The Kbsa accessible kitchens pages offer guidance and a wealth of advice for those looking for an accessible kitchen.
An inclusively designed kitchen is intended to offer independence to less able or wheelchair users, whilst at the same time being suitable for all other users in the household. It understands and accommodates user diversity in terms of capabilities, needs and should enable everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently in everyday activities. It is about making space suitable for everyone.
Today there are over 10 million disabled people in the UK, yet there is still little understanding of the requirements of disabled people in the home and particularly in the kitchen.
The British Standards Institute (2005) defines inclusive design as "The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible ... without the need for special adaptation or specialised design."
Designing an inclusive kitchen is very much a matter of looking at the small details that can make a big difference. It is a matter of assessing the needs of the individual, often in the context of a multi-user family home, and incorporating as many features as possible to ensure that the kitchen is fully functional for everyone.
Current lifestyle trends are for open living spaces and kitchen design has evolved into incorporating all the activities carried out in these multifunctional spaces. The challenge for the kitchen designer is to make sure that zones for cooking, dining, lounging, watching TV and socialising are identified and incorporated into the design. All of these considerations apply to the ‘Accessible Living Space’ which includes the space for preparation and cooking, commonly known as the ‘Kitchen’.
Inclusive design should reflect current trends and style. Product and technology, most kitchen furniture and accessories in today’s interior fashion can be adapted to meet the needs of the client. The most important role of the kitchen designer is to know and understand the ergonomics of designing an inclusive kitchen, have knowledge of the design data (dimensions etc) to ensure that wheelchair use is comfortable and practical.
They need to ensure that enough space has been allocated to create a turning circle for a wheelchair, heights of work surfaces, rise and fall options, plinth heights, workflow, appliances and accessories. Most of all the kitchen designer needs to deliver a design that is not only practical and meets the needs and activities of the client but that the inclusive kitchen design meets the expectations of the client in every aspect of their aspirations.
Lets start by asking a key question:
Q: What is the key objective of designing an accessible and inclusive kitchen space?
A: Put the user/s at the heart of the design
So what do we mean by this?
Essentially, we design for the person, not just the space. So ask:
- How does your client use their kitchen? Who else is using it? How might this change in the medium and long term?
- What are the key ‘tasks’ they need to achieve – two people of similar ability may have very different ambitions and therefore need very different designs;
- Mary gets Meals on Wheels so needs to reheat food and make hot drinks, toast and snacks
- Nora is still very keen to cook from scratch and wants full cooking capability
- What are your client’s needs and capabilities today? How are they likely to change over the coming years?
- Is there a carer or Occupational Therapist working with your client? Their perspective could be invaluable
Example, client considerations …
- Is the client ambulant, a wheelchair user or both?
- If a wheelchair user, what is the width of the chair, what is the height of the control unit or arm rest?
- Is the wheelchair due for review/change?
- What upper limb range of movement do they have?
- What upper limb strength do they have?
- What is their strength and hand dexterity like?
- Which hand is dominant?
- What is their eyesight like?
Lets consider the options for appliances, furniture, accessories, sinks, rise and fall technology:
All appliances should be carefully selected to ensure that they are accessible, easy to use and most importantly safe.
- Side opening door as minimum standard (to avoid leaning over door)
- Accessibility is key with hot appliances
- Consider “Slide & Hide” ovens where door slides away for safe access to oven
- Telescopic anti tilt rails
- Easy clean functionality
- Most inclusive type of hobs only heat when in contact with magnetic pans
- Often include additional safety features such as safety shut off, shatterproof glass & residual heat indicators
- Innovative linear induction hobs remove need to stretch over front plates to access those at back
- Gas hobs are not recommended in inclusive design due to open flame.
- If no alternative is available, they should be fitted with front controls for easy access. Choose hob with with in-built flame-safe technology to switch off the gas supply should the flame become extinguished.
Ceramic and Electric hobs are not as popular these days but if specified to meet the budget, they should be fitted with front knob controls with easy and safe access.
- Hoods should be fitted with easy push button or slide controls accessible to the user
- Consider remote control option if relevant
- Consider linking control to the switch operation of the hob for automatic switch on
- Sinks should be a shallower depth than standard to make access easier from seated/perched position. 125-130mm is recommended
- This makes reaching the bottom of the bowl easier and prevents stretching or hunching over the bowl
- A shallower bowl also provides more space underneath
- The base of the sink should be insulated to prevent the users legs from being scalded when draining hot or boiling water if user is a wheelchair user or likely to be perching
- Handling of the sink needs to be considered during design to allow user to pass items from bowl to draining board using a preferred/stronger side
Accessible Kitchen Furniture
Most kitchen furniture produced today can be adapted to meet the needs of the client. Under-mounted cabinets can be attached to the wall as opposed to floor-standing, therefore can be fixed at the optimum height for the user whilst also providing adequate ground clearance for wheelchair footplates, allowing easier access to worktops.
Cabinets can be raised or lowered, pull out and internal wirework options have never been greater and with adjustments to plinth heights, this will allow for maximum flexibility meeting the criteria of the design brief. Features such as low level units, easy-to open doors, pull-out storage are all to be considered.
Accessible Work Surfaces
- Can provide independently selected, height adjustable work surface whether there is a seated or standing user
- Ideal for inclusive living and multi-user environments
- Facilitates the ideal posture for the user avoiding over stretching or pain due to unsuitable work areas
- Rise & Fall units allow total free access, space and comfort below worktops for wheelchair users
- Fit discreetly into existing or new kitchens providing the freedom to maintain independence
- Variety of models and sizes available
- Can be used in a wide variety of applications, including commercial kitchens, schools, offices and for rehabilitation
- Accommodates users of all size and ability
Rise & Fall Work surfaces
- Ability to set range of height adjustment
- Choice of user control position
- Low profile frame depth for maximum space
- Smooth corners to reduce risk of catching clothing or vulnerable skin
- Safety stop function to prevent unit rising or falling onto an obstruction
Vision impairment considerations
The image to the right of the page is an approximate impression of how a kitchen environment may appear to some one with a visual impairment: It is something to be considered when designing and building a kitchen.
Easy to clean, stylish materials
A bespoke design made to measure is a step away from ready to fit kitchens that may not always work for you. We’ve collected our top tips for your kitchen design, should you need to have a more inclusive kitchen in your home:
Maintenance and care of your kitchen are an obvious consideration to make for any kitchen, but easy to clean materials would be an added benefit for those with mobility or visual impairments. And just because you choose practical, doesn’t mean you can’t choose great style too.
When interior designer Philip Dowse was creating a kitchen for U21 England rugby player Matt Hampson, sadly injured in training in 2005 and now using a wheelchair, he chose a combination of Parapan and Corian, for its looks good as well as having low maintenance qualities and durability.
Using high gloss deeper colours with white worktops gives an exciting and contemporary feel with huge curves allowing space for Matt’s wheelchair. The nonporous nature of Corian means the surfaces are easy to clean and stain resistant too.
Pull out shelves and drawers
These can work well for people with physical impairments that prevent them from bending down to cupboards, or for users that struggle to carry objects short distances. A strategically placed pull out shelf underneath an oven might be useful for resting cooking trays or utensils and are an excellent addition for those on a budget.
Pull out storage drawers have been popular for some time and can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes with multiple layers. Smaller concealed pull out drawers might be more suitable for those that can only handle a small amount of weight.
Lowered hob and sink access
Lower worktops, especially for hob and sink access, could be useful for those that are unable to stand for long periods or wheelchair users. Combining this with front controlled, lower mounted appliances, shallow sinks and pull out tap hoses means that you can sit while cooking or cleaning, though this would need to be carefully risk assessed before deciding on a final design.
Installing a Rise & Fall worktop around your sink will also allow you to adjust the height of your surface easily when you need it.
Lighting might need to be positioned lower too to help wheelchair users sitting low down to see their surfaces properly. A great method is illuminated shelves. This could also help those with visual impairments find the objects they need, as picking them out will be easier
Colour & Lighting
- Colour is a very important factor when designing a kitchen
- It is the contrast of colours one against another that makes them more or less discernible, rather than invidual colour choices
- Lighting helps effective colour contrast
- The amount of natural daylight should effect the choice of colours as colour is visibly changed by different light sources
- Floor and wall colours, furniture and accessories look much brighter in direct daylight than under artificial light sources and should be tested in both day and evening
Principles of Inclusive Design recap:
- Put the user/s and their needs at the heart of the design
- Consider all users, their activities in the space, their needs both today and in the future
- Start from a linear design for safe transfer of hot items.
- Give specific thought to:
- Appropriate plinth heights
- Base and wall unit heights and hinge-access
- Sink depth
- Access of all controls (front mount & counter height)
- Ensure handles have appropriate centre depth and no sharp edges
- Ensure oven door is side opening or fully retractable. Mount oven at appropriate height and incorporate heat drawer alongside or below.
- Consider Rise & Fall work tops and cupboards where appropriate
- Use colour and contrast carefully to support vision-impaired users