An accessible kitchen provides comfort, empowerment, and dignity to older adults. The heart of the home, the kitchen is where memories are made—and the place where basic needs are met. That's why older adults must be able to safely and easily maneuver through this space, and by making a few low-cost accessible updates to a kitchen, an older adult can enjoy more independence at home.
Before you overhaul the kitchen, see what low-cost options will work in the space.
Standard cabinet knobs can be difficult to grasp when someone has limited manual dexterity, slowing down and frustrating the process of meal prep. In fact, ADA requirements state that the pull should be easy to open with one hand. The pull should not necessitate twisting of the wrist or any tight grasping or pinching. Instead, replace the standard knobs with U-shaped hardware that’s easier to grab and use.
The faucet needs to be easily reached by someone in a wheelchair, so consider its placement. Can you move it closer to the edge of the counter by placing it on the side of the sink? It may be slightly unconventional, but it will make it much more reachable.
In addition, consider a single-lever faucet or touch faucet for easy use at the sink. Install temperature controls to avoid scalding.
Cabinets and Drawers
Crouching down at lower cabinets to find the lid for the pot being used (or heaven forbid you lose a Tupperware lid!) can be difficult for older adults. Install full-extension drawers and shelves, so items can be pulled towards the user instead.
If you can afford to lower cabinets, this is a good option for an older adult who uses a wheelchair.
If limited vision is a problem, there are several low-cost solutions. Add a contrasting border that shows where the floor ends and the wall begins. Change out the tile or wood flooring in front of main work spaces to be a different color than the rest of the floor.
Put red nail polish on the “off” position of the stove so an older adult with limited vision can readily see if the stove has been turned off. Use puffy paint to create raised markings on the settings most often used on appliances.
Your budget may not allow for a remodel that will lower kitchen counters for a wheelchair user. But don’t despair. A low-cost option is to bring in a work table that sits at the right height for a wheelchair—30 inches high. This will make food preparation easier.
Sometimes the simplest accommodations are the best. Before you begin overhauling the kitchen, look at how items are currently organized. Can you put frequently-used items on lower shelves? Can a lazy Susan make a difference? You may be able to eliminate several issues without spending a dime.
About the author: Chuck Winkles is the president of New Life Bath & Kitchen, a residential kitchen and bathroom remodeling company serving California’s Central Coast. Chuck was born in Southern California and currently resides in Santa Maria. He's been married to his wife Shelley for thirty-eight years and has two sons, Nathan and Noah.