The Power of the Dot: The Incredible Versatility of Tactile Markers

A hand pushing a button on a microwave oven marked with a bump dot

Sally Hein once discovered smoke billowing out of her microwave oven. She had placed a plastic container of food in the oven and thought she pressed the correct buttons to warm up her dinner.

But with her vision severely diminished due to macular degeneration, she had had to guess which buttons to push. She guessed wrong. The plastic dish began to burn—and stink.

“I had smoke from here to Kingdom Come!” says Sally, who is 78 and lives near Sauk City.

Some time later, Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist Brent Perzentka of the Council visited Sally in her home to explore a solution. Brent placed adhesive rubber “bump dots” on several key buttons on the microwave oven, then placed a few more on the controls of her washing machine and dryer. Those dots made it possible for Sally to heat food and do laundry without a single misstep.

“I was shocked,” Sally says. “Brent spent a lot of time here, trying different things.” The bump dots turned out to be the best solution.

Bump dots, raised 3-D fabric paint, sticky Velcro® and colorful duct tape are all examples of tactile marking tools that can make home life easier for people with vision loss. The number of appliances and devices they can be useful for is almost unlimited. Television remote controls, recording devices, radios, ovens, dishwashers, coffee makers, keys, home workout equipment and thermostats are just a few items on which they are commonly used.

As Sally found, it often takes experimentation to find the right solution for your individual needs. Here are a few more innovative ways that our vision services staff have helped clients navigate their homes more safety and efficiently.

  • A client lived in an apartment building with a long hallway and many doors, and she couldn’t discern which door was hers. Council vision services staff improvised a solution: placing thick tactile pads inside the hollow hallway handrail near her apartment door. “We put the pads on the inside of the rail so others couldn’t see and remove them, and her fingers just naturally ran into them at her ‘stop,’” says Jean Kalscheur, recently retired Vision Services team member.
  • A client with several different medication bottles could no longer tell them apart because her fingers were no longer sensitive enough to read the standard-sized braille labels. Council staff obtained larger prescription bottles, then used raised puff paint to label the larger bottles with a few extra-large braille dots. Staff then placed the original small medicine bottles inside the freshly labeled big bottles, helping the client to accurately identify the medicines inside.
  • In newer cars, radio preset controls are on a touch screen. Council staff applied bump dots on the edge of a client’s touch screen so passengers now can slide their fingers over the panel to locate the preset numbers.
  • Access Technology Specialist Jim Denham has placed bump dots on the USB ports of clients’ computers to make it easier to reconnect keyboards and other devices.
  • In one workplace, staff marked a security system keypad with a bump dot on the number 5 so all staffers could access the system.
  • Another client requested help finding the keyhole on her apartment door in a dimly lit apartment hallway. Another bump dot success story!
  • Employees in another workplace put bump dots on a microwave oven in an office break room to assist staff who wanted to heat coffee or lunch.
  • Council staff used tactile markers on plugs to avoid potential damage from inserting them upside down.

Sally Hein doesn’t cook from scratch much anymore, but she was happy to once again be able to use her microwave without fear of starting a fire.

Do you use tactile markings in unique ways others might find helpful? We’d love to hear about your creative solutions! Send them to us as

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