Access all areas – how to create an accessible kitchen

With 18 per cent of the UK population aged 65 and over, a figure predicted to rise over the coming years, future-proofing homes is a necessity. James Dadd of AKW offers food for thought on addressing the challenge of ensuring independent and safe living when it comes to kitchen design.

The first and overarching key feature of an accessible kitchen is that the kitchen should be inclusive to ensure comfort for multiple users with different abilities. It also needs to be convenient, responsive and flexible to changing needs over time and, above all, it needs to be safe. With this in mind, there are some key features and design princi- ples that need to be incorporated into any inclusive kitchen installation.

Moving from triangular to linear

The design concept behind most modern kitchens is based on incorporating three out of the four major products in the kitchen into an ergonomic triangle. However, with inclusive kitchen design, the main priority is to develop a linear layout, so that food can be transferred sideways along the work surface from the hob to the sink, from the prep area to the oven, and back to the bench. The aim of inclusive kitchen design is to eradicate the need for the user to have to lift heavy, hot pans out of an oven and twist to place them on a bench situated behind them.

Working with wheelchairs

Spending time measuring the space, the client’s reach and movement capabilities, the size of the wheelchair and its movement arc are all essential before an design involving wheelchairs is prepared. Companies may offer consultations to architects, installers and designers to help with this process, and during the initial visit 150 to 200 measurements may be taken to ensure that as much of the kitchen as possible will be accessible to them in the final design, including pull out work surfaces, drop down units and rotating corner unit shelves.

Many refurbishment projects feature a narrow kitchen that is difficult to navigate, so the turning circle needs to be increased, using raised height, recessed or rebated plinths to allow the wheelchair footrest to rotate under each unit. Such design details also allow the user to get as close to the work surfaces as possible.

Working with visual impairment

If designing with the visually impaired in mind, colour and lighting can have a dramatic impact on a user’s experience in the kitchen. Highly contrasting shades enable users to distinguish between separate areas, while lighting can help to make the contrast yet more apparent. The amount of natural light will also affect the choice of colours as they change in different light sources, with floor, wall, furniture and accessory colours looking much brighter in direct daylight than under artificial light sources.

In addition, equipment and appliances should be simple to locate for the visually impaired and placed where the individual user would expect to find them. The use of tactile devices and controls or those with auditory feedback also enhance accessibility and ease of use.

Building in flexibility

Ultimate flexibility can be built into any kitchen with the inclusion of adjustable work surfaces. Rise and fall tables, which can be straight or L-shaped and accommo- date all needs in multi-user environments, as well as allowing for totally free access space below worktops for wheelchair users. They can be smoothly controlled with simple user interfaces that can be positioned in various locations, and feature smart safety stop and collision detection functions.

Similarly, drop down cupboards enable wheelchair users to make full use of the storage space in their kitchens without limiting access for ambulant users. Doors should also be supplied with 170° opening, where possible, for ease of access and all drawers should have an option to be soft close, while cupboard handles need to allow for comfortable use with arthritic hands, for instance.

As the need for accessible living spaces grows, it is the job of the architect, designer and installer to put in place solutions that meet the requirements of all household residents, including those with a disability, to ensure maximum comfort and independ- ence. Sometimes the traditional design process needs to be turned on its head to ensure this, but with the right knowledge and equipment it is becoming easier than ever before to create safe and inclusive rooms in the home that are responsive to everyone’s daily needs.

James Dadd is marketing director at AKW