It is estimated that over 30 million Americans face the challenge of living at home using a wheelchair or walker.
This number is growing as many more disabled and aging people choose to be self-sufficient and stay in their own homes.
The goal of accessible or barrier-free design is to not inhibit access, but give access to all people, abled and disabled alike.
Some of the biggest obstacles to designing an accessible kitchen is access to sinks, cabinets, countertops (worktops) and appliances which are usually not usable for people who are sitting or in a wheelchair.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) resulted in ADA Accessible Guidelines (ADAAG) which provide specifications for places of public accommodation and commercial buildings.
When designing an ADA kitchen, ADAAG provide criteria for multiple things such as turning room and clear floor space allowances for wheelchairs, mounting heights for cabinets as well as countertop and sink clearances. A summarized version of these is available at ADA Bathrooms.
Today, people over the age of 50 are deciding to age in the place of their choosing, opting to think about their space in the long term.
There are more choices on the market and being accessible no longer means being institutional. The trend toward Universal Design products means that you can have both efficiency and functionality. Many new products are innovative, stylish and functional.
When designing a wheelchair accessible kitchen for disabled users, there are a number of considerations to provide easy access for handicapped individuals.
Varying the counter height will make the kitchen an easier place for individuals with handicaps, taller adults and shorter children to work in. Making the counter corners rounded will reduce the occurrence of people bumping into them.
The usual height at the top of a wheelchair armrest is approximately 29". This measurement is important so you can customize countertop height. The recommended countertop height is a minimum of 28" and should be no higher than 34" (32" is preferred).
Space for knees requires at least a 24" height from the floor and approximately 30" in width.
For a 24" standard countertop depth, the first 16" is considered to be easy access for the user—the remainder is useful for storage.
A wheelchair accessible sink should be shallow, only 5" to 6 1/2" deep. which allows the cook to sit or stand while working. The faucet should be a loop or single lever for easy operation.
Locate the sink's drain at the rear to keep the knee space clear. Insulate the hot water pipes in the open area under the sink to prevent burns. An ADA kitchen sink should meet the forward reach criteria specified by ADAAG.
Kitchen Wall Cabinets
Lowering the wall cabinets from the standard 18" above the counter to 15" will make the second shelf accessible for everyday use for most people.
Mount or lower wall cabinets closer to the countertop and include pull-out cutting boards, slide-out or roll-out shelves and baskets, and drawers with full extension glides.
An ADA cabinet should meet the reach and mounting height criteria specified by ADAAG.
Newer technology makes available adjustable kitchen wall cabinets which will automatically lower upper cabinets to reachable level, alternatively shelving lifts can be installed to lower shelves inside wall cabinets to the counter level.
Kitchen Base Cabinets
For a person in a wheelchair to be able to use a stovetop and a sink, a recessed area must be provided underneath and the counter height must be no higher than 34". Such an arrangement can also benefit anyone who wants to sit down while doing kitchen work.
Doorways & Hallways
Installing a 36" door makes the rooms accessible to someone in a wheelchair or a walker. Entry doors should have a minimum 32" net opening measured from the doorstop to the door's face when the door is in a 90° open position. The installation of "swing clear" hinges will create a clear door opening.
Use a lever-style door handle and remember that the force required to push or pull interior doors open should not exceed five pounds.
Three feet is wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through going straight, but 42" width is more comfortable. To make a 90-degree turn into a doorway in a wheelchair, a hall width of four feet is required. Doorways that are angled at 45-degrees are easier for a person in a wheelchair to pass through.
Kitchen Aisle Width
A width of 42" instead of 36" allows several people to work in the kitchen at the same time; it also allows someone to get around a person in a wheelchair.
A front-to-back measurement, including footrests, determines the wheelchair turning radius required. The turning radius is normally 60" (25 square feet) for a full 360° turn.
For a wheelchair user, you want to lower or install the wall oven and microwave so they are approximately 31" from the floor. Install an electric cook top unit with staggered burners and mount the controls on the top front or below the unit to eliminate reaching across hot burners.
For a range, look for a slanted control panel with recessed control knobs that are easy to hold and to turn. Front positioning of knobs and control panel signal lights will make the range easier and safer for those in wheelchairs. If possible, make the oven accessible from either side or search out an oven with a side-hinged door.
Raise the dishwasher 6" to 8" off the floor and locate the unit so it is accessible from either side.
An appliance lift is a simple way to make standard appliances more accessible.
- A cranking, casement type window is easier to open than the standard double hung style.
- Glare-free lighting, cabinets, and low-gloss counter laminate improves usability.
- Switches and thermostats should be installed no higher than 48" off the floor.
- Place electrical outlets no lower than 15" off the floor.
By implementing an accessible design, your kitchen can be easier for all users. Most importantly you can design beautiful efficient kitchens that maximize the independence, convenience and changing abilities of all household members.