As the center for food storage and meal preparation, the kitchen is one of the most important rooms in the house. For individuals with a disability, getting around in a regular kitchen may be difficult or impossible.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) advocates adapting elements in the kitchen in order to make it accessible to those restricted to wheelchairs or with limited mobility. While the ADA helps make commercial spaces and public buildings accessible, there are local building codes that must be addressed. With private residential single-family dwellings and group homes, you need the expertise of a knowledgeable regional contractor to help guide the design, construction or modification process.
The construction professionals at SHELLS ONLY Complete Home Improvements are experts in all of the engineering, builds and modifications necessary to accommodate special-needs individuals, both adults and children. Design and construction requirements are very precise; Shells uses no subcontractors so specifications are followed to the letter. Many of these home modifications are useful also for elderly people who wish to “age in place” and take advantage of the new Universal Design ideas.
Let’s take a look at what we can do to make kitchens more accessible, safe and user friendly. Of course, this is just an overview. Each of these areas will be covered in full by your Shells professional.
* Doorways should be 36” wide (32” is generally the minimum width needed for a wheelchair to get through.) If you can’t change the size of the opening, consider the use of offset hinges to increase the clearance.
* Grab Bars. Hand rails, strategically placed, can be a big help in maneuvering a wheelchair around the kitchen or raising oneself if need be. The grab bar/hand rail must be fully anchored, with a bar diameter of between 1-1/4” to 1 ½”. It must be installed between 34” and 38” off the ground. There must be a separation between the bar and the surface to which it is anchored of at least 1-½”. Reinforcements behind walls may be necessary.
* Clear Floor Space. A space with minimum dimension of at least 30” x 48” must be provided to accommodate a single wheelchair. Sometimes that space can be provided under fixtures, as long as there is enough room to allow legs to move freely while sitting. At least 60” in diameter is required to complete a 180 degree turn. If that is not possible, maintain at least 40 inches between opposing cabinets in a pass-through kitchen to allow enough space for a wheelchair to maneuver, and make sure there are two entries.
* Sinks and Countertops. It can be difficult for people in wheelchairs to reach over standard 36″ high countertops;
Leave an empty space beneath at least one section of the countertop to allow a wheelchair user to pull his or her body beneath the counter for ease of food preparation. This allows the individual’s knees to comfortably rest beneath the counter and reduces the need to lean forward.
* Water Faucets. Replace a knob-type water faucet with a single-lever or loop model that is operable with only one hand.
* Lower Cabinets. Install lower cabinets with a 10-inch, recessed toe-kick. Reaching the back of the countertop or the back of a cabinet shelf is difficult for wheelchair-bound individuals when the footrest of the wheelchair bumps into the lower part of the cabinet. Install lazy Susan carousels in corner cabinets.
* Wall Cabinets. Lowering the wall cabinets from the standard 18 inches above the counter to counter height makes the second cabinet shelf accessible. Mount lower wall cabinets closer to the countertop and include pull-out cutting boards, slide-out or roll-out shelves and baskets, and drawers with full extension glides.
* Appliances. Replace a kitchen’s upper appliances with new ones that fit beneath the countertop. Built-in microwaves, refrigerators and freezers all come in under-counter models. When installing a cooktop, make sure the controls are on the front to eliminate the need to reach over the burners. Side-hinge oven doors are preferable to bottom-hinged for ease of access. For a wheelchair user, you want to lower or install the wall oven and microwave so they are approximately 31″ from the floor.
* Safety. Provide safety in all areas of the kitchen. All under-cabinet edges must be smooth and free from sharp areas. Place a fire extinguisher in a lower cabinet for quick access.
Space permitting, a 29” high eating bar with open space beneath facilitates quick meals. And of course, light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats must be located in accessible areas. Electric receptacles, garbage disposal and exhaust fan switches should be moved to the front of the counter or cabinet.
Shells Only Complete Home Improvements can design beautiful and efficient kitchens that maximize the independence, convenience and changing abilities of all household members.
* Sources: www.ADA.gov;