How to Adapt Your Kitchen to Make it Wheelchair Accessible

There were nearly 40 million disabled Americans, or 12.6% of the population, in 2015. However, less than 1% of homes are wheelchair accessible.

Because there are so few accessible homes in America, you will most likely need to transform the home you have. Of all the rooms in your house, the kitchen is the area that will need the most work.

Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Whether you’re remodeling the entire room, or just making it more disabled-friendly, there are plenty of things to keep in mind.

Counters

Traditional kitchens use a “work triangle” that places the sink, refrigerator, and stove all next to each other. When creating an accessible kitchen, you want to separate those appliances with counter space.

Having several work areas close to these appliances will reduce the need to move around. You can also install a pull-out shelf to add more space without rearranging your kitchen.

Countertops should reach about 36 inches high for wheelchair-users. If space allows it, make sure the workspace is at last 30 inches wide.

Remove base cabinets, as that space is needed for legroom. It is important that the user can get as close to the surface as possible without having to turn or contort their body.

Knee clearances should be at least 27 inches high and 8 inches deep.

Cabinets

There are electric-powered cabinets that will lower to a more accessible position. When the user is done, they can move their cabinets back to their original position.

While that setup may be ideal, it is also expensive. There are inserts that you can install into your preexisting cabinets that can be lowered manually, or if you have a Complex Rehab Wheelchair, you can move up to the cabinets.

If you are installing cabinets to be lower, make sure that there is still adequate space between the countertops and the base of the cabinets.

No matter which setup you choose, be sure to use non-slip cabinet liners so nothing falls in transit.

Keep commonly-used things like spice racks, cutting boards, and dinnerware in a low, easy-to-access location. Use storage solutions, like drawer dividers, to maximize storage in these places.

Looped cabinet pulls are easier to open than standard knobs. If you are replacing your cabinets, consider finding touch-release doors or drawers for maximum accessibility.

Kitchen Sink

Kitchen sinks, like counters, also need knee clearance for a wheelchair accessible kitchen.

Install the plumbing at the back or side of the sink so as not to interfere with the legroom. Remember to insulate the pipes to avoid an accidental burn.

Single-lever faucets are more accessible than one with two handles. Make sure that the max heat on the water heater won’t accidentally burn anyone.

Appliances

When creating an accessible kitchen, try to find appliances that have a maximum operating force of 5 pounds. Anything heavier than that may be too cumbersome to use.

Also, opt for appliances with raised buttons and knobs. These are easier to grip, especially for those with fine motor issues.

Stove

Use electric cooktops that have staggered burners. If somebody is reaching for a pot on the back burner, they won’t have to worry about the pots on the front burners.

You may also consider an electric stovetop that only turns on when it senses a pot on it. This is an excellent safety measure to ensure a burner isn’t left on.

Finally, make sure that the controls are on the front of the appliance rather than the back.

Dishwasher

Dishwashers should be raised 6-8 inches off the ground. By elevating it, wheelchair users won’t have to strain to place dishes on the bottom rack.

When installing the dishwasher, remember to keep it accessible from both sides.

Fridge

Having a refrigerator with a bottom-drawer freezer will help make it more accessible. A refrigerator with a left and right door is another excellent option.

Try to find a fridge with exterior handles instead of one with an inset hand groove. This will be easier to grab for those with dexterity issues.

Doors

Though not technically in the kitchen, having accessible doors in your home is one of the most important accessibility features.

Every doorway should be at least 36 inches wide, though 42 inches is preferable. Use a lever doorknob instead of traditional knobs.

If you can, install swing hinges on your doors to make traveling through easier. You would only need to push the door with your chair to open it without having to worry about doorknobs.

Accessibility Hacks

Sometimes, it’s not financially viable to transform your kitchen. If that is the case, consider trying these accessibility hacks before breaking the bank.

Use a lab desk for a stable, accessible surface. You can use it to prep food or carry things from one surface to the other. Not only is it convenient, but it can also protect your legs in case something from the stove spills.

If you have trouble with large containers of food, try storing them in easier to hold jars. For example, if the gallon of milk is too heavy, pour it into several smaller jars that are lighter.

If you have problems grasping things, or if something is placed out of reach, put zip ties through the handle loops. This will extend the reach of an object, as well as give you an easy loop to grasp on to.

Things to Keep in Mind

Every accessible kitchen should meet the needs of the individual using it. Depending on your mobility, some aspects might be more important than others. Use your best judgment and do what is best for you.

The most important thing is to create a barrier-free environment. Automate what you can and keep everything within reach.

Build an Accessible Kitchen

Creating an accessible kitchen is a large project, so don’t be afraid to do it in small steps.

Want some help in designing an accessible home? Feel free to contact us!