Organizing a Kitchen for Accessibility

Everyday activities in the kitchen, like picking up utensils, opening cabinets or cooking can be difficult when you have a limited range of motion. Whether you need to make temporary allowances while you are recovering from an injury or surgery, or need to make changes to accommodate more long-term needs, there are things you can do to make your kitchen work better for you. In this article we’ll provide some ideas to help you organize your kitchen to be more accessible for you.

Clear the way.

If you are using a canewalker or wheelchair to help you get around, you’ll want obstacles removed from your path. Pick up area rugs or mats that could get entangled and trip you. Relocate the trash can at the end of the island that makes it too hard to turn the corner. Have chairs or stools that get in the way? Tuck them closer to the table or under the counter overhang. If you have more seating than can comfortably fit in the space, and you only use it occasionally, store the extra pieces in another room until needed.

Freeing up the floor space will let you move through your kitchen more easily - and safely.

Extend your reach.

You may find that essential items are now beyond your reach - the colander hanging on the pot rack or the pepper mill that at the back of the spice cabinet. Instead of risking a fall from a stepstool or chair, try a reacher. This handy tool extends your arm by 31 inches and can be gripped with all four fingers for added leverage allowing you to pick up items that weigh under five pounds. It can help you turn on a light switch tucked away in a corner or pick up the dog toy under the table.

Try using a rollator or rolling walker.

If you use a cane or a walker, try a rollator or rolling walker. They’re a great option for increasing your mobility. Rollators have a seat built in so you can periodically take a break from standing. The storage container underneath the seat provides a way to transport items between the cabinets and table. You can also fold the seat up to allow you to step in closer to work at the counter or sink.

Need help getting up from a chair to prep or cook meals? Install grab bars in areas where you need the added support, like near the stove. They’re relatively easy to install and can be mounted either vertically or horizontally depending on your specific needs.

Make better use of the space you already have.

We all have them - cabinets and drawers full of kitchen equipment not used in years (or ever). Spend a day with a friend organizing and discarding or donating duplicate and extra items. The newly-found space will provide you with more options for storing the items you use more often.

Rethink your kitchen storage.

When you’re stocking and arranging your kitchen, think about how easy - or difficult - it might be for you to access the items. For example, put the most commonly used items (knives, silverware, cutting boards) within reach. Keep pots and pans on the stove or stored on a counter that is at the perfect height for you to reach.

If you are planning for the long term, there are additional modifications you may want to make to your cabinets and drawers. Above counter cabinets installed at standard height may be difficult or impossible for you to use. Instead, either have your upper cabinets hung lower or add elements such as pull-down shelving or a lazy susan to make the contents more accessible to you. 

If you have trouble with your grip, and your kitchen drawers and cabinets have small knob handles, consider swapping them out for loop-type handles. You’ll then be able to open the cabinet or drawer without closing your hand.

Add items to make mealtime easier.

Do you have a hard time gripping forks, spoons, knives and plates? If it’s not easy for you to use your current dinnerware, eating independently can be a challenge. Specially-designed high-side dishes and easy to grip utensils can help make eating easier. The dishes’ high outside edges and internal dividers help to keep food in place, while the utensils are designed to be easy to hold for those with limited hand strength from arthritis or Parkinson’s.

Upgrade appliances.

Do you have difficulty using standard kitchen appliances? Appliances are available in a variety of styles and you should explore which features best fit your needs. If you use a wheelchair, a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom may give you easier access to everything you need. If you have trouble bending, you may want to locate the freezer on top or side. Think about ease-of-use when making both your large and small appliance purchases. For example, you might find it more comfortable using a toaster with a slider bar to adjust how brown you want your toast instead of one with a dial that you have to turn with a closed hand. Take a trip to a home appliance store and try different designs out. That’s the best way to determine what’s going to work best for you.

Moving beyond the basics.

Organizing your kitchen to cater to your specific needs can make it easier to use and enjoy. Just a few changes can help you to navigate your kitchen better and access what you need to create meals for your family. Try these ideas, and if you require more extensive changes, speak to a designer or licensed contractor who is experienced in accessible kitchen design for advice.