The kitchen is the most important room in the house. Oh come on, how many times a day do you visit it to check the time, check the refrigerator, put over a pot of coffee, talk about the day's happenings or prepare a meal? It is also probably the most inaccessible room in the house. When was the last time that you had to get a stool to reach into those tiny cabinets over the refrigerator or get down on your hands and knees to pull an appliance out of one of those dead spots (storage areas tucked way beyond reach and without a door to access them)? It was probably as recent as yesterday or even this morning. Think about how daunting these tasks would be if you were working from a wheelchair or balancing with a walker.
Lets look at a few things that you can do something about without a major overhaul. Even something as simple as changing the flooring by using cork or vinyl can minimize leg fatigue for the elderly or people with back or leg issues. Selecting a non-slip matte finish can reduce glare and help prevent falls. For individuals using a wheelchair the flooring needs to be especially durable to withstand wheelchair tracking.
Reorganize your cabinets to put every day items within easy reach. You might think about including a swing-out stool under the sink for sitting on while preparing meals or doing dishes. If the cabinets are too high or too deep, add glide-out, pull-down, and pop-up shelving to eliminate reaching and bending. If you visit your local hardware or home supply store you will find that these concepts already exist in the newer lines of cabinetry. If you are already having hand issues, and this is striking people at a younger age all of the time, consider magnetic touch latches or C-shaped handles so that you can open cabinets with a simple push or pull. Adjustable height cabinets and sinks bring items within reach. For wheelchair access think of designing your kitchen around a clear, circular space of at least 5 feet in diameter to provide room for the maneuvering the chair.
Countertops: If lifting heavy pots is an effort, you might create a continuous work surface between the sink and the stove so that you can slide items along (needless to say you will need a heat resistant countertop) from one area to another. Think about a spill proof lip to the counter top in order to decrease the chances of spilling on the floor and keeping the floors dry. If you are using a wheelchair it will be helpful to add pull out sections of the countertop to create a roll-under workspace.
Appliances: Even reaching to turn on a burner when the panel is at the back of the range is a challenge if you are sitting down. Think about installing new or raising old appliances to a convenient height, for example raising your dishwashers and putting your microwave at countertop heights will allow people with back or mobility issues to reach them easily. Consider pop-up shelves to keep heavy mixers, juicers and other appliances out of the way but accessible (this would be nice right now, wouldn’t it?) Look for separate oven and cook-top units. A wall-mounted oven at 30-34 inches and a counter-level stove stop at 32 inches will make cooking safer and easier. Staggered burners and front-mounted controls are available to eliminate the need to reach over hot burners and allow the cook to work while seated. Wall mounted ovens with doors that open to the side are available. Look for a side-by-side refrigerator, a drawer-style dishwasher, or a front-loading washer and dryer. It isn’t difficult to find water and ice dispensers or other hands-free features in modern appliances. There are even halogen cook-tops that glow when hot or magnetic induction surfaces that remain cool while you cook.
Sinks: You can install a scald-guard valve on your kitchen faucets or sensor activated faucets. Add a hot water dispenser at the sink so that coffee, tea, and soup can be prepared without using the stove. A shallower than normal sink may be easier to use and faucets can be placed at the side rather than further back.
Lighting: Reduce glare for people with vision problems by putting an anti-glare film on the kitchen windows. Use recessed fixtures and full spectrum light bulbs that imitate natural light and eliminate shadows. Here too, is the place to mention automated window shade openers and use under-cabinet lighting or spotlights to illuminate the working area. Motion detector lights turn on automatically or at a light touch when someone enters the room.
That wasn’t so bad was it? Information and service representatives at your local hardware or specialty design stores are available to help you plan and execute many of these projects yourself.
Source: The Accessible Home by Nancy Baldrica of Creative Publishing International