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5 Ways to Make Your Kitchen Accessible for All

Think back to the last time you cooked dinner. Remember how effortlessly you moved around your kitchen? 

Now imagine what it would have been like if you were among the estimated 48.9 million people in the US who don’t have full use of their hands, arms, or legs. When you’re disabled, reaching pots, turning on the water, or even moving from the refrigerator to the stove make your time in the kitchen a lot more challenging before you even figure out what you want to cook.

Making the kitchen more accessible and easy to navigate for everyone is the idea behind the universal design, one of the most important recent shifts in the way we plan our homes.

That’s because the same modifications that empower disabled people make kitchens easier to use and safer for both children and seniors. “Living In Place is a positive new approach to improving all homes for all ages and all needs,” writes Erik Listou, a renowned expert in universal design.

And with multigenerational living on the rise–the Pew Research Center found that 64 million Americans lived in multigenerational households in 2016–it makes sense to get your home ready now.

We’ve been educating ourselves by looking to experts in the field, including Mary Jo Peterson, Listou of the Living in Place Institute, and Maegan Blau, an Arizona interior designer who’s an advocate and expert in the universal and adaptive design space. The projects Blau and her husband create through her firm Blue Copper Design show how spaces that are adaptive can be beautiful and inviting for everyone to use. 

And the good news is, these changes aren’t expensive when you start with universal design in mind. Here are five zones where your design decisions can make your kitchen more accessible.

1. Storage Drawers Over Cabinets

Studio Dearborn kitchen drawer with plate storage
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

There’s a reason deep storage drawers with glides are a part of every Studio Dearborn kitchen design. They hold lots, from plates to pots and pans. And the fact that you can pull the drawer out makes it easy to reach everything you put inside, even if you’re seated.

Once you try lower pullout cabinets near the stove for oils and spices and rollout shelves, you’ll never go back to a kitchen full of regular cabinets. 

2. The Kitchen Sink

Studio Dearborn kitchen wth gooseneck faucet
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

There are a number of ways to make the sink, a key zone in every kitchen, more accessible.

Faucets with a gooseneck, pull-down sprayer, and lever or touchless voice controls are the best options.

Make the basin easier to reach with an angled approach to the sink, or by placing it on the edge of the island or counter. If the sink is on a straight section of the cabinet, be sure there’s an opening under the apron to allow someone in a wheelchair to get close enough.

Today, touchless faucets operated with the wave of a hand or by voice make it even easier to operate a sink. Tell the Kohler Graze faucet to turn itself on, can pour two cups of water or fill a pitcher. It can even be paired with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple’s Home

For measurements and other adaptive sink design tips, check out Elkay’s guide to kitchen sink accessibility.

3. Levers Over Knobs

Photo credit: deVol Kitchens

If your kitchen design has a pantry or entry door, be sure to choose a lever handle instead of a round knob.

Opening a door with a knob is more difficult because it requires gripping the knob and turning it, and this becomes more challenging as we age. By contrast, a door with a lever can be opened just by pulling the handle down with your hand, elbow, or walking stick. This door accessibility guide from Soss shares more information on door handle placement and how quickly the door closes. 

4. Doorways and Passages

Studio Dearborn blue kitchen with office and red traditional carpet
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

Making the kitchen easy to enter and traverse is a foundational design decision. That means doorways should be 32 inches wide, according to the Americans With Disabilities Act, including enclosed pantries. Other resources say 36 inches is better for wheelchair access.

Wide passages between the stove and the island, for example, make it easy to access and accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. And make sure the room is all on one level (no sunken rooms), and the threshold is flat too so it doesn’t trip anyone up.

5. Outlets and Switches

Amber Interiors kitchen shot showing the light switch
Photo credit: Amber Interiors

The shift to pad switches has been a wonderful innovation that makes lights easier for anyone to operate with just the lightest touch.

Placement matters too: Lighting controls should be 36 to 48 inches from the floor, and outlets should be at least two feet off the ground. These minimum heights put switches and outlets in easy reach for people with a limited range of motion, according to Listou.

What other ways have you made your kitchen more accessible? Please drop us an email and tell us!