Many people with sight loss are unable to control their heating or cut their fuel bills because heating dials and switches are too difficult to use says new research released recently by the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs (Rica), and the sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust.

In a new guide, 'Choosing Central Heating Controls and Saving Energy', researchers report a catalogue of design problems that make heating controls difficult to operate, and offer practical advice on choosing and using heating controls to stay warm and save energy.

"It's vital that everyone should be able to control their heating but current designs simply rule this out for some customers. We need new heating controls to be made accessible to all," said Lynn Watson, Head of Housing Research, Thomas Pocklington Trust.

The new guide de-mystifies heating controls. It explains how they work, gives product reviews and lists what to look for particularly if you have sight loss or failing vision. It also reveals an urgent need for better design of heating controls.

"There's little point in government urging people to save energy if the most basic controls for heating are simply not workable for vast numbers of people," said Chris Lofthouse, Outreach Manager, Rica.

In a plea to manufacturers, Rica and Thomas Pocklington Trust call for better- designed controls that are easy to operate by people with sight loss. Since many older people have sight loss this problem could affect large and growing numbers of the population.

Easier to use controls could help people to cut their bills, says the guide. But testing by people with impaired vision revealed many controls needed sighted help to programme the settings.
• Clocks and switches were difficult to see.
• Instructions on digital screens were too small.
• Markings on dials too faint.
• Dials were hard to turn and tappets too stiff or fiddly to move easily.
• Pointers were difficult to line up.
• Audible signals such as beeps and clicks were often not loud enough to detect or there were no audible sounds at all.
Controls which can be operated by apps or through a website have great potential as testers felt these could be more accessible. However, testing revealed that they didn't work well with access software (screen readers/magnifiers) designed for people with sight loss.