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English

It all began at an exhibition in Hanover, Germany. I had to come up with a final project for my Graphic Design degree from the Design Academy of Eindhoven. At one of the stands, I had to feel around a container with my hand and I thought I recognized the outline of a car. I have to say, it was quite difficult, even though I'm fully aware of what a car looks like. My idea – or better yet – my question was born. How do the blind and visually impaired read and recognize drawings? What kinds of aids are available for this unique group of people and how can I be off value? There are around 350,000 people with a visual impairment in the Netherlands alone.

My search for the answers had begun and a whole new world opened up to me. Apart from looking for products, naturally I wanted to talk to people who are blind and visually impaired. This group of people is very diverse. There’s a big difference between being blind and being visually impaired, and it also makes a difference whether someone is blind from birth or loses their sight later in life. 
 
In a training center I was asked to attend a cooking class. The person preparing the dish read the text with her hands and then washed her hands. She then started peeling potatoes, washed her hands again, and read again. She made some meatballs, washed her hands and read on. This ritual of doing a step in the recipe, washing her hands, and reading braille seemed to go on forever. Because you read braille with your hands, you need to keep them clean and dry so the raised dots on the paper don’t get damaged. It was at that moment that my idea began to become clearer. Cooking means independence, taking care of yourself and especially doing things yourself in a fun way.
 
But the people attending the cooking class insisted that I participate, so I could experience what they experience. I was given a black mask and I was asked to fry an egg. I was thrilled that the egg made it even halfway into the pan.
 
After the cooking class I went home with my mind full of ideas and I continued working on a draft book for my project. The first thing, of course, was to reduce the number of times the person cooking had to wash their hands. So I decided that the braille should be printed on plastic pages. Washable pages, preferably dishwasher proof. And with a loose-leaf binder system. So you can take out your recipe.
 
I also wanted everyone to be able to read the text; people who are blind and visually impaired and people who aren’t. I wanted the book to be functional and look good. The solution was to combine braille and large fonts. So reading and cooking together would be possible.
 
And then there’s the sense of smell. I’ve seen so many magazines with scented perfume ads, so why shouldn’t my cookbook use scents? A scratch-and-sniff effect. 
 
The basic design of the book was finished, as well as a couple of the plastic touch pages. I earned my degree in 2002 based on this project. 
 
In that same year, I started my own advertising firm called Query Design, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my book idea, even years later. Lots of people had told me to be sure to keep working on the book after my graduation, because they really wanted to see this book happen. And they had touched my heart. In 2006, I decided to hire an intern with the sole purpose of either talking me out of the book no matter what or helping me finish it. Remco was happy to take on this challenge. 
 
We needed to find out what making this book was going to cost. Printing on plastic would be the first step. I knew there was an option to print plastic inserts with information on how to care for of a flower. I thought that if they could do that in full color, why couldn’t they print pages of a book? And they could.
 
Printing braille on those plastic pages was step number two. I wanted transparent braille across the full color print. The only option turned out to be silk-screening. We even had to import the braille ink from England. The scent was made in the same way.
 
The book would be a binder with a “touchable” cover. Many of the braille books on paper are stored in binders, but in a row of binders, how can you tell which one’s the cookbook? I came up with the idea for a cover made from tea towel material.
 
The total cost was 75,000 euros. Remco and I decided to find sponsors or subsidizers. In the past I had often been in contact with the Revalidatiefonds and they wanted to support us. Remco had read somewhere that Vodafone supported social projects. They became the second big sponsor. After that Remco came up with the idea to take part in the Herman Wijffels Innovation Award organized by the Rabobank. That year, they would be focusing on social innovations. In the end I became the first woman in the history of the award to win one of the prizes. But I wasn’t done yet – I still had so many thoughts and ideas. 
 
The recipes, for example, became more and more complicated! They wanted a challenge. I rewrote all the recipes, so that none of them said anything like, “Wait until the butter is brown,” but they said things like, “Listen to how the butter is sizzling.”
 
A name. My creation needed a name. While I was a student, the projects was called a basic cookbook for the blind and visually impaired. It now became 'Cooking with Feeling'.
 
The biggest issue remained the printing techniques, I had two printing companies work together on something never done before. Would the two techniques work together? That meant testing and testing again and figuring out which finish and which ink would work best. 
 
Later an organization for the blind called me and pointed out that I had forgotten something. There are also people who can’t read braille or large fonts and can only use audio books. Since I wanted the book to be as complete as possible, I decided to add an audio version. 
 
We finished the books in September 2007 and they were released for sale. Almost every order came with a personal story - and I enjoyed every single one of them. I had used my talents to create a book that would encourage people to be more independent, and would encourage them to cook, even if it was just once a year. The first edition is now almost entirely sold out. 
 
The seven-year itch also applies in this story. This year I completed a sequal: 'Baking with feeling'. Collecting recipes from my target group via crowdsourcing and email. During this process I discovered that baking has more to do with emotions than cooking did. People have memories from pies and pastries grandma made. And measurements need to be more precise. 
 
My dream is to publish the books in English or other languages so that even more people with a visual impairment can experience the joy of cooking. 
 


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