Designing A Safe Kitchen for Wheelchair Users

By Lucy Lawrence

There are around two million new wheelchair users every year in the United States and that means that many homes are having to be redesigned to ease access and comfort. Of the rooms that make up a home, one that is particularly important to renovate is the kitchen, because consuming a sound diet is key for improving outcomes for many conditions and home cooking is therefore necessary less expensive and fun!  Some changes will cost more than others, so if you are looking to make changes, decide what budget you have and start off with those that will make the biggest difference, in terms of your comfort and safety.

Accessible Furniture Height

If you are starting out with an empty kitchen space, bespoke carpentry is ideal. Tabletops, sinks, dishwashers and cupboards can be built lower to ease the cooking and cleaning process. Low tabletops are key for safety, since you will be able to clearly see and control items you are chopping or heating. Low lying cupboards, meanwhile, will reduce the chance of pots and pans or other items falling out and causing possible injury. 

Whether you are building new or modifying an existing kitchen, it is important to do your homework. Often products that are specifically made for disabilities are extremely expensive so research existing products that may work for you.

Following ADA/ANSI Guidelines

The ADA and ANSI give important technical guidelines on how to make kitchens and other areas more accessible to wheelchair users. There are many resources available such as The Universal Design Toolkit to assist you with your design. A clear floor space of at least 30” by 48” should be provided at each kitchen appliance. Wheelchair turning spaces, meanwhile, should have a diameter of at least 60”. Include knee and toe clearances in your calculations. You can get really creative when starting a kitchen design from scratch. For instance, if you have a limited space, you can opt for design features such as sliding central islands, in which half the table can be pushed under the main tabletop to create more space for wheelchair users.Try to find a contractor with accessibility experience who can help with design ideas too.

Choosing the Right Appliances

Your furniture can adapt to the equipment you choose so these should be taken into account and discussed, at the planning stage. Refrigerators and other appliances should have one-hand operation to comply with ADA requirements. Dishwashers should ideally have electronic capacitive touch controls located on the front of the machine so that reaching over isn’t required. Cooktops and any other operable part of equipment should have a front location and mirrors can be added above, to make it easier to see what you are cooking. Washers and dryers should be front-loading and have wide doors and eye level controls.

Important Note:The plumbing of sinks should be placed far back so you can wheel underneath. It's imperative that exposed pipes are insulated to protect your legs.Temperature controls can be added so the maximum temperature can be set low enough to prevent burns.
Creative Thinking

Think of ways that will make the cooking process more amenable. One creative use of
Cabinets with Pull-out shelves
space, involves a pull-out system for electric stove tops; combine this with a low height and it will be very easy to keep an eye on the meals you are preparing. Kitchen drawers that completely pull out and allow you to hang pots vertically instead of horizontally, are another fantastic way to avoid the need for reaching over to obtain or store items. Cabinets for keeping cans, plates, and glasses will most likely be up on the wall above your work table. Ease access to these items with a lever that you can easily pull down to lower the shelves containing these goods.

There are also a multitude of gadgets such as mini food processors that can make everyday tasks much easier and safer.

Inspiration can be found everywhere for easier kitchen accessibility. When space isn’t an issue, design is a breeze. You can build an open kitchen with low-lying furniture and specialized equipment. If a big renovation isn’t in your plans, small changes can still make a difference. When you are in the design stage, let safety and comfort come first; whipping up the perfect meal should be easier and more pleasurable than ever.

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