There are standard recommendations when upgrading appliances, flooring, counters and lighting in kitchen design. The individual needs of the person also need to be considered, including their grip strength and their height. Slight adjustments may need to be made to the recommended heights to suit the needs of your family member who needs an accessible kitchen.
Before upgrading the kitchen, ensure the existing space is large enough to accommodate a full turn of a wheelchair, which is roughly five foot clear diameter.
Under the sinks, the U.S. Access Board recommends knee clearance of a height of 27 inches. At minimum, a range cooktop could also be set at 27 to 29 inches to accommodate required knee space of a wheelchair.
Kitchen entryways should be wide enough to accommodate comfortable movement through the opening. Take measurements and see how far you can extend your existing doorways, as the recommended width is between 32 and 36 inches, although the needs of individuals may vary.
Consider removing interior kitchen doors completely if they serve no actual purpose in the home. If you need to keep the kitchen doors in place, replace existing hinges with offset door hinges, which can add an extra two inches of doorway clearance for a person who uses a wheelchair.
Major kitchen upgrades for wheelchair accessibility include replacement of existing appliances. Since existing appliances are not easily modified to height requirements and do not have doors that can be changed from opening down to opening from the side, they are the first items to consider in your kitchen remodeling plan.
The most highly recommended refrigerator upgrade for wheelchair accessibility is the side-by-side freezer and refrigerator combination, according to the Center for Universal Design. The refrigerator will not be as tall as standard refrigerators, and should stand no taller than four feet (WSU). Keep in mind the height is a guideline and it should be tested by the person in the wheelchair for accessibility.
Reduce the amount of time spent at the sink by installing a high-end dishwasher that can be used by the individual. A traditionally installed dishwasher will have a bottom tray that is incredibly low and may be hard to load and unload and may not be accessible from more than one angle. For a more universal design, consider mounting a dishwasher on a six to eight inch platform (GE, Universal Design), enabling a seated person to more easily load and unload a bottom rack.
Other dishwashers for the wheelchair-accessible kitchen include smaller, countertop versions or dishwashers with front doors that slide open rather than opening down and to the front.
Dishwasher drawers are another viable kitchen upgrade that will increase wheelchair accessibility. The dishwasher drawers also allow for more versatility in the kitchen and can be placed at convenient heights. Dishwasher drawers come as singles, which makes it easier to accommodate the dishwasher in a smaller kitchen.
You might remember these from your own grandmother’s kitchen, and these nifty appliances are not only space-savers, they also make a kitchen more accessible. Unlike a traditional oven, a wall oven can be placed at the height where your family members need it, which could be between 30 and 40 inches from the floor, according to WSU. Consider installing a countertop adjacent to the wall oven, providing a convenient place to set down hot food.
Upgrade to faucets attached to elongated hoses, allowing the water to be pulled towards the person, rather than the person going closer to the water. Spray nozzles, extra-long faucet levers, motion-activated or push faucet handles are all kitchen upgrades that make your kitchen more accessible, according to the U.S. Access Board.
You may consider motion-activated lights an obvious choice for outdoors, but they may also be installed as part of a kitchen designed for accessibility. With a motion-activated light system in place, light switches will not have to be moved or lowered. Safety will be increased, as no family members will need to fumble around for the light switch.
For long-term use, appliance lifts may be installed during a kitchen upgrade. This is a high-end upgrade that will transform a kitchen into a functional space for all family members. The lifts enable everyone in the family – including children and the person who uses a wheelchair – to adjust a kitchen appliance, including a blender, to a comfortable and safe height. Countertop lifts may also be part of a high-end kitchen upgrade and serve the same function.