Despite an ever-increasing proportion of the UK population relying on the use of wheelchairs and disability scooters to get from place to place, the number of households which have been properly adapted to cater for the needs of people with reduced mobility remains very low.
If you live somewhere that is not currently disability-friendly but are also in the fortunate position of having the resources necessary to completely redesign your living space, it is vital that you do so in a way that will be easy and, most importantly, safe to navigate. The kitchen is one of the most well-used rooms in any home, but it is also one of the most potentially hazardous; read on for some tips on how to ensure your new food preparation area is truly accessible.
Make sure you can reach everything
It goes without saying that important items being out of reach is among the most common and frustrating problems that wheelchair users face on a regular basis. Anyone who has limited mobility will be able to recount times when they have been out shopping or in another public place and have struggled to get to something they needed, due to it being too high or otherwise beyond reach. This situation is bad enough but having to deal with similar restrictions at home, every single day, is much worse.
For this reason, making sure your appliances, furniture and any other fixtures and fittings are easily reachable from day one should probably be your primary concern when it comes to sorting out your ideal accessible kitchen. Whilst this may seem like it would be an easy objective to achieve, there are all sorts of things you may not have previously considered that need to be meticulously planned in order to create a cooking space that offers complete, no-hassle accessibility.
From obvious issues like the height of your work surfaces to more hidden obstacles like oven doors when fully opened and sinks that are too deep to comfortably reach the bottom of, there are so many parts of any kitchen that can make life awkward if they are not positioned in a way that is conducive to a wheelchair user moving around. So, however excited you are about getting lots of new gadgets to help you prepare and store your food, don’t forget to check that you’re able to use them in the first place!
Keep appliances in a logical order
We live in an age when a lot more attention is being paid to the ergonomics of our living spaces, with new-build properties usually benefiting from floor layouts that are specifically designed to make things as easy and convenient as possible for the residents. Once again, however, room designs still too often do not take into account how much more complicated some tasks are for wheelchair users – and, if things are not easily accessible in the kitchen, this has the potential to be not just irritating but potentially dangerous.
To create a truly accessible kitchen, it is necessary to think not only about whether your appliances are easy to reach but also the order in which you will usually be using them. When preparing a meal, for example, most people will usually first get the ingredients they need from the fridge or freezer, then prepare them on a work surface, then put them in the oven or on the hob. The best disability-friendly designers will put your kitchen together with this logical order in mind, ensuring you will not need to keep going back and forth from one end of the room to the other, thereby saving time and minimising any risk of dropping hot food or sharp objects.
Consider the lighting
Well-chosen lighting is an important aspect of any accessible kitchen design, whether the end user is visually impaired or not. The reason for this is that wheelchair users will always benefit from lighting being fitted at lower levels; one of the most popular ways of achieving this is by integrating soft lighting directly into low-level items such as work surfaces.
Of course, good-quality lighting does take on even more importance when a visually impaired person will be using the kitchen regularly, and you may be surprised by how many factors other than the lights themselves need to be considered to achieve the optimum effect. For instance, ensuring the kitchen has a good level of natural light is more important than the position of any artificial lighting, whilst choosing contrasting paint colours for appliances and work surfaces is a great way of maximising their visibility.
Buy easy-to-clean surfaces
As previously mentioned, it can be easy to get so caught up in the excitement of arranging your new kitchen that some of the most important practical considerations end up getting pushed to the bottom of priority lists or forgotten about entirely.
However, remembering to purchase work surface materials and appliances that are easy to clean and maintain should always be front-of-mind when designing your ideal accessible kitchen. If you are a wheelchair user or live with someone who is, you will know how some household tasks which others take for granted can take much longer or become more complex when limited mobility is also a factor. However great the temptation may be, it is vital that you do not pick style over substance – you will soon come to regret it when you end up having to spend ages trying to shift a stubborn stain from your countertop!
Keep things in smaller containers
Our final tip is one that may be useful for anyone living with limited mobility, whether they have the funds needed to redesign their kitchen or not. Many older wheelchair users and those who have more severe disabilities also have limited dexterity in their hands and, if you find that this is starting to be the case for you, it is important that you can get to the ingredients you need for all your meals as easily as possible.
The simplest way of doing this is asking a friend or family member to help you move all your most commonly-used items into smaller containers, as having limited strength in your upper body can make opening and closing large boxes difficult – and can often lead to spillages. It may be a bit of a hassle at first, but you will be glad you’ve taken the time to do this simple task when you start shaving valuable minutes off your preparation of every meal.