Kitchen Remodeling to Accommodate Wheelchairs

Can you imagine not being able to use your own kitchen? In her great essay about designing a wheelchair accessible kitchen, Dr. Rosemary Rossetti calls the kitchen "the most important room of the house." 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, this list will help you to get an overview of the essential components of a wheelchair accessible kitchen.

A couple prepares food in a wheel-chair accessible kitchen. (Photo: lostinbids/

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 practical for a wheelchair user. Having to wheel oneself from one side of the room to the other, past an island, to go from the refrigerator to the sink is not ideal. A close, L-shaped arrangement of the major kitchen features is more efficient for a wheelchair user. 

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: To make cabinets accessible, they need to be set at heights and angles that allow someone in a wheelchair to reach the upper shelves with a grabber. Lazy Susans facilitate access to wall cabinets. In base cabinets, install rolling drawers so that a wheelchair user can reach items that are in the lowest part of the cabinets. Little drawer pulls won't do; 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 must be clear space underneath the sink so that a wheelchair can fit there. 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, and he can comfortably reach both the inside of the sink and the sink's faucets.

Counter height: While cabinets tend to occupy the space beneath counters, a low counter with nothing below ought 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 perform 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

Updated July 18, 2018.

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