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How to Improve Kitchen Accessibility

Kitchen accessibility is critical for people with motility challenges, or anyone looking to improve the safety of their home in the long term.


Kitchens can be frustrating and even dangerous depending on a person’s limitations. Fortunately, there are a myriad of options to help make the kitchen user-friendly again:

Understand Your Needs
Before embarking on a kitchen remodel, it’s important to understand what your needs are. What issues do you run into that limit your use of the kitchen? Are you in a chair, have vision issues or are prone to fatigue or falls?

Kitchen Layout
If you are designing for someone in a wheelchair, layout is important. You’ll need wider doorways and enough floor space to accommodate the turning radius of the chair. In galley-style kitchens, removing a portion of lower cabinetry may be necessary.

Installing grab bars or poles in key locations can greatly assist people with pain or weakness issues. Grab bars offer stability and can help prevent falls. Providing a work table where one can sit and do tasks such as meal preparation prevents fatigue.

Sinks, Counters and Cabinets
Kitchen counters, sinks and cabinets are especially problematic for those in a wheelchair as they are designed for someone who is standing up. To accommodate a chair, choose sinks without a base cabinet and mount it at a comfortable height. Also, there should be at least one area of counter mounted at chair height without base cabinets. This area should include task lighting and outlets that are within reach. Consider storing commonly used cooking implements in drawers or cabinets with pull-out shelves next to this area.

A pull-out shelf below a microwave is useful for setting down hot food. Remember that most chair users need to use both hands to operate it. Setting a hot plate on your lap poses a burn danger.

Pull-out shelving is also helpful for items normally inside lower cabinets, such as trash cans. For upper cabinets, consider lowering them a few inches or replacing them with open shelves that are easier to manage with a grabber.

Appliances
Several major appliance brands have options that will work for a someone seated. Look for under-the-counter refrigerators and cooktops that can be installed on a low counter. Knobs should be located in the front of the unit.

Lighting and Color
If you are designing for person with a vision disability, keep your design simple. The idea is not to confuse the visual field with too many lines, shiny surfaces or muted colors. A high contrast color scheme is useful for those with low vision. Use a light background paint in a matte finish. Steer clear of busy wallpaper. Drawer pulls, small appliances, outlets and tools should be in bright colors so that they can be easily identified. Avoid marble, tile or metal for countertops as these are confusing or cause glare. Indirect task lighting is much friendlier and safer than overhead lighting. Consider installing diffuse lights under the upper cabinets.

Accessories and Simple Fixes
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to make a kitchen accessible is to get rid of clutter. Clutter is both visually confusing and makes it hard to access items. Other simple solutions include having the right accessories and utensils. A talking timer for the visually impaired is a great help, while most people in a chair benefit from a good extendable grabber. Easy-grip handles and drawers that are on rollers are a boon to those with arthritis.

No matter the end goal, there are many options to make your kitchen fit your needs now and in the future! The video below from Kohler has some great ideas to improve the accessibility in the kitchen, making it a beautiful, yet very functional space.