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Accessible Kitchen Design


Accessible Kitchen DesignAs the center for food storage and meal preparation, the kitchen is one of the most important rooms in the house. For individuals limited by a disability, getting around in a regular kitchen may be difficult or impossible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) advocates adapting elements in the kitchen in order to make it handicap accessible to those restricted to wheelchairs and for others with limited mobility. When remodeling or building a kitchen, some adaptations will allow a disabled person greater independence in preparing his own food. Accessible Kitchen Design can help to make independence while achieving the kitchen of your dreams.

What You Need to Know

  • From small items, like a lever faucet, to larger appliances and custom cabinets, a handicap accessible kitchen will increase independence for those with reduced mobility.
  • For professional help designing and renovating your kitchen to accommodate your needs, consult a general contractor with experience building accessible spaces.

Step 1:

Replace a knob-type water faucet with a single-lever model that is operable with only one hand. This assists those with upper body mobility problems to turn on and adjust the water temperature. In addition, a recessed knee space of at least 8 inches beneath the sink will make make faucet access easier.
Step 2:

Install lower cabinets with a 10-inch, recessed toe-kick. Reaching the back of the countertop or the back of a cabinet shelf is difficult for wheelchair-bound individuals when the footrest of the wheelchair bumps into the lower part of the cabinet. A recessed toe-kick allows the person to pull closer to the cabinet to increase her reaching distance.
Step 3:

Replace a kitchen's upper appliances with new ones that fit beneath the countertop. Built-in microwaves, refrigerators and freezers all come in under-counter-models, allowing a wheelchair-bound individual to prepare his own food. When installing a cooktop, make sure the controls are on the front to eliminate the need to reach over the burners.
Step 4:

Maintain at least 40 inches between opposing cabinets in a pass-through kitchen to allow enough space for a wheelchair to maneuver and make sure there are two entries. If the kitchen is a U-shape, the ADA suggests leaving at least 60 inches of free floor space to allow for wheelchair maneuvering.
Step 5:

Leave an empty space beneath at least one section of the countertop to allow a wheelchair user to pull his or her body beneath the counter for ease of food preparation. This allows the individual's knees to comfortably rest beneath the counter and reduces the need to lean forward. The countertop should be between 29 inches and 36 inches in height, with 34 inches being optimal for a counter that is not adjustable.
Step 6:

Allow for a clear space beside a dishwasher and an oven, where a person in a wheelchair can comfortably sit while loading the dishwasher or putting food into and taking it out of the oven. Side-hinge ovens are preferable to bottom-hinged ovens for ease of access. The oven controls must be located on the front of the oven.
Step 7:

Provide safety in all areas of the kitchen. Since disabled individuals may have limited physical reactions, all under-cabinet edges must be smooth and free from sharp areas.

Tips & Warnings

  • Place a fire extinguisher in a lower cabinet for quick access.
  • A 29-inch high eating bar with open space beneath offers quick meal access for wheelchair-bound individuals.
  • Install multiple towel bars to hold hand towels and potholders.
  • Install lazy Susan carousels in corner cabinets.


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