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Design your kitchen to be universally accessible

By incorporating flexibility and adaptability into kitchen design, the life and usability of a kitchen are increased and families, couples and individuals are able to stay in their homes and neighbourhoods as family size changes or older adults want to “age-in-place”.

The successful design of a universally accessible kitchen starts with identifying potential users and anticipating their needs. For example, are you a gourmet cook or do you prefer to microwave prepared food? Do you have a disability that affects the way you prepare food?

Traditionally, kitchen designers have focused on a compact work triangle formed by the sink, stove and refrigerator. In reality, we must expand the triangle to include all work areas as well as garbage disposal and the dishwasher. If your ability to move around the kitchen while carrying things is limited, it is even more important to consider these additional elements within the traditional work triangle.

Designing an efficient kitchen also involves keeping the work triangle compact. Logical, sequential, routine movements will define the way your family uses the kitchen and will help you design a kitchen with a work triangle that meets your needs.

Designing for minimal effort is another important principle of universal kitchen design. Planning for efficiency considers the location and relationship of all major elements within the kitchen. The result is the placement of similar or related items in the same location within the kitchen.

For example, emptying the dishwasher is easier if the dishes and glasses are stored nearby. Baking is easier if baking supplies are close to a work surface and the oven. Meal clean-up is easier if the table is located close to the sink, dishwasher and garbage or recycling bins.

Flexibility and efficiency of effort and ease of use of a kitchen can be achieved through such design considerations as providing storage options at a variety of heights so materials can be easily seen and reached. Other features to consider are more lighting, a place to sit down to work, a lower workstation, and adequate manoeuvring space in front of controls, work areas and appliances for someone using a wheelchair or walker.

Other kitchen design components that increase usability include: continuous countertops that allow pots, dishes and so on to slide along; hands-free faucets; a wall-mounted oven at countertop height; open shelving rather than cupboards with doors; and resilient flooring rather than a hard surface.

Adaptability can be achieved by installing adjustable height counters; buying a refrigerator with a left-right-hinged reversible door; installing adjustable shelving in cupboards, and drawers for storage rather than under-counter cabinets.

When making decisions about new appliances, floors and countertops, remember to consider surface finishes. For example, glass cooktops tend to be easier to clean and some countertop surfaces need yearly maintenance with a sealer to protect them from staining and harbouring bacteria.

Finally, safety considerations in the kitchen deserve the highest consideration. Small rugs and mats in the kitchen should be avoided because they are a tripping hazard and an obstacle for many people with mobility impairments. Also, be sure to plan for easy access to water, a fire extinguisher and the gas shut-off valve in case of emergency.

To help you learn more about designing your kitchen, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has an About Your House fact sheet called Accessible Housing by Design – Kitchens.


About the Author: Christina Haddad is the Regional Vice-President, Ontario at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. 

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