Accessible Kitchen Design – Advice, Info & Things To Consider

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?

An accessible kitchen is designed to eliminate impediments and create a workspace that is better engineered to help you live your best life.

In this post, learn what types of upgrades are available for your accessible kitchen project.

Let’s dive in.

Accessible Kitchen Floor Plan

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. Unless you are building an accessible kitchen for an income flat, you will likely be personalising the space for your specific needs.

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.

Accessible Alterations For Your Particular Needs

If the person that the kitchen is intended for uses a wheelchair, you will want to have an open area between cabinets and walls of at least 1500mm square. This allows the chair to pivot without bumping into appliances. The doorway into the kitchen should be at least 840mm wide (ideally 900mm) so that wheelchairs and walkers have a little elbow room to manoeuvre.

For the visually impaired, instead of lower counters and drop-down storage units, you will need to focus on tactile upgrades. Touchpads on appliances may feature braille numbers. Smart technology can start the dishwasher with a spoken command. Textured floor tiles can indicate transitions between rooms. If they have minimal vision, the use of high contrast colours for cabinets and appliances help the user to find important tools.

Is it difficult for the cook to bend and lift? Think about positioning ovens, dishwashers, sinks, and pantry storage at waist height.

Find help from your local council on how to meet the latest guidelines and regulations when designing the floorplan.

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 to Get Your Accessible Floorplan Started

  • Design clear, wide walkways for wheelchairs.
  • A U-shape or L-shape kitchen is best for manoeuvring a wheelchair and supporting foot traffic.
  • Eliminate trip hazards by installing seamless transitions between rooms.
  • A textured and non-slip tile floor gives firm footing
Wheelchair user in kitchen

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Appliances Designed For An Accessible Kitchen

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

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.

Oven

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

Decide whether a touchpad or knobs will be easier for the future cook to use. New smart ovens can be operated through the use of speaker 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

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 that is just hitting 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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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 are 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.

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?

Evacuate smells and smoke from the kitchen using a remote control to turn on the fan or have the installer also add a switch mounted at counter height. 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 Taps

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 counter 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. Arthritic hands will find that levers are easier to control instead of twisting knobs. A push-button on the spray head easily switches between fill and power jet settings.

Kitchen Cabinets – Accessible Alterations

Cabinetry may be the most customised part of an accessible kitchen design. Traditional kitchens use a combination of base cabinets–those mounted on the floor–and upper cabinets. If you cannot use a step stool, you may think that upper cabinets should not even be installed. Fortunately, there are a wealth of upgrades available to help someone reach every corner of their kitchen. Here are some ideas:

  • Drop-down shelving hides behind a standard cabinet door. Pull on a handle and the shelves drop to a height that can be reached. Release the handle, and they pop up back into place.
  • Add shallow drawers to the lower cabinets for pots and pans. Pull open the drawer and easily see the contents.
  • 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.
  • Narrow pull-out cabinets store spices and cans of food in a vertical space that is easy to sort and reach. Position one between the side of the hob and the prep area to maintain the work triangle.
  • If it is hard to grab a knob to open a door or cabinet, press to open buttons can be used instead of traditional hardware.
  • Soft-closing doors and drawers help to keep cabinets closed. Once the hinge is almost closed, the mechanism slows the door, and then pulls it closed. There are never any drawers or doors left open that may bump a knee or a head.
  • If you are retrofitting an existing kitchen, add metalwork drawers and pull-out pantries to deep cabinets and corner cupboards to mitigate the need for a complete renovation.

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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. While taller individuals with mobility issues could require a 920mm height to eliminate 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. These are a great choice if designing an accessible flat to let. 

Lighting

You may think that lighting will not be something that needs to be changed for your accessible design. However, under cabinet lighting designed to illuminate countertop work surfaces can end up creating annoying glare for somebody working in a sitting position. As with every other detail in the room, your lighting design should be personalised for the intended user.

Select rocker switches that require less fine motor control. Add smart lights to your home control system and use a voice command to turn them on and off. Countertop mounted buttons help you to control overhead extractors or spotlights over the island.

For the visually impaired, high contrast can help many people take advantage of their existing vision. Bright lights with wavelengths in the natural sun bands help to optimise the difference between white counters and dark cabinets.

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 around 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.