Our homes are meant to be places where we can feel relaxed, comfortable, and do what we please. This is often taken for granted, but this wish is not always so simple for wheelchair users. The home can present a minefield of challenges in carrying out tasks that many of us think nothing of. Kitchens particularly are a vital element of the house, but for wheelchairs users who value their independence the kitchen can provide some major frustrations. There are however, ways you can create a wheelchair accessible kitchen.
A standard kitchen can be modified with certain design features so that major kitchen functions can be carried out by wheelchair users. This is often the type of work undertaken if both a disabled and ambulatory person reside in the property. However, this is not always the most successful route as major brands in kitchen design usually have no specific experience with ability modifications. It is often the case too that adaptations only solve some of the problems.
There are some companies who provide standard installations designed for disabled people, usually wheelchair users. While these do offer more dedicated solutions, inevitably a standard range will not suit the needs of all. Moreover, you will be limited in choice of how the kitchen looks.
A bespoke design will mean that every aspect of the kitchen is made to your exact tastes, measurements, and user ability. You will not have to lose out on looks, and you can have a fully functional space made for just the disabled user, or one that is multifunctional for both the disabled and ambulatory alike. Many fear that such quality will come at a high price, but it is possible to get great design at low cost.
Ultimately, the key to a successful wheelchair friendly kitchen is one that incorporates the basic principles of kitchen design, combined with an understanding of the user's needs and abilities. If the wheelchair user lives alone, the kitchen design can be solely dedicated to meeting their requirements. If they live with an able bodied person, the design will have to work equally well for each of them.
When considering modifications on your home, think about how long you intend to stay in the house; if you are going to sell in a few years, completely bespoke adaptations may not be a good idea in the long term.
In the US, some new house designs and renovations are now aiming for "Universal Design". That is, trying to design spaces that can be used by people of all abilities and ages. This will enable the home to be re-sold to people of most abilities, and means that if you lose some abilities later in life you will still be able to operate relatively freely in your home. Nor will you have to worry about modifying the home if you become ill.
To figure out the initial appliance and worktop arrangements, draw a plan of the shape of the room and use template cut outs to experiment. U shaped kitchens often work well due to the continuity of the surfaces. Items can be slid from the cooker to the sink, for example, without having to stop and pick them up. Bear in mind that a U shaped kitchen will require adequate space for wheelchair manoeuvring.
As with conventional kitchen layouts, it is helpful to draw a triangle that connects the sink, fridge and cooking area, trying to keep the triangle as small as possible. On this basis, galley kitchens are the least effective, but you should always opt for the style that suits the shape of the room and your personal choice.
Allocate enough space for work surfaces beside each work centre or appliance so that items can be set down if the wheelchair user needs to manoeuvre. Make worktops as continuous as possible so that items can be slid along rather than having to be balanced on the knee.
Bespoke surfaces can be set lower so that they are easy to use for those in a wheelchair. Space can be left underneath to fit in the knees and bring you at comfortable proximity to the worktop. If the kitchen serves a wheelchair user and ambulatories alike, adjustable worktops can be fitted that serve the needs of both parties.
Again, provisions can be made for knee space beneath the sink; the sink unit can be lowered and the bowl made shallow. If the storage space underneath is required, the lowered sink can be installed so as to be accessible for a parallel approach. For multiple users, adjustable system can be installed, including those where a simple button press alters the sink's height. For those with limited mobility in their hands, taps can be installed with easy use levers or infra-red controls.
Appliance installation can be modified so that each system is at the optimum height for accessibility. For example, washing machines can be raised quite simply, reducing the amount of leaning necessary. Along with the dishwasher, oven, and hob, the washing machine can be fitted at eye level so all tasks can be carried out easily.
A dishwasher is best located at the end of row so that it does not impede movement when opened. There should be space so that the wheelchair user can pull alongside.
Conventional cookers combine the oven beneath the hob. This does not provide any knee room and it can be awkward and dangerous for a wheelchair user to lean over and reach into the oven. Separating the hob and oven is a simple but effective solution. With the oven at eye level cooking can be monitored and reached easily, with knee room underneath if required. It is also better if the oven door is sideways opening rather than downwards.
Knee space can then be made under the hob, avoiding hot liquid spills when reaching for a saucepan. Provision of space must be made if the user prefers the parallel approach. The hob control dials should be located on the side and not at the back to avoid the risk of burns. It should also be possible to turn on the hob one-handed.
The fridge and freezer should be positioned side by side. They should ideally be situated where the doors can swing fully open. Narrow doors will prove particularly useful.
Kitchen storage should be located close to the work surface areas, but you may find that your options are fairly limited as it must be positioned at a low level and some of this area will be taken up as knee space. A wheeled trolley that can be stored and wheeled out from under the sink provides a good storage facility, and can be used to help you transport goods around the kitchen.
Low cupboards can be installed with sliding shelves so that items at the back of the cupboard can be reached. Carousels or lazy susans make use of corner space and are another accessible storage solution for your goods. Storage racks can be installed on the inner door of cupboards, making it an ideal place to put your spices. If you are getting bespoke installation, ask the company about further possibilities: