According to a survey, men and women spend around seven hours a day in the kitchen. When you spend that much time in one room, it’s vital that the layout is practical and comfortable. But when you have a wheelchair user in the family, it’s often difficult to use the space effectively. For disabled people, the design choices you make can literally transform a kitchen, but you may need to think quite creatively. Learn how to help wheelchair users make the most of this crucial space with these five useful design tips.
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Effective lighting solutions
Everybody needs good visibility in a kitchen, particularly when handling knives and other sharp utensils, but it’s easy to underestimate the impact that poor lighting solutions can have on a wheelchair user. For example, a single central light in the room is generally insufficient, because a person standing under the light can cast a shadow over the person in the wheelchair working lower down.
Maximise visibility for wheelchair users with carefully placed spotlights that chase shadows out of every part of the room. Place task lighting immediately above kitchen work surfaces, to bathe the lower area in plenty of light. Above all, make sure the light is uniform throughout the room, so it doesn’t really matter where a wheelchair user decides to work. Use natural light, where possible, and keep clutter away from windows.
Wheelchair users must often contend with different medical conditions, many of which pose multiple physical challenges. For example, people with muscular dystrophy experience muscle weakness that quickly makes it hard to lift heavy objects. You can underestimate the challenge this presents in a kitchen.
Continuous worktops allow people to slide heavy objects around the kitchen. In this instance, an L-shaped kitchen plan often works well because you can nearly create a single, continuous surface from one end to the next. If this plan isn’t feasible, incorporate as many large, open surfaces as possible, particularly between the food preparation area and the stove.
Uniform countertop heights
Standard countertop heights are generally too high for a wheelchair user. In most modern kitchens, designers install countertops at 36 inches, but an optimal countertop height for a person in a wheelchair is 34 inches. A 34-inch countertop generally allows somebody in a wheelchair to reach the back of the surface, which is crucial when preparing food.
Even lower workspace height is also ideal in certain parts of the kitchen. Pull-out shelves are a simple way to help wheelchair users adjust the workspace height, and can also help them avoid burns and injuries. For example, it’s a good idea to install a pull-out shelf beneath a microwave oven, as this can cut the risk of burns to the wheelchair user when he or she takes hot food out of the appliance.
Knee space below the sink
When you’re in the kitchen, you tend to keep returning to the sink, and this rule applies equally to wheelchair users. To make life easier for wheelchair users, you need to install a sink with plenty of knee space, so the person can get his or her legs comfortably underneath while washing up or preparing food.
Place the sink in a section of straight countertop to allow ample space on either side, and choose a shallow sink of around 6 inches. This depth allows easy reach, but won’t use up so much space underneath the counter.
It’s often tempting to take out a garbage disposal unit to make more knee space, but these devices actually make life easier for wheelchair users who don’t want to keep using the waste bin. You can buy special sinks that have a shallow compartment on one side that keeps the garbage disposal unit out of the way. Invest in a retractable spray nozzle for easier cleaning, too.
Cunning storage solutions
In many cases, the available space in your kitchen may limit the layout, but you can find lots of cunning storage solutions to make the most of the room. Install sliding shelves or baskets in deep bottom cabinets, so you can get things in and out easily. Turntables work well in corner units that might otherwise make certain objects hard to reach.
Some wheelchair users will also suffer from problems with their hands and arms that mean hand and drawer handles quickly become impractical and unwieldy. In this case, install ‘push and release’ magnetic latches on all your doors and drawers for easier opening.
A regular kitchen could become almost unusable for somebody in a wheelchair. If you need to adapt the layout of this room, look for creative ways to install features that make your loved one’s life easier. For more information, contact a local kitchen design company like Wallspan Kitchens & Wardrobes.