The holidays bring family memories; many of which come from the kitchen. Yet the kitchen tends to be the one area of the house usually not accessible for individuals using wheelchairs or other mobility difficulties. Odd considering that we all got to eat!
Kitchen renovations can be expensive between demolition costs and prices for top-of-the-line appliances. Rather than fight this fact, I am going to provide you with seven non-construction and low-cost changes to make a kitchen universally designed and accessible for wheelchair users. At the end of the podcast, I will provide you with a platform that can help walk you through if you want to make your entire kitchen and home more accessible if you have money to invest.
Number 7: Kitchen handles
Simple tasks should never be overlooked if something simple can make them easier. Having small handles on your cabinet doors and drawers can make anyone exert more effort, especially if one misses grabbing a small snub handle in a rush. According to the Kesly organization their open-source resource book, replacing those knob handles with large “C” shape handles helps those with dexterity problems and makes it easier to reach for wheelchair users. I recommend the Satin Nickel Kitchen Cabinet Pull handles; they are three-inch wide and the “C” shape provides enough room for three fingers to ramp around. You can get a package of 25 for only $32 on Amazon.
Number 6: Floating Shelves
Everyone has large kitchen items, like a coffee maker or crockpot, that just sit on the valuable counter space. I myself am a huge gadget girl. If you have an empty wall in your kitchen, adding floating shelves to place your coffee maker or other items is very helpful. Since you can place floating shelving anywhere, you can put it at a height that you as a wheelchair user can easily reach. Now if you are going to place a heavy appliance, you need to make sure the floating shelf is strong enough to hold the weight of the appliance and it bolted into the wall corrected. I recommend the MaxxCloud Electric Oven Holder Kitchen shelf, which comes in black or alumni. It holds up to 80lbs and costs about $60 on Amazon. Now you may not need such a heavy-duty floating shelf because you want to redistribute some lightweight items that are in your below cabinets to the floating shelving. I recommend the rustic-looking Clarke’s Decor floating shelves that come in three different sizes and even one with attached hooks so you can hang your kitchen tools. It costs about $25 on Amazon. Now you may be thinking, I don’t have a wall in my kitchen to put any shelving. Take a second look and see if you have a corner of a wall outside of where your kitchen cabinets are located that is within the vicinity to place a floating shelf that is meant to place in or around a corner wall. I recommend Olakee Corner Wall shelves because you install them two ways depending on what type of corner situation you have. You get two rustic wooden shelves for about $22 on Amazon. So you have lots of options for floating shelves that can help with storage that is accessible to you.
Number 5: Sink Access
The sink is just as vital as any other component in your kitchen and I will be talking about the sink for items 5 - 3. Like your stovetop, it is important for a wheelchair user to be able to get as close to it as possible. Removing any doors underneath the sink can allow you space for your feet to go under; thereby getting closer. You may have items you are storing under the sink that you don’t want to be displayed. Putting a simple curtain, as you see sometimes in back car windows, can be cheap and successful in hiding those items from view. I don’t have any recommendations for you because this is really a DIY project.
Number 4: The faucet must-have features
The faucet for sinks has come a long way in what they can do and look like. There are three features I recommend you get in your faucet. First, investing in a faucet that is a motion sensor can be very beneficial if leaning forward to turn on the water is a real challenge for you. Of course, everyone else in your family will enjoy it when their hands are dirty! You want to try and get one that has a two-year battery to avoid having to replace the battery every year. Second, a pull-down sprayer will help you clean the sink in the far corners and make dish cleanup that much easier. I haven’t seen a faucet where the buttons on the sprayer to adjust the stream of water wouldn’t be a problem for a person with dexterity problems. Third, have long levers to turn on and off your cold or hot water. . This will not only be closer to reach for a wheelchair user but anyone with dexterity impairments will be easier to use. I personally don’t like having just one level that you turn in the opposite direction for either hot or cold water but that seems to be the design trend. If you can find a faucet that has a two or three-minute auto-off, it will be very valuable during those periods where you are cooking up the storm bouncing from pot to pan, you might forget to turn off the water! I don’t have any faucet to recommend because most of what I described can be applied to practically any brand.
Number 3: Food Preparation
Finding a good and accessible location for food preparation is important but not always obvious if, like me, your counter space is littered with a lot of items. A frequent problem for wheelchair users who have run out of storage down below. Believe it or not, your sink may be a good dedicated location. Getting a chopping blockboard that lies across your sink can accomplish this and allow you to easily clean up too! But this relies on the fact that you are able to easily get to sink itself. If you can’t, getting a pull-out cutting board that is stored under one of your countertops is a great alternative. I also recommend the pull-out cutting board has a hole at the end, allowing you to put a trash can under the cutting board and dump your trash into the can. This will save you from accidentally dropping food scraps when trying to get the cutting board to the trash can; bring the trash can to you instead! I recommend the Kraus Kore Cutting board that you can get for about $32 on Amazon.
Number two: Pull-Down Shelving
As a wheelchair user or anyone that might not be very tall, your lower cabinets and kitchen drawers provide the easiest access to your items, making that portion of your kitchen prime real estate! You will find like any prime real estate, it is quickly used up. Installing pull-down shelving in your upper kitchen cabinets will make you have more access to kitchen space. How does it work when we are talking about upper kitchen cabinets? The pull-down shelving is wired baskets that fit the length of your cabinet; with some hydraulic assist, you can pull down the shelving slowly and easily push it back up. The cabinets sit at the bottom portion of your cabinet. I talk a lot more about this in my other episodes. I recommend you buy from Rev-a-Shelf for about $300 on Amazon.
Number one: Over-stove Mirror
Installing an “over-stove mirror” is a must-have for any wheelchair user wanting to easily see what's in any pan or pot. The mainstream universal design is to have a wall oven and create a wheel under the stovetop. This allows closer physical access to each appliance. The problem with that of course is it's very costly to buy two separate appliances and to install the oven into a wall! It also doesn’t address all of the accessible difficulties one faces when cooking on a stovetop; the need to easily see what is inside the pots and pans from sitting in a wheelchair. For some context, a lot of wheelchair seats are at the height below the average person’s waist when standing. Sitting that low when approaching the stovetop, a wheelchair user cannot look straight down into the pots and pans; creating blind spots. Having a mirror that hangs above the stovetop allows anyone, a wheelchair user or a child, to see in the pots and pans. The Sammons Preston fog-free stovetop mirror is the best one to buy but at the time of this podcast, it was out of stock on amazon. However, you find good alternatives by searching for demonstration mirrors that range between $80 to $100. To see what a mirror over your stovetop may look like, a Sammons Preston Over-Stove fog free mirror review by the fabulous youtube “Living Able,” is on the resource of my website horizontal houses.com
These top 7 items I recommend to quickly get your kitchen more accessible without the need for expensive construction or new appliances. But what happens if you want to make your home accessible and you have some money to invest. Continue to listen to my podcast but all the information I can share with you wouldn’t be possible without champions before me.
Former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole became a big champion during his retirement. Sadly he died on December 5, 2021. Former senator Bob Dole was one of the small group of senators that was crucial in helping get the passing of the Americans Disabilities Act. He continued to advocate for the disability community during his retirement.; such as in 2012 he tried to get the senate, unsuccessfully, to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights for People with Disabilities and never truly gave up in trying to get it ratified. Bob Dole on February 2, 2017, made a $10,000 donation to Kansas University Research and Training Center for Independent Living (RT/CIL). I had written a more detailed blog post on this and posed a question; I questioned whether working with disability organizations to research barriers to independent living would help with disability homeownership or not.
Since that time, the RT/CIL has created a free online tool called the Home Usability Program. As you listen to my podcast, I am always about educating everyone about disability housing terminology simply because each new term helps examine a key aspect that is needed to make disability housing truly accessible. For example, I have talked about universal design as the idea to design something, whether it’s for housing or technology, that everyone can use. Not just for the disable individual. Here Usability is more about being able not just to use your house but having control over it. I think Independent Living advocate Judy Heumann said it best;
"Independent Living is not about doing things by yourself, but about being in control over how they are done.”
Having control over how things are done will allow you to make adjustments to how you use your home; crucial as your disability may change or family situation over time. The Home Usability Program will allow you to;
Learn about Independent Living, Self-Advocacy, and more about the theory of Home Usability
Take a brief home assessment to identify possible home usability problems
Set a goal to address these usability problems you identified assessment,
Identify personal and community resources that can help you with your goal,
Create a step by step work plan to help you achieve your goal.
The Home Usability Program also has great room-specific worksheets that one can easily skip over but I highly recommend downloading. By going through this program online can help expound on what you might want to change within your home. It doesn’t help with purchasing a home but does keep more homeowners access to housing.
So to summarize what I hope you learned, I talked about 7 non-construction modifications you can do to make your kitchen accessible to you and how you can partake in the free Home Usability self-assessment online to tackle the entire house to make it your accessible oasis! Now call to action I promised…..
If you decide to install any one of these 7 items, please take a photo and share your experience on my Facebook webpage called A.I. Home- podcast and group of realtors, builders, and disability communities. Sharing your experience can help showcase to the housing industry that the disability community is an untapped niche market. Because of my own personal holiday travel since two years from the COVID pandemic, there won’t be a free handout. But stay tuned to hear where you can access my prior other handouts in my closing.