicon Valley, but I feel like it really applies, which is: “what would this look like if it was easier?” And I feel like that’s the first place that, even if you don’t have disabled people in your company, if you are a small company and you haven’t spread out and started really looking for disabled talent, if you start with that question when you’re developing gadgets or design, “what would this look like if it was easy” is probably one of the first places to start.
[00:41:38] And I remember when like tablets came out, the question was, “could I hand this app to a five-year-old and have them figure it out?” I feel like if we do that with our kitchen gadgets and literally anything, that’s probably a good place to begin your product design.
[00:41:51] Kristen: Exactly. Yeah, there’s a way to make things a lot easier. And I think going back to the technology elements that you were talking about: a gripper, not that technologically intense, but ends up being so beneficial.
[00:42:05] Monica: I agree. Sometimes it’s just simple. Sometimes our little tweaks to make things work are not expensive or even anything you have to buy. Sometimes it’s just like altering the room. Or we’re reorganizing our kitchen right now so that I can reach things in my wheelchair. We cannot afford to do a kitchen. That’s [Laughs] not in our financial plan.
[00:42:23] So, the thing is, what do we do with the space we have right now? What we’re doing is we’re moving all the daily use things to the bottom cabinets. And that right there is super helpful. And then creating little spaces in the kitchen for things to do.
[00:42:35] Like there’s a baking section and it has all the things I need to bake in that one cabinet, so I don’t have to try to move around. It’s all just right there. That simple of reorganizing can really change your abilities in the kitchen.
[00:42:49] Kristen: Definitely. Definitely.
[00:42:51] Monica: I have one last question for you, which breaks my heart, cause I could talk to you for the entire day. But we ask this every time, it’s one of my favorite questions and that is: not even just kitchen gadgets, what in the sci-fi, Orville, Star Trek world, or any world, you can imagine go, Dr. Who if you need, what would you love to see in technology happen?
[00:43:12] Kristen: Gosh, so many things. I would love the ability to adapt a kitchen far easier than having to do it in the design phase. If we’re talking about stuff that you can rise and fall, like counter space, I would love to be able to have a button and just be able to lower and raise a counter. Something like that.
[00:43:32] Monica: You got me all excited cause that like exists right now –
[00:43:34] Kristen: [Laughs]
[00:43:34] Monica: – with like the desks. Our desks have the little button, like how hard would that be to engineer a countertop where the cabinet top is that raising desk. And then you just build the cabinets underneath.
[00:43:44] Kristen: Exactly. Or like, for most stoves you’re opening the door, and you have to kind of lean in, or come along the side, as I do with my wheelchair, to get into a stove – a stove that could project out. So that the actual stove element is what you are being able to access, as opposed to kind of going around and putting it in. So more, I mean, I hate to say more automation, [Laughs] because we all know that that could be a negative in the workspace, but I feel like with disability, more automation could work.
[00:44:16] Monica: Right there with you! I think that you and I have just developed about five different companies in this one conversation. So, any business owners who are looking to expand, I guess you and I are available –
[00:44:27] Kristen: Yeah! [Laughs]
[00:44:28] Monica: – to like, you know, consult for a fee. [Laughs]
[00:44:31] Kristen: I’m all for this. [Laughs]
[00:44:34] Monica: I can’t thank you enough for your time. This has been eye opening. I have a billion ideas now in my head.
[00:44:39] Kristen: Anytime, this has been such a treat. I don’t often get to talk about kitchen tech and food. It’s been such a pleasure.
[00:44:49] Monica (Recorded): Thanks for listening to my conversation with Kristen Lopez. As Kristen mentions, there is no guidebook for how to live your life as a disabled person, which is why these community member conversations are so valuable. I really hope that some of the ideas we shared in this episode inspire you to explore possible ways for you to enjoy time in your kitchen.
[00:45:13] The takeaway learnings from this episode are:
[00:45:17] 1. There are tech devices, resources, and apps out there to support you in the kitchen, but not all the tools are gonna be for you and some might require some trial and error. Don’t give up! Keep trying different tools and see what hacks will help support you the most.
[00:45:34] 2. Sometimes simple accommodations are so much more effective and helpful than expensive innovations. Calling in the actual needs of the disability community allows for the right accommodations to be made when developing accessible tools.
[00:45:51] 3. Cooking can bring joy and autonomy to people in the disability community. Utilizing technology to help save your energy and reduce the overwhelm allows for more space to enjoy the process of making food. And, I’m gonna bet that cooking at home is going to save you some much needed money.
[00:46:13] The actionable tips from this episode are:
[00:46:16] 1. If you want to make your kitchen more accessible in a cost-effective way and you just don’t know where to begin, try reorganizing your kitchen to make the things you use regularly as accessible to you as possible. Look into the way that professional kitchens and bakeries are organized.
[00:46:35] 2. If you’re interested in any of the tech that we mentioned, go and check out our show notes – all the products will be linked in the resources section. These are products that Kristen and I love, however they do not sponsor our show in any way.
[00:46:52] For more information on Kristen, check out our show notes.
[00:46:57] Every episode of Technically Sick has a page on empoweredus.org, where you can find extended show notes, including tips and takeaways, transcripts and relevant resource links.
[00:47:09] If you would like to share your own tips related to this topic, or just to connect with us, visit the Empowered Us contact page or reach out to us on our social channels.
[00:47:20] Technically Sick is an Empowered Us original, presented by Good Days, hosted by me, Monica Michelle. If you like this episode, be sure to rate and subscribe to our show, wherever you get your podcasts.
[00:47:38] [Music Ends]
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