ADVICE & TIPS, LAYOUTS

How To Design An Accessible Kitchen – Expert Advice & Information

Are you struggling to use your kitchen due to a physical disability, condition, or injury? Are you considering changing out a few appliances and cabinets or doing a complete renovation to make a more accessible kitchen?

I’ve designed a few accessible kitchen projects over my 10+ year career as a kitchen designer, picking up some tips and considerations to think about along the way.

In this post, I’ll share some advice, tips and considerations for your accessible kitchen project.

Let’s dive in.

Key Takeaways

In a hurry? Here are the main points:

  • User-Centric Design: Tailor the kitchen design to the specific needs and preferences of its users, with expert consultations as necessary.

  • Spatial Layout and Zoning: Ensure clear pathways, logical zoning, and sufficient manoeuvrability for smooth activity flow.

  • Accessible Features and Fixtures: Incorporate adjustable, easy-grip, and easy-access fixtures to enhance usability and safety.

  • Lighting Optimization: Utilize a mix of general, task, and smart lighting to create a well-lit, functional space.

  • Safety Measures: Choose slip-resistant flooring and install automatic shut-off devices on appliances for added safety.

What Is Accessible Kitchen Design?

Accessible Kitchen Design is about creating a kitchen environment that is usable by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.

This design approach emphasizes inclusivity, ensuring that the kitchen is functional, safe, and convenient for everyone, including those with mobility, vision, or cognitive impairments.

How To Design An Accessible Kitchen

Designing an accessible kitchen entails a blend of thoughtful planning, an understanding of individual needs, and a holistic approach to inclusivity.

I’ve broken it down into seven sections to help you think about, plan and tackle your accessible kitchen design.

  • Assessment
  • Layout
  • Appliances
  • Cabinets
  • Countertop
  • Lighting
  • Safety

1. Assessment and Planning

Designing an accessible kitchen starts with a clear understanding of the needs and preferences of its users. This is the cornerstone for creating a space that is not only functional and safe but also enriches the daily lives of those who interact with it.

Who Will Use The Kitchen?

First, decide who is expected to use the kitchen. If this is for your ageing parent, they may not be cooking holiday meals from scratch and really just need a way to heat prepared foods. 

Are they living with the entire family? Then you need to take into consideration the comfort and function expected for both those living with and without disabilities.

Is this intended as a short-term unit where you expect to have new renters every year or so? In that case, you will take a more generalised approach to the overall design and details.

Have a think about who will be using the kitchen and what their particular needs are.

Diagram showcasing a wheelchair user in a modern kitchen layout

2. Accessible Kitchen Layout

The layout is the cornerstone of an accessible kitchen, setting the stage for seamless movement and interaction. An intuitively designed layout minimizes physical strain and optimizes the space to ensure every area is easily reachable and navigable.

While you can make your existing kitchen much more accessible by installing new appliances and changing out a counter, a truly inclusive kitchen will begin before you start building.

Accessible Layout For Your Particular Needs

Creating an accessible kitchen begins with prioritizing a spacious layout. This is essential for providing ample room for manoeuvrability, especially crucial for individuals who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

A well-thought-out layout can significantly enhance the ease with which individuals navigate through the kitchen, making everyday tasks less strenuous and more enjoyable.

A key aspect of ensuring this ease of movement is maintaining clear paths of travel. Both the ADA and Local UK Guidelines say this can be achieved by minimizing any obstructions and ensuring a minimum clear opening width of 84cm (32 inches) for doorways.

Although opting for wider openings whenever possible is highly preferable. Ideally, a 900mm+ (36 inches+) clearance so that wheelchairs and walkers have a little elbow room to manoeuvre.

Another critical factor mentioned by the ADA and UK Guidelines to consider in the layout design is ensuring a 1500mm (60-inch) turning radius for wheelchairs.

This provision allows for smooth and unhindered movement within the kitchen space, which is a fundamental aspect of accessible design. By adhering to this standard, you not only enhance the functionality of the kitchen but also contribute to creating a comfortable and inclusive environment for all users.

The 1500mm (60-inch) turning radius enables individuals in wheelchairs to easily turn around and navigate through the kitchen, thereby promoting a higher degree of independence and comfort.

Wheelchair user in kitchen

Zoning For Efficiency

Strategically segregating the kitchen into essential zones such as cooking, cleaning, and storage is a great way to streamline tasks and minimise unnecessary movement.

This zoning concept aids in creating a well-organized and efficient kitchen layout, making daily chores less taxing and more manageable.

The positioning of these zones in close proximity to each other plays a significant role in promoting a logical flow of activities. For example, placing the dishwasher near the sink and adjacent to the storage area for dishes can significantly cut down the steps required to put away clean dishes.

This proximity not only saves time but also reduces physical exertion, making the kitchen a more user-friendly space.

As well as this, maintaining a clear counter space near each zone is a practical consideration to significantly enhance the functionality and user-friendliness of the kitchen. A clear counter space acts as a temporary resting or transfer point, making the handling of items more manageable and less cumbersome.

For example, having a clear counter space next to the refrigerator. It provides a convenient spot to set items when retrieving or putting away groceries. This simple yet effective arrangement minimizes the need for individuals to hold onto items for an extended period, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with mobility or strength challenges.

Short Term Accessible Kitchen Alterations

In some instances, you may be focused on making a home more accessible for a family member facing an illness or rehabbing from a serious injury. The changes to the kitchen will be used for a few months or a year, but you do not anticipate the extra upgrades to be used beyond that time.

Make sure that you install accessible items that can be removed or retrofitted to maintain the property value.

Top Tips For An Accessible Kitchen Layout

  • Spacious Layout:
    • Ensure there’s enough open space and room for easy manoeuvrability, particularly for individuals using wheelchairs or other mobility aids.

  • Clear Pathways:
    • Maintain clear paths of travel by minimizing obstructions and providing ample doorway widths, ideally larger than the minimum of 85cm (32 inches).

  • Turning Radius:
    • Provide a 1500mm (60-inch) turning radius for wheelchairs to allow for smooth and unhindered movement within the kitchen.

  • Zoning:
    • Segregate the kitchen into essential zones such as cooking, cleaning, and storage to streamline tasks and minimize unnecessary movement.

  • Close Proximity of Zones:
    • Position these zones within close proximity to each other to promote a logical flow of activities, reducing the steps required to complete tasks.

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3. Appliances Designed For An Accessible Kitchen

Selecting the right appliances is crucial in an accessible kitchen, aiming to blend ease of use with modern functionality.

While you are shopping for new appliances for the accessible kitchen, look for versions that provide easier reach, have clear displays, include tactile controls, and can be mounted at a height that supports function.

Hob (Cooktop)

When designing a more inclusive kitchen, you will most likely ditch the traditional two-in-one stovetop and oven. Position a standalone cooktop at a height that works with a person sitting in a wheelchair or even on a taller counter in some unique situations.

It is recommended that you avoid the open flame burners on a gas stove, especially in kitchens used by the visually impaired. The safest burners are induction types that only provide heat when the pan is placed on the burner.

Consider the control type of the hob. Physical knobs are sometimes easier to operate compared to a touchpad as you don’t need to see them in order to choose the proper on/off position. For other people, a touchpad can be easier to use if there is a loss of fine dexterity control.

Shallow-depth cooktops (sometimes called Linear or Panoramic hobs) are great for individuals with limited reach as all four burners are positioned along the front edge of the counter. Rather than the traditional two at the front and two at the back.

NEFF N90 T50FS41X0 90cm Panoramic Induction Hob
NEFF N90 T50FS41X0 90cm Panoramic Induction Hob

Oven

Take a good look at how your current wall-mounted oven functions and what would make it easier for a person who uses a wheelchair to reach it.

Decide whether a touchpad or knobs will be easier for the future cook to use. Some new smart ovens can be operated through the use of voice control technology. Set the temperature, bake time, and timers with a simple command.

Install the oven at counter height or lower and look for a unit with a swing-open door instead of the traditional pull-down type. This lets the cook get closer to the oven and reach in to retrieve the cake or pie pan without bumping into the door.

Certain NEFF ovens have a pull-down door that then slides away (Slide&Hide Door) providing the same extra room as the swing-open option.

NEFF B57CS24N0B - Slide&Hide Oven Door
NEFF B57CS24N0B – Slide&Hide Oven Door

Fridge And Freezer

Refrigerator manufacturers have been optimising their designs for decades to help home cooks manage food better and let the kids reach their favourite snacks. Look for a fridge with drawers and shelves that pull out.

The fridge on top with a drawer freezer below is a good combination for keeping more ingredients within reach when seated in a wheelchair.

Ice makers and water dispensers are nicely positioned for easy reach, a better option compared to getting a drink from the sink.

Some new fridges incorporate smart technology so that you can create a shopping list, place an order, or even check if you have an ingredient in the fridge by asking your digital assistant.

Dishwasher

You may think that the dishwasher is inherently accessible since it sits on the floor. However, if you struggle to bend over and stand up or cannot reach down out of your wheelchair, it can pose a whole new set of challenges.

Have the dishwasher installed a little higher up by building a pedestal for it. This puts the controls at eye height while bringing the lower level of dishes within reach.

Another option on the market is the AEG Comfortlift. Press a button on the bottom rack, and it slides forward and pops up. After you are done loading, hit the button again and the rack retracts into place.

AEG Comfortlift Dishwasher - accessible kitchen
AEG Comfortlift – Bottom basket raised for easier access

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Extractor

The air extractor may not seem like it would need to be designed for better accessibility, but have you looked at where the switch for yours is located?

Consider using a remote control to turn on the fan or have the installer also add a switch mounted at counter height that can operate your cooker hood.

Another possibility is to have the cooker hood networked with the hob so that when a burner is turned on, the fan spins up to speed. Many manufacturers have models where the hob and cooker hood interact automatically with one another. Often called Hood2Hob technology.

Sink And Tap (Faucet)

First, the counter for the sink should be mounted at a height that allows the individual to reach down to the bottom of the sink and back to the taps. You may wish to have the area beneath designed to allow a chair to roll under, too.

Some accessible sink designs feature a shallower bowl that can be accessed while sitting in a wheelchair.

For individuals with limited dexterity or strength in their hands, opt for a faucet with lever handles or touchless technology. Lever handles are easier to grip and operate, while touchless faucets eliminate the need for any manual operation, simply relying on motion sensors to activate the water flow.

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4. Kitchen Cabinets – Accessible Alterations

Cabinets, being a significant component of the kitchen, demand thoughtful configuration to ensure they cater to the diverse needs of all users.

Innovative Storage Solutions

Opting for pull-down shelves is a wise decision as it brings the contents down to an accessible level, making it easier for individuals with limited reach to access items stored higher up.

Incorporate storage mechanisms in corner cabinets to make the most out of these often hard-to-reach spaces. Lazy Susan, Le Mans mechanisms and magic corners can all bring items to the front, reducing the need to reach far into the cabinet.

Drawers with full-extension slides are another excellent addition. They allow for complete access to the drawer’s contents, making it easier to retrieve items, especially from the back.

Remove a base cabinet and leave it open with just a countertop so that a wheelchair can roll up and the cook has access to a work area.

Wheelchair user in an accessible designed kitchen

Handle Design

The ease with which cabinets can be opened or closed largely depends on the design of the handles. Ensuring handles are easy to grip and operate is fundamental.

D-shaped handles are often recommended due to their ease of use.

Their design allows for easy gripping and pulling, making the operation of cabinets and drawers significantly easier, even for individuals with limited hand strength or dexterity.

Contrasting Color Schemes

Consider using contrasting colour schemes for cabinets and handles to aid individuals with visual impairments. The colour contrast helps distinguish the handles from the cabinet doors, facilitating easier operation.

Adjustable Shelves

Incorporating adjustable shelving within the cabinets provides flexibility, allowing for customization according to individual needs and preferences. This feature ensures that the kitchen remains adaptable to changing needs over time.

Clear Labeling

Labeling cabinets clearly can also enhance accessibility, especially for individuals with cognitive impairments. It aids in easy identification of the contents, reducing the time and effort spent searching for items.

Soft-Close Features

Soft-close drawers and cabinets are not only a luxury but a safety feature, preventing the abrupt slamming of doors which could potentially be dangerous.

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5. Countertops

Countertops are the workstations of the kitchen, and their design significantly impacts usability and comfort. Adjustable and varied-height countertops cater to a diverse range of users, making kitchen tasks enjoyable and less of a chore.

Countertop Height

This can be one of the most challenging decisions for an accessible kitchen, especially if the kitchen is a shared space. Some users of wheelchairs will need counters as low as 750mm (30 inches). While taller individuals with mobility issues could require a 920mm+ (36 inches+) height to eliminate back pain when bending over.

If this will be a long-term residence, select the height that best suits the individual. For shared spaces, look at adding one or more rise-and-fall counter sections. These can be lowered as needed and then returned to the standard height.

Countertop Edge

Another area to pay attention to is the edges of the countertop. Rounded edges can minimize the risk of injury from accidental bumps, providing a safer and more comfortable environment, especially for individuals with mobility challenges.

While contrasting colour edges are helpful for individuals with visual impairments, as they help delineate the boundaries of surfaces clearly, preventing spills or other accidents.

6. Lighting

A well-illuminated kitchen is a safer and more enjoyable space for everyone. The right lighting not only enhances the aesthetics but significantly impacts the functionality and accessibility of the kitchen.

As with every other detail in the room, your lighting design should be personalised for the intended user.

General and Task Lighting

Ensure the kitchen is well-lit by incorporating bright, glare-free lighting, which will reduce shadows and facilitate easier movement within the space. It’s advisable to add additional task lighting over key work areas like the stove, sink, and countertops.

This focused lighting is crucial as it ensures sufficient light is available for safely performing tasks, enhancing visibility and precision while cooking, chopping, or cleaning.

Under-Cabinet Lighting

A remarkable solution for brightening up countertops is the installation of under-cabinet lighting, which provides direct illumination exactly where it’s needed.

This type of lighting significantly reduces shadows cast by wall cabinets and enhances visibility, thus making tasks like reading recipes or chopping vegetables much easier.

Accessible Switches

Accessibility should extend to the lighting controls; ensure that light switches are easily accessible and placed at a height that can be comfortably reached by all users, including those in wheelchairs.

Incorporating rocker switches or touch-sensitive switches is a good idea as they are easier to operate compared to traditional toggle switches.

Smart Lighting Controls

Integrate smart lighting controls to allow for voice-activated or remote-controlled operation, adding an extra layer of convenience and accessibility.

Smart lighting systems can also come with dimmable features, enabling users to adjust the lighting levels according to their preferences and the task at hand, providing a customizable lighting environment.

Colour Temperature Consistency

Maintaining a consistent colour temperature across all lighting fixtures creates a harmonious and visually comfortable environment.

It’s advisable to opt for warm lighting, which is generally easier on the eyes and creates a cosy ambience, enhancing the overall aesthetic and feel of the kitchen.

Kelvin-lighting-colour-temperature-chart
Colour Temperature Chart

Natural Light Utilization

Harnessing natural light by having windows or skylights not only saves energy but also creates a more pleasant kitchen environment.

Ensure that window sills are low and easy to operate, and consider adding adjustable blinds to control glare, allowing for a well-lit, comfortable space during the day.

Glare Reduction

Opt for light fixtures and bulbs that emit a soft, even light to minimize glare, which can be discomforting and pose challenges for individuals with visual impairments.

Glare reduction is key to creating a visually comfortable kitchen environment.

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7. Safety Measures

A crucial aspect of designing an accessible kitchen is ensuring the safety of all users. The flooring choice and appliance functionality both play significant roles in minimizing potential hazards and creating a safe environment.

Slip-Resistant Flooring

Opting for slip-resistant flooring materials is fundamental in enhancing safety, especially in a space like the kitchen where spills are common.

Ensure that there’s adequate anti-slip protection, particularly in areas prone to moisture such as around the sink, dishwasher, or any other water source. This can be achieved through the use of slip-resistant mats or treatments applied to the flooring material itself.

Automatic Shut-Off Devices

Installing automatic shut-off devices on appliances like the stove, oven, or other heating elements is an added safety measure that can prevent potential fire hazards or burns.

These devices can be programmed to turn off the appliance after a certain period of inactivity, providing a safety net that contributes to a more secure kitchen environment.

FAQs

What are the ADA guidelines for kitchen design?

If you’re in North America you’ll want to be paying attention to the ADA guidelines for kitchen design. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets standards to ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities. In the context of kitchen design, here are a few important ADA guidelines to consider:

  1. Clear Floor Space: The ADA recommends a clear floor space of at least 30×48 inches in front of appliances, sinks, and countertops to accommodate wheelchair users.

  2. Accessible Countertops: Countertops should be at a height range of 28-34 inches to provide easier access for individuals in wheelchairs.

  3. Accessible Appliances: ADA guidelines state that appliances, such as cooktops and ovens, should have controls that are reachable and operable from a seated position.

  4. Manoeuvring Space: All pathways within the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide to allow for easy wheelchair manoeuvrability.

  5. Doorways and Entrances: Doorways leading into the kitchen should have a minimum width of 32 inches to accommodate wheelchair accessibility.

It’s important to note that these guidelines serve as a starting point, and individual needs can vary. Consulting with a professional kitchen designer or accessibility expert can help ensure your design meets both ADA guidelines and your specific requirements.

Final Thoughts…

There you have it. Advice, information and things to consider when designing an accessible kitchen.

As everyone’s individual situation and needs are different there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to accessible kitchens.

However, by implementing the specific design considerations and accessible alterations for your particular needs you can create the perfect accessible kitchen for you.

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Author

Michael from Kitchinsider.com

Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for over 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.