The kitchen is often the very center of our homes, a place where we gather to talk, cook and eat. That's why it is so important that the kitchen be accessible to individuals with a wide range of physical abilities. The good news: adapting your kitchen for maximum accessibility need not be prohibitively expensive or require top-to-bottom renovations. Here are some tips and design elements that can help make your kitchen a place for everyone.
If you're building a new home, consider incorporating elements of Universal Design. This approach to designing and building homes is based on the idea that spaces and products should accommodate people of all ages, heights and physical abilities. Universal Design isn't for anyone. It's for everyone. For more information, contact the Center for Universal Design.
Room to move
Another design tip: open kitchens or kitchens that are 'L' or 'U' shaped can most easily accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.
Consider installing appliances that can easily be operated by individuals with a wide range of physical abilities: a built-in dishwasher with front controls; a front-loading washer and dryer; and a lowered wall oven, installed at a height of 30 to 42 inches off of the floor.
Easy to reach
Most kitchen cabinets are placed 1 ½ feet above the countertop. Placing them closer to the counter makes them easier to reach. Easier still: add a free-standing storage cabinet.
Lots of light
Make sure that your kitchen has sufficient lighting to eliminate safety risks.
Typical countertops are 3 feet above the floor. Adding a section that's lower, approximately 30 inches, gives you more workspace options and can accommodate a wider range of physical abilities.
A la carte
Place commonly used items in a rolling cart with pull-out drawers. If the cart has drop-leaves, these can be raised for food preparation.
If you're in the market for a new refrigerator/freezer, consider a model with side-by-side doors that can be opened without having to reach overhead. In-door ice and drinking water dispensers help everyone, and save energy.
Replace fixtures on cabinets or drawers with large easy-to-grasp "D" handles. (Hint: they're called "D" handles because they're shaped like the letter "D.")
While switches and outlets are often located high above the floor, remote control devices are available that can be used to operate them from any level or location within the home.