University of Missouri Extension

GH5671, Reviewed October 1993

Kitchens for Workers in Wheelchairs

Alice Mae Alexander
Department of Environmental Design

Space for the wheelchair, plus space for turning the chair are the two important factors to consider when planning a new kitchen, remodeling a structure or adapting one being used.

The standard model wheelchair (measurements taken from American Standard specifications) falls within the following limits:

The average turning space required is 60 inches x 60 inches. Actually, a turning space that is longer than it is wide — 63 inches x 56 inches — is more workable and desirable.

In general, the wheelchair-accessible kitchen designs follow conventional ones. Special attention should be given to essential features such as knee space under major work surfaces, lower heights for counters, sinks, cooking units and adjustable shelves in wall cabinets.

The kitchen will probably be used by others in the family who stand to work and who can reach to greater heights without difficulty. So some standard height units should be included.

Individual circumstances and preferences must be taken into account. However the following measurements will provide a starting point for a wheelchair worker:

Work centers

The design of the cabinets and counters for the three major work centers in the kitchen — sink, range, and mix (food preparation) — is particularly important for someone working from a seated position. Knee space under counters is the first essential; it should be a minimum of 24 inches wide by 24 inches high.

Each center should be as complete as possible containing adequate storage space for all utensils and supplies related to the work, and with adequate counter space a part of or adjacent to the center. Counters 30 to 32 inches high are recommended, although for certain work, such as mixing and beating, a 27-inch height is desirable.

Sink center

Sink bowls should be shallow with drains at the back to allow for knee space and to prevent burns from hot pipes. Double-bowl, 5-inch-deep sinks are available. Garbage disposal units, an important energy-saving feature, can be fitted to these sinks. The one-hand mixer faucet is easy to manipulate.

Metal angles (metal strips) can be placed along the edges of the open knee space to protect the corners from damage by the wheelchair.

Storage should be provided for small tools used in preparing foods, dish towels, cleaning supplies, the trash container and other equipment and materials used at the sink center.

Drawers are better for below-the-counter storage than shelves because they bring the area's full depth of the base cabinets within easy reach. If shelves must be used, pull outs are essential. Three shallow drawers in the sink counter will provide storage for table silver, vegetable preparation utensils and kitchen linens. Metal pull-out rods below the sink can be used for towels and dish cloths.

Lapboards that pull out provide a variety of work heights for different jobs. For example, a maple lapboard, located between the first and second drawers in the base cabinet, can provide a lower working surface for either chopping or mixing.

File storage directly above the sink is an excellent place for utensils first used at the sink.

Range center

Cooking units, range tops, fry pans, griddles, percolators and other small equipment may be safer than a range of conventional height. They should be placed on a working surface of a comfortable height with open space for knees under the counter. Burners or units should be placed at the front of the counter so they are easy to see and to reach. A separate oven is desirable; adjacent counter space is necessary. The most-used shelf in the oven should be placed at the same height as the counter for easy sliding of hot pans from the oven to the counter. A pull-out board under an oven with top opening, side opening, or French doors is extremely valuable. Functional storage can be planned for the space below the oven.

Mix center

Equipment as well as supplies should be stored at this center. Keeping things within easy reach is the key to efficient operation. It is desirable to have 4 feet of counter space with the 24-inch opening under the counter for the wheelchair. If the counter is 30 to 32 inches high, provide a pull-out board that will clear the arms of the wheelchair. An ideal pull board could hold two recessed removable mixing bowls for easy one-hand use. Pull-out panels, 12 inches wide on each side of the 24-inch-wide knee space, can be fitted with peg board and adjustable shelves for hanging equipment and storage of supplies.

A 27-inch-high counter permits easy use of an electric mixer. A pull-out board would not be needed in this case.

Slant-front wall cabinets provide storage space that is easier to reach than conventional cabinets. The bottom shelf is 5 to 6 inches deep and the top shelf is 9 to 10 inches deep, which makes the face of the cabinets extend over the counters at the top more than at the bottom.

Storage units

Storage facilities in any kitchen should be easily accessible. Keep in mind the principle that stored items should be easy to see, easy to reach and easy to grasp.

Storage of the conventional type over a counter may be difficult to reach. A full-length cupboard, 12 inches deep, with adjustable shelves, permits convenient storage space. If conventional wall cabinets are selected, use adjustable shelves to bring articles within easy reach. Turntables and other devices may be used to make the storage more accessible.

Using tongs to grasp lightweight items stored on high shelves may enable the person to use conventional storage units. Care must be taken that the articles grasped are not breakable or that they will not injure the person should they fall from the tongs.

Drawers with smooth sliding hardware and the correct height afford the best storage for base cabinets. They conserve space and are easy to manipulate. Convenient pulls, or other means of opening drawers, are very important. Recommended heights of drawers for various kinds of supplies are:

Features to consider when planning a kitchen for wheelchairs include:

The author is indebted to other home economists working in the area of rehabilitation for some of the ideas presented in this guide.
GH5671 Kitchens for Workers in Wheelchairs | University of Missouri Extension

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