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You may not have to face the expense and stress of remodeling—first check out some of the tricks described below. One of them may open up your kitchen for you. Whatever your situation is, whether your physical agility has changed or you've just moved to an inaccessible space, these tips can help:
If you have a wheelchair, the doorway must be a minimum of 36 inches wide—measure the width of your chair so you'll know what you have. Rather than paying for a new doorway to be cut and rebuilt, remove the door and its hinges, molding or threshold.
If you want to keep the door to the kitchen, buy Swing Clear® hinges at your hardware store. They will give you a couple more inches of room. See Resources at the end of this Home Modification section.
Ideally, a kitchen should have a 5 x 5 foot turning radius for wheelchair access. If space is limited, most of the prep work can be done at a table just outside the kitchen. (This is also a good strategy for people who are heat sensitive.)
If the only way into the kitchen is up or down stairs, it may be possible to build a ramp it if it's not too steep.
Raise the counters if you have a difficult time bending over; lower cabinets if you can't reach them and only use for long-term storage. Although costly, this may be all you need to make the kitchen useable. Vertically adjustable models can be raised and lowered; roll-out shelves are much more useful within any cabinet.
From a wheelchair, it's easiest to function in a kitchen with lowered cabinets and knee space beneath counters. A recess near the baseboard leaves room for toes and kick plates. If you can afford it, lower the cabinets. But a quick, inexpensive way to have knee space is to remove cabinet doors below the sink and some cupboards. Carefully pack up cabinet doors and any hardware with their hardware taped to them and store for future use.
Under the sink, a plumber or handyman can move the hot water pipe out of the way of legs or insulate with foam rubber to prevent scalding. It may also be necessary to insulate the garbage disposal.
Hang a mirror above stove burners to supervise cooking from a seated position.
To make the most of cabinet space, use carousel trays; these make 360-degree turns to store a lot in one place and you will thank yourself for buying them! Check a hardware store or stores that sell RubberMaid™ items (only about $2.00 for turntables!)
Electrical outlets and light switches can be easily relocated by an electrician. Lighting can be enhanced by adding track or overhead fixtures, or a portable desk lamp on the counter.
A cook-top range is the most versatile option. Keep the space below free for leg space, rather than putting a cabinet there to store pots and pans. Consider a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom and cook stove with knee-space below and front controls instead of side controls.
Linoleum or tile flooring is preferred over indoor-outdoor carpeting because that's easier to roll over and much easier to clean.
A rolling utility cart allows you to move a heavy pot of water across the room or bring plates, glasses, and bowls to the table.
Use the work triangle strategy: that means logistically arrange ingredients and tools to efficiently direct your flow of activity in a triangular path. Some cooks find it easiest to pull out all ingredients, bowls and utensils at the beginning. Determine your work surface (table, counter, TV folding table) as your first point of the triangle; do your measuring of ingredients, chopping, and other preparation here. Work at the sink is the next point of the triangle for washing produce or meat. Place a small TV-table near the sink if you need it. Cooking at the stove or oven is the third leg of the triangle. The main idea is to logistically arrange supplies efficiently within the three legs of your triangle.
Tools, seasonings, and pots can be set up to surround your work area. Think of new places to store things so they don't have to go into a cabinet—leave them out altogether—never put anything away! For instance dry goods can go into decorative canisters, vegetables into hanging wire baskets, spices into a spice rack, pots onto a pegboard, and so on. Give yourself a break!
Contrasting colors aid the person with a visual disability, such as a brightly colored cutting board. A large print timer and use of a magnifier aid vision. Special tools like liquid measure sensors are also available from Lighthouse International.
Single-handed cutting boards with spikes or edges hold food in place for persons who are only able to use one hand. Catalogs that carry aids to daily living sell a wide variety of adaptive cookware. Ergonomic or non-slip utensils are available at larger cooking supply stores too.
Planning an Accessible Kitchen provides advice on general kitchen layouts, who is the kitchen being planned for, and what do you plan to include in the kitchen. There is also a link on this site to a questionaire regarding vision concerns in the kitchen and personal equipment.