Accessible kitchens: making life easier

Making a kitchen accessible to people with restricted mobility or other physical conditions that make the daily routine harder to cope with is easier than it might seem at first. Depending on the shape and size of your kitchen, you shouldn’t need to make too many ‘structural’ changes to it. By following the tips below, you may find cheaper ways to make life easier without having to totally redesign the room.

Height matters
If someone in your household uses a wheelchair, placing things at the right height in the kitchen is essential. Make sure that worktops are not too high for the person to use and that essential items are not kept in cupboards out of their reach. You could install waist-height shelves to store things in daily use, or fit cupboards in spaces lower down, such as under the table or below the sink. Stack plates vertically in a rack so that you don’t have to lift heavy piles or crockery, but rather take them out one at a time. Ensure there is enough free space for the chair to turn fully round without hitting any obstacles.

Colour coding
People with a visual impairment will often use bright colours to navigate their way round. Have different coloured flooring in the kitchen to the adjacent hall or room, to delineate where the doorway is, and add contrasting colours around the kitchen to show where the different workspaces are, e.g. change the colour of the wood or tiles by the sink and around the oven. Choose a light coloured worktop and darker cupboard doors to mark out a visual contrast.

Accessible appliances
Opt for a separate oven and grill that sit side by side, rather than having a traditional combination with the grill sited above the stove top. Likewise with fridges and freezers, buy two separate units, rather than having one sit too high on top of the other. Raise the dishwasher up slightly so you don‘t have to bend down so low to fill and empty the bottom layer. If you don’t have enough room for these kinds of appliances in your kitchen, consider installing a couple of appliances in a garage, utility room or hallway.

Ease of use
Make sure drawers are fully extendable and glide in and out easily. Replace small drawer and cupboard doorknobs with leaver handles that are easier for stiff hands to twist or pull. Use colourful stickers to highlight where the levers are, if someone’s eyesight is a concern. You can also buy easy-to-use lever handles for sink taps, or even motion sensor alternatives to make drawing water as simple as possible.

Sensory support
Consider installing LED lighting underneath higher cabinets. This will reduce the glare from overhead lighting and add illumination to the worktops. Replace oven counters with a timer showing larger numbers and added audio alarm facility for extra alerts. If someone is hard of hearing, fit smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that flash brightly while emitting an alarm, for optimum safety.