7 Tips For Accessible Kitchen Design

7 Tips For Accessible Kitchen Design

Additions and Remodels
Small Projects and Repairs
By Mateos Glen Hayes December 10, 2021

It is good to note that awareness of the challenges and issues surrounding accessibility continues to gain growing awareness among the public. Indeed, the advent of sweeping reforms such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or (ADA) has allowed for major improvements in accessibility for public buildings and has also given disabled persons better employment protections. However, accessible home design continues to be an area where accessibility measures fall short, especially in standalone suburban homes.

It is an unfortunate fact that many of us are not aware of the ways in which the design of houses is often not friendly for those with mobility issues. What may seem like small oversights to us can become rather large hindrances in the daily lives of disabled persons. In many cases, the simple fact that many residences do not have simple accommodations for the disabled can severely limit the extent to which those with mobility issues can live independently.

So, it is worthwhile to consider the ways in which homes can be made more livable for those of us who may be confined to a wheelchair, or who may otherwise have difficulties with mobility. The good news is that we now possess the resources, both financial and technological, to vastly increase the independence of disabled persons, and this can be achieved with just a few steps.

Countertops

Low-Mounted Countertops Are Essential for Accessible Kitchens

Low-Mounted Countertops Are Essential for Accessible Kitchens

The average kitchen countertop usually sits at 36” in height. To make a kitchen accessible, the first order of business is to lower this height. Accessible worktops should sit at a lower height between 28” to 32”, with lower heights being more preferable. Countertops should be no more than 30” wide for accessibility as this will allow someone in a wheelchair better reach while working over the worktop.

Another way of designing a more accessible countertop is to simply install pull-out shelves which can be deployed from the countertop when someone who requires a lower one is using the kitchen.

However, it is also possible to install adjustable worktops, with the obvious benefit being that this allows for much more flexibility when it comes to finding the best height. This also means that the countertop can be used easily by people of differing abilities. To maximize the usefulness of an adjustable counter, it is best for it to have a range that allows for it to go as low as 28” and as high as 36”.

If you’re struggling to determine what the best heights are for your worktops, the easiest way to find out is to use an adjustable table before installation. At the end of the day, using the space is the most reliable way to determine which configuration will be the best for maximizing accessibility.

Cabinets

There Are Many Clever Ways of Making Cabinets More Accessible

There Are Many Clever Ways of Making Cabinets More Accessible

Kitchen cabinets are a crucial part of any kitchen, but unfortunately, they tend to be situated out of the reach of those with mobility issues. The easiest way to make a kitchen more accessible is to lower the cabinets to an optimal height. As with countertops, the best way to determine the optimal height for your accessible kitchen cabinets is to do real-life testing.

The height of the cabinets should be decided based on how far the user can comfortably reach it without straining. This solution works fine if you are tailoring a kitchen to one individual, but it might become difficult to find a good height that fits multiple users. For those situations, a costlier adjustable cabinet system might be necessary. These types of accessible kitchen cabinets can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button, making them far more accessible to a wide array of people.

However, automatic cabinets of this sort may be beyond the budgets of most people. And in this case, certain workarounds can provide an alternative. For instance, often-used items can be placed in easier-to-reach places such as lower drawers and worktops, reducing the need to reach up to cabinets. Certain accessories, such as adjustable shelves, lazy susans, and other types of accessible cabinets can be used to make kitchens easier for disabled persons to use.

Appliances 

Appliances Can Be Difficult to Use if They Are Mounted Too High

Appliances Can Be Difficult to Use if They Are Mounted Too High

The best way to make most kitchen appliances accessible is to mount them at a lower height. In general, appliances should sit 31” from the floor. Special dishwashers now exist that are accessible from either side and should be mounted even lower at 6” minimum for the most accessibility. Stoves can be pretty dangerous if they aren’t easy to use, so ensure that an appropriate cooktop is installed with staggered burners and front-mounted controls. This will reduce the risk of burns and other accidents.

Appliance doors are another thing to consider. An oven with a side-hinged door is the best option for accessibility, whereas a bottom-drawer freezer-style refrigerator is also recommended. In any event, it is important to ensure that the door swings out in such a way that you are not required to strain to use the appliance. It is a generally good idea to look for items that can be returned if needed, so you’re not stuck with anything that doesn’t fit.

As for controls, the best ones for disabled persons are those that are tactile or have touchpad operation since they require minimal strength, whilst tactile controls can provide feedback as well.

Hallways and Doorways

Wider Doorways Are Much Easier for Those in Wheelchairs to Get Through

Wider Doorways Are Much Easier for Those in Wheelchairs to Get Through

One of the most important aspects of an accessible kitchen is that it be easy to get into and out of. This is not only for practicality, but it is really important for safety as well. A 36” wife doorway is wide enough for wheelchairs and walkers, but an even wider 42” doorway is worth considering since this will provide even more comfort. To maximize the width of a doorway that is usable, there are two measures you can take.

One way is to simply remove the door. Since many doors may not clear fully, your doorway may not be passable even if it is wide enough. Alternatively, you can also replace your existing door with one that has clear swing hinges. These types of doors swing fully out of the way to fully clear the doorway and give you the most room. In terms of handles, a lever-style door is the best option since this will be the easiest to reach and use.

Clearance within your kitchen is another design issue. For pass-through kitchens, 40” of clearance will allow for a comfortable amount of room to move around. U-shaped layout kitchens, however, will need a bit more flooring clearance at 60” since they will need to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs turning around.

Sinks 

Accessible Sinks Are Safer to Use for Disabled Persons

Accessible Sinks Are Safer to Use for Disabled Persons

When it comes to sinks, the ideal dimensions for maximum accessibility are based on how high and how deep the sink is. To ensure that it is easily reachable, a sink should be at least 27” high and 8” deep. This will allow for a disabled person to easily fish out dishes without straining. Also, the drain should be set at the back of the sink so that plumbing is not where someone’s legs would be if they are in a wheelchair.

For protection from hot water pipes, plumbing should be insulated and enclosed so as to prevent legs from getting burned by hot pipes. Also, it is recommended that a water heater be set to minimum heat in order to eliminate the risk of scalding burns from hot water. Faucets must also be accessible for maximum functionality. This can be done by making the faucet either a single lever setup or with touch controls. Installing the faucet to the side of the sink can also help to improve accessibility.

General Items 

Light Switches, Faucets, and Handles Will All Need to Be Adjusted

Light Switches, Faucets, and Handles Will All Need to Be Adjusted

While reconfiguring shelves, cabinets, sinks, and appliances to make the kitchen more usable for those with disabilities, it is also important to consider where switches and handles are located. Light switches will need to be moved so that they can be easily used by someone who is in a wheelchair.

As for handles, the general rule is that they should be installed on the lower part of any panels so that they can be reached with ease. If the handle is on a drawer or cabinet that is mounted low, higher handles may be required instead. Other details, such as thermostats, microwave controls, oven controls, and fridge controls will also need to be in the best place for accessibility. As with moving cabinets, the best way to determine which place is best for all these little details is through real-life testing.

Go Digital

A High Tech Solution With Amazing Versatility

A High Tech Solution With Amazing Versatility

We mentioned how technology has advanced a great deal in recent years, and that couldn’t be more true when you consider just how advanced some smart kitchen setups are. For those who want a fully automated and digitized experience, there now exist fully articulating kitchen setups that have multiple electronically-controlled moving parts.

With the touch of a few digital buttons, one can completely change every aspect of these kitchens from cabinet height to whether the countertop swings out or stays straight.

These systems have many built-in accommodations which allow for people of all different abilities to use the kitchen with ease, and as such, they represent a major breakthrough in accessible kitchen design. It goes without saying that these systems aren’t what you would call affordable, but they are nonetheless worth considering.

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes