Face Your Kitchen
Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

Upgrading your kitchen for the abled and disabled alike

by Karl Fendelander
Face Your Kitchen Columnist

Whether you're planning for the future or adjusting to meet your current needs, making your kitchen accessible to everyone, abled and disabled alike, is important to consider. An estimated 30 million Americans already live with the challenges of using a wheelchair or walker in everyday life. If you or a loved one is part of this group, or if you're over 50 and you'd like your home to be better suited to aging in place, upgrading your kitchen is a necessity.

Here are some things to consider when updating your kitchen:

  • Counters: Different people have different height requirements when it comes to using counters effectively. For wheelchair access, a height of around 32 inches is usually ideal, with a recessed area around 16 inches deep underneath the counter for leg space.
  • Sinks: A deep kitchen sink prevents wheelchair access, so go for a sink that's only about six inches deep. Make sure the drain is located at the rear to keep pipes out of the way of knees -- and be sure to insulate hot water pipes to prevent accidental burns. Faucets should be easy to reach and simple to operate.
  • Wall cabinets: It can be difficult to lower wall cabinets while keeping counter space. Fortunately, a number of companies are making shelving systems that pull down and/or out for easy access from below. There are also systems that lower the entire cabinet box at the push of a button.
  • Base cabinets: Counters are typically around 24 inches deep, and with only 16 inches required for leg space, you're left with eight inches for storage, even in areas that require wheelchair access. Staggering these accessible spaces (which should be at least 30 inches wide) can help provide sufficient storage. Make sure drawers are full extension, and equip base cabinets with pull-out shelves, slide-out cutting boards, and other amenities that improve access.
  • Appliances: Microwaves are notorious for being mounted at about eye level for a standing adult, out of reach for anyone in a wheelchair. Consider integrating your appliances into the base cabinetry for aesthetically pleasing easy access. You can find appliance lifts that raise or lower appliances at the push of a button or handy built-in appliances like refrigerator and freezer drawers that make wheelchair use a breeze.

Generally speaking, you don't want things like switches or power outlets to be too high or too low for someone with limited range of motion to be able to use. Talk to a contractor about upgrading your kitchen so that everyone in it can keep cooking comfortably.

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