American Disabilities Act has specific guidelines for making kitchens more accessible to users.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Kitchen floors should be clear of any obstructions that may impede mobility devices or present a danger to individuals at risk of falling.
  • Kitchen doors and throughways must meet a minimum width in order to accommodate mobility devices such as wheelchairs.
  • Front-operated appliances (such as ovens, ranges, refrigerators or dishwashers) must have adequate space around them to allow a disabled individual to access them from the side.
  • Countertops and work surfaces should be at an adequate height to allow for ease of use, and, if accommodating wheelchair users, should have open space below them with no sharp or abrasive encumbrances.

For the ADA's detailed requirements, visit the ADA Compliance Directory.

Making the home kitchen more accessible

Today’s kitchens are designed for aesthetics and efficiency, based on the “work triangle,” where the sink, refrigerator and stove have a short walking distance between them. For an accessible kitchen, it’s ideal to have several work areas that can be accessed from a single position.

Disabled, weakened or mobility-impaired individuals will likely have difficulty bending, reaching and performing other movements within a conventional kitchen space due to the height of counters and sinks; cabinets and appliances that are out of reach; faucet controls; and flooring unsuitable for wheelchairs. Home modifications can increase safety, accessibility and independence for people who want to live independently.

Countertops

The typical kitchen counter is 36 inches, but for wheelchair users, kitchen workspaces should be substantially lower – no higher than 34 inches and in some cases 28 inches. Ideally, kitchen design should be customized around the needs of the user, but if this is not possible, height-adjustable countertops are available. Patient Safety USA offers Indivo Adjustable Tables & Counters by Pressalit.

Indivo is a system of height-adjustable lifting units that fit onto worktops and wall cupboards from most kitchen suppliers. The height-adjustable kitchen enables both seated people - in a wheelchair or on a work stool - and those standing to carry out most kitchen tasks. Counter top and kitchen tools are within easy reach and functions such as washing, preparation, cooking and frying can be done at an ergonomic and comfortable working height for any user.

Cabinets

As with countertops, height-adjustable cabinet designs are available. These devices can accommodate users with different needs and increase space efficiency in accessible kitchens.

Additionally. ease-of-use should be taken into consideration for cabinet design. Bar or loop style handles may be preferable to knobs, which require a closed hand and more grip strength to use. Other devices, such as adjustable shelves, top-hinged doors, lazy Susan revolving shelves, etc., can make cabinets more accessible.

Another accessibility idea is to install multi-level countertops with one level at a height for wheelchair-seated workers and another for those who are standing.

Sinks and faucets

Like countertops, sinks should be free of any obstructions beneath them and have enough depth, width and height clearance for wheelchair users to roll up and use them with ease. ADA requirements specify a height of at least 29 inches, depth of 11 inches and width of 30 inches. Sink tops should also be positioned to avoid unnecessary bending or reaching. Many height adjustable countertops include built-in sinks.

Knee clearance for a sink needs to be at least 27-inches high, 8-inches deep at the knees or 11-inches deep for children.

The drain should be placed in the rear of the sink so the piping underneath will not prevent a person in a wheelchair from rolling underneath. Pipes should be insulated or enclosed to protect legs from hot pipes.

Remember to set the water heater to a maximum heat low enough that will prevent burning.

Faucet controls should be easily reachable to disabled users. Lever type handles or touch control devices are preferable to knob-type handles, which may require difficult gripping and twisting of the wrist.

Appliances

Appliance design and positioning is crucial for user safety in an accessible kitchen and the kitchen appliance industry has responded to this need with more accessible design options. Here are some key points to consider when choosing appliances:

  • Ovens should be placed at a convenient height for the user, usually around 30 inches. Most high mounted ovens are too high for wheelchair users to use them safely, and range-top ovens are often placed too low for users with strength or mobility disabilities. Side-opening doors are preferable to bottom-opening doors, as they eliminate the need to reach over a hot surface. Also, retractable shelves placed just below the oven can give users a place to set hot/heavy dishes without any unsafe bending and reaching.
  • Cooktop and stove surfaces should also be set at an optimal height, with plenty of space around them to allow for safe maneuverability. Heat controls should be located on the front of the appliance to prevent having to reach across hot burners.
  • Drawer-style, bottom-situated freezers allow for easier access, as do twin-door fridges (as opposed to single-door, side-hinged models). There should be adequate room on either side of the fridge to allow for comfortable movement.
  • Dishwashers should be set higher than typical kitchen models in order to avoid bending and straining.

Flooring

Wheelchairs move most easily on hard, stable and regular surfaces so floor surfaces must be stable, firm and slip-resistant. The best options are hardwood, ceramic tile and some laminates.

Hardwood and ceramic tile can be slippery when wet. Inlaid sheet vinyl or vinyl tiles also can provide high-slip resistance, although they cause a bit more friction resistance to wheelchair users.

Doorways and Hallways

Installing a 36-wide door makes it accessible for a wheelchair or walker user. However, 42-inch width is more comfortable. In addition, use swing-clear hinges and a lever-style door handle to make for easier opening.

The clearance for a pass-through kitchen should be 40-inches wide; 60-inches wide for a U-shaped kitchen.

Outlets and lighting

Place electrical outlets lower, but no lower that 15-inches off the floor. Switches and thermostats should be installed no higher than 48-inches off the floor to make them accessible to wheelchair users.

Consider glare-free and good task lighting to create a safe cooking environment.

Conclusion

ADA Guidelines are a good place to start when designing a wheelchair accessible kitchen. Remember, the best design takes into account the specific needs of its user.