The Kbsa accessible kitchens pages offer guidance and a wealth of advice for those looking for an accessible kitchen.
Accessible design, also known as inclusive design, is where we consider functionality of the various parts of the room for all who may be using it. This means the design of the room is safe and usable by all who wish to within the household.
Currently there are 14.1 Million disabled people within the UK with only 9% of the current housing stock providing the basic accessible features for those who require adaptations. (English Housing Survey)
With even more homes housing multiple generations within one property, the demand for multi-generational design is increasing each year. These properties also need to consider accessible design, allowing each generation to use the space as they wish.
Where to start with an accessible design:
When you look at starting a kitchen project it can feel overwhelming, so we recommend beginning with an evaluation of the current space. You may wish to ask yourself the following questions:
- What do we enjoy about the current kitchen, what makes cooking easy and what features would you want to bring across to the new kitchen?
- Are there any areas of the current kitchen that some household members cannot use, and would they like to start using these?
- Are there any safety issues? Maybe one member has to reach very high to get daily items which is a strain for them?
- Will your current space house everything you would like? Will you require an extension to make it truly accessible or multi-generational?
Why layout of the kitchen is key
As mentioned, the key to an accessible design is safety and functionality. Although there are many key features which should be considered for the design, the overall layout will strongly determine how accessible a space can be.
It is not advisable to place a sink too far away from a hob for example, as this could mean carrying boiling water pans with potatoes across the kitchen before being able to drain it. For some users this could mean having to place a boiling pan on their lap, specifically for wheelchair users.
Similarly, if you have placed an oven in a location where there is not a resting space, such as a worktop, again this could require the user to carry very hot dishes a distance that may not be safe for their requirements. This is why it is recommended that an oven is designed at right angle to the worktop, or with space directly next to it.
The importance of accessible storage
For an accessible kitchen the goal should always be to reduce unnecessary reaching, crouching and carrying of items as this will help maintain safety within the space. Storage solutions that help bring cabinet contents as close to the user as possible are advised where suitable in the kitchen design.
Pull down baskets are an excellent solution for wall cabinet storage, which can be difficult to reach for most users. By installing these it allows for maximum capacity of the kitchen to be used, allowing you to place everyday items in these areas where you may have previous stored the lesser used items.
Pull out larder and base unit storage is primarily beneficial for bringing those harder to reach back of cabinet items to the user. With solutions for a range of cabinets, this means that if one member of the household places something to the back of the shelf other users can still get what they need without putting themselves at risk of falling or injuring themselves. This form of storage is also great when you are designing a kitchen for a wheelchair user with leg space under the sink, as you can design one next to the leg space to store cleaning products in an easy to reach location.
Choosing the right appliances:
Storage and layout of the space has now been considered, so next is to understand the role of choosing the best appliances for your household.
Ovens and hobs are the most used appliances, but also carry the greatest risk to the users of the kitchen. By considering how the household uses these, and the limitations some solutions present, you can ensure you are choosing the best appliances for the new kitchen design.
Slide and Hide ovens are considerably safer than any other option on the market, regardless of the user and their requirements. As the door is hidden beneath the oven, there is no obstacle to reaching into or placing things into the oven itself. In many designs the door is either dropped down or side hinged, which may mean an item reaching 200 degrees may be close to the user which may result in severe scolds with one accidental move. A heat resistance pull out shelf is also recommended underneath the oven, which should ideally be located in a tall oven housing. A tall housing positions the oven at a more accessible height and the shelf provides a place for hot items to be rested when taken out of the oven, before they can be moved onto a countertop.
Induction hobs are always recommended over gas hobs, as the open flames in a gas hob are not recommended for safety in an accessible design. In addition if you do opt to choose a flexible height worktop then gas cannot be used due to the gas connection. Induction hobs do not heat up in the way that electric ceramic hobs do, and only activate when a pan is placed on the zone. They remain cooler during the cooking process, the surface only heats from residual pan heat and loses heat quicker than a ceramic hob once turned off, although caution should be exercised if users wear a pacemaker as the electromagnetic field that the induction hob generates may interfere with pacemaker settings. The controls of the option you choose should ideally be positioned towards the front of the hob rather than the side, which again helps to reduce reaching or leaning over a potentially hot hob.
Picking the perfect worktop solutions
Rise and fall worktops provide the flexibility in households of multiple users. Available in manual or electric these worktops can be raised or lowered to a safe and comfortable working height.
For wheelchair users they also provide leg space so that they can get as close to the sink and hob as possible, as well as offering preparation space at a height of their preference. It is not recommended that wheelchair users design a standard worktop with cabinets, as this will not allow them to safely position themselves whilst cooking.
In a home of single occupancy or where only one user will be cooking and preparing food, this may not be the best solution, so instead you may opt for a fixed height solution instead. This still provides a leg space under the countertop, but is not as flexible for height adjustment.
Many homes do not have the space for a long run of worktops with just leg space, therefore you may wish to consider a right angle ‘L’ shape worktop. This provides the same benefits as one long run but is more suitable for smaller kitchen spaces. In addition, this is often a more accessible solution for wheelchair users, as they require less movement from the user due to the worktop layout.
Considering the worktop material used is also important. It is recommended that a worktop with a waterfall edge is used for the hob and sink work surface, this raised lip prevents liquids from spilling off a worktop and either onto the lap or onto the floor. This reduces not only scalding risks but slip risks from oil or water making its way to the floor. In addition it is much easier to clean this up from a worktop than the floor for most kitchen users.
Once you have created the basis of the accessible space you can also look at additional features which will improve the overall usability of the kitchen design.
Power sources are one thing that are often overlooked in the design process. Items such as kettles and blenders will require a socket that may need to be accessible for all. Often sockets are placed at the back of worktops, however this may not be inclusive for all users. Solutions such as flip sockets or pull up sockets can be fitted in an appropriate area of the work surface and are particularly useful where standard plug sockets in the wall aren’t accessible.
The positioning of handles on kitchen cabinet doors can be as important as the other areas of the design. If handles are placed too high or too low then this could reduce the inclusiveness of the space, similarly if the wrong design of handle is chosen there is the potential it reduces the ease of use for the kitchen. At this stage it is important to consider the grip of those in the household and their reach capabilities so that your kitchen designer can position these accordingly.
Considering waste disposal is another key consideration as a bin could create an obstacle for movement around the kitchen. In these situations it is recommended that you consider an integrated waste solution where a multi-compartment bin is fitted inside a kitchen cabinet these are available in a variety of sizes.