In her great essay about designing a wheelchair accessible kitchen, Dr. Rosemary Rossetti calls the kitchen "the most important room of the house". I agree. Can you imagine not being able to use your own kitchen? Fortunately, there are some great remodeling contractors, architects, and designers out there who are trained in Universal Design. If you are just getting started with the process of remodeling a kitchen to make it wheelchair accessible, this list could help you to get an overview of the components of a wheelchair accessible kitchen.
Position of food prep, cook surface, sink, and refrigerator: Although open kitchen layouts that feature islands, large built-in refrigerators, and high counter tops are fashionable, a big open kitchen layout isn't too practical for a wheelchair user. Having to wheel oneself from one side of the room, past an island, to go from the refrigerator to the sink is not ideal. When designing a kitchen for a wheelchair user, a close, L-shaped arrangement of the major kitchen features is more efficient. It's also possible to make the most of an island by pairing it with a grouping of other important kitchen features.
Wheelchair turning diameter: In order not to bump into cabinets or appliances, there should be a turning radius of five feet built into the work areas of the kitchen.
Height and structure of cabinets: In order for cabinets to be accessible, they need to be set at heights and angles that make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to reach the upper shelves with a grabber. Lazy Susans can help to make upper cabinets more accessible. In lower cabinets, installing rolling drawers inside can allow a wheelchair user to reach items that are in the lowest part of the cabinets. Little drawer pulls won't do it; in a wheelchair-accessible kitchen, you need to install larger, more ergonomic handles.
Space under the sink for a wheelchair: A major impediment for wheelchair users is sinks with unreachable faucets. In order to make a sink accessible, there needs to be clear space underneath the sink so that a wheelchair can be rolled underneath the sink. The sink should be customized to the wheelchair user. He should be able to roll his chair so that his legs can rest comfortably beneath the sink, reach inside the sink, and also comfortably reach the sink's faucets.
Counter height: While cabinets tend to occupy the space beneath counters, a low counter with nothing underneath it needs to be built into the kitchen in order for it to be wheelchair accessible. The wheelchair user should be able to wheel his chair underneath the counter as if he is sitting at a table. The counter should be low enough that it is comfortable for the wheelchair user to do such tasks as chopping vegetables.
Type of refrigerator: A side-by-side refrigerator is more wheelchair-user-friendly than a fridge with a freezer on the top or bottom. It helps to have a lazy Susan installed on the refrigerator and freezer shelves. A counter-depth refrigerator might work better than a deeper refrigerator.
For more information on designing a wheelchair accessible kitchen, visit the Universal Design Living Laboratory. It is a house that was built by contractors in Columbus under the direction of Manley Architecture Group.
Chaya Kurtz writes for Networx.com.