Happy Disability Pride Month! Wheelchair-accessible kitchens should be practical, beautiful, and easy to use. In order to achieve this, a range of requirements need to be met.
Over the last few decades, several kitchen manufacturers have developed specialist designs for wheelchair users and taken the time to research and develop the best solutions that not only function well but also look good.
We’ve reached out to the experts to help us break down the most important aspects of creating an inclusive kitchen.
Wheelchair accessible kitchen layout
What’s the first thing to consider when designing an accessible kitchen? “Space, space, and space!” is the key advice from Andy Barwell, wheelchair user and director at Kutchenhaus Chichester.
So, start by assessing your space and thinking about the overall layout. Open-plan kitchens are great for this, as well any designs without islands, as they offer a lot of floorspace to move around. “The kitchen design must take into account the turning circle of the chair,” says Andy. “This must flow well and work ergonomically, with the least effort to move as possible. A kitchen designer must consider the end user’s abilities, as this will vary for most people using a wheelchair.”
Once you have determined the overall space, it is time to figure out the layout and what goes where. “The overall layout and positioning of the key appliances play an important factor in determining how accessible a kitchen is to wheelchair users,” advises Adam Thomas, accessible design consultant. “When deciding on the layout, an important consideration is to reduce the number of steps between the cooking appliances and the sink.
“Carefully consider the placement of the oven, hob and sink to ensure they are not too far away from each other. This minimises the need to carry for example a boiling water pan across the kitchen before being able to drain it,” he explains. “Additionally, consider where the oven is positioned and whether there is a suitable resting space such as a worktop nearby. I tend to recommend that an oven is designed alongside a worktop, for the safe transfer of hot dishes.”
Storage and larders
Making pots, plates, and food accessible is a vital part of creating a kitchen design that’s easy to use. Luckily, there has been a lot of advancement in terms of internal storage solutions over the last few years.
For example, you can now find specialist pull down cupboards designed for accessible kitchens. There are also storage solutions that help you access the back of cupboards easily.
“To reduce unnecessary reaching, crouching, and carrying of items, safe storage solutions are a must,” recommends Adam. “Consider the height that wall cabinets are fitted at to make them as accessible as possible and include pull down baskets. This is an excellent way to make contents easier to reach for users. I recommend pull-out larders and base cabinets with drawers to negate reaching into the back of cabinets.
“Adding internal drawers into larders is another great way to make storage easy to access. Finally, reduced depth cabinets can be a useful design choice so that all cabinet contents are within easy reach and items don’t get pushed into hard-to-reach areas of deeper cabinets,” he continues.
What appliances are best for wheelchair users? Julia Steadman, commercial director at Brandt Design, has worked on designing lots of accessible kitchens. “We find that the position of the appliances is key to making light work of food prep,” she says. “Look out for the ultimate in ergonomics when selecting ovens and microwaves for your end-user, such as a single oven with a super functional door which slides under the appliance so the client can reach in and out when baking or preparing roasts.”
Thinking about how the oven door opens and how you will use it is important. An oven with a slide-and-hide door, means you can easily access it.
Then, electric hobs over gas are preferred, as gas can be hazardous. Hobs with downdraft extractors are a great option to stop unnecessarily reaching over the hob to turn on the extractor.
Julia also recommends making sure that the dishwasher is ultra energy-efficient, which is suitable for a one-person household as well as being easy to load. Also, give priority to a fully integrated fridge-freezer. Specifying a model with generous double doors will ensure that the contents can be seen at glance, making putting shopping away even easier.
Look into smart appliances that let you control settings and functions on your phone. Think turning on the oven, starting the extractor, or washing machine, which can make using your appliances a bit easier.
Wheelchair accessible kitchen worktops
Rise and fall worktops have risen in popularity in the last few years. Wheelchair users can use it in the lower position while able-bodied family members can use it at the raised height. “Lowering work surfaces by a couple of inches is a subtle variation which makes all the difference to a wheelchair user,” explains Julia. “It means they can cook with ease but it’s barely noticeable to guests.”
And, when it comes to the sink area, a butler bowl may be too deep to use. So, leaving space underneath the sink means that a wheelchair user can use the sink with ease.