Barrier Free Kitchen Design Tips
Plan for the Future
If you're not currently disabled, but have a family member who is, it is smart to plan for the future. You may end up in a wheel chair. You may have to use a walker like my mom. It is possible that you will be unable to bend over or stoop down to peer into a cabinet. I have seen this first hand.
Coping with a sick child, husband or wife, or relative is a draining experience. Your daily schedule is disrupted. Imagine what would happen if the sickness became permanent? Imagine if the sick person couldn't easily care for themselves? It happens to thousands of people every day across the world. Families need to adjust as well as the individuals themselves.
It was not uncommon for me and my workers to make light of this possibility when we were working high off the ground. We did this, I believe, to make ourselves more aware of the danger and to take the edge off our stress.
You don't have to get injured to become disabled. It can be a natural process. It can be caused by a sudden illness. This is what happened to my mother. One day she got very sick from a strange bacteria. Blood clots began to form and cut off the circulation to her hands and feet. The doctors were able to save all but the tip of one of her fingers. Another friend succumbed to the same disease a week later. He lost half a foot. Both individuals are coping with the change in their lives.
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The politically correct term for this subject is universal design. Planners and designers who work with disabled or handicapped individuals are learning more every day. They are developing standards which allow kitchens and other rooms to be accessible to a wide range of people who become disabled for one reason or another.
Different people have different needs. Blind people of course may need things slightly different than a person who is confined to a wheelchair. Designs are available for just about every need. I urge you to proceed to the end of this document and call the Center for Universal Design. They will be a great resource for you if you are beginning to plan a kitchen for a disabled individual.
Barrier free design involves virtually every aspect of the kitchen. Lighting becomes an issue. Lights may have to be more concentrated. There may have to be more lights in various locations.
Traditional shelves become a barrier to many disabled people. Pull-out trays, bins and shelving units overcome this problem. I have a cabinet in my kitchen that is equipped with pull-out shelves. We put all of our canned goods in it.
Drawer and cabinet hardware must be considered. Traditional brass knobs cannot be gripped easily. D-shaped pulls are the best.
How about the dishwasher? It might help a person in a wheelchair to elevate it maybe six inches off the floor. There is no reason whatsoever that this can't be done by a plumber, builder or a remodeler!
If you are building a new home, don't be stingy on the amount of overall space you allocate for the kitchen. You may need an extra 3 or 4 feet in both directions. This will usually suffice and allow you to create a usable kitchen.
I also urge you to contact a certified kitchen designer. These individuals have access to the latest design innovations. They can possibly show you photographs of recently remodeled or new kitchens that incorporate key design features. Their showrooms may have numerous features on display as well.