man in wheelchair in kitchenIn her essay about designing a wheelchair accessible kitchen, Rosemarie Rossetti, who uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury, calls the kitchen "the most important room of the house." Can you imagine not being able to use your own kitchen? Fortunately, some great remodeling contractors, architects and designers are trained in universal design. If you are just getting started with the process of remodeling a kitchen to make it wheelchair accessible, here are things to keep in mind.

Position of food prep, cook surface, sink and refrigerator: Although open kitchen layouts that feature islands, large built-in refrigerators and high counter tops are fashionable, a big, open kitchen layout isn't too practical for a wheelchair user. Having to wheel oneself from one side of the room and past an island to go from the refrigerator to the sink is not ideal. When designing a kitchen for a wheelchair user, a close, L-shaped arrangement of the major kitchen features is more efficient. It's also possible to make the most of an island by pairing it with a grouping of other important kitchen features.

Wheelchair turning diameter: To keep wheelchairs from bumping into cabinets or appliances, the work areas of the kitchen need a turning radius of 5 feet.

Height and structure of cabinets: Cabinets need to be set at heights and angles that make it possible for someone in a wheelchair to reach the upper shelves with a grabber. Lazy susans can help make upper cabinets more accessible. In lower cabinets, installing rolling drawers inside can allow a wheelchair user to reach items that are in the lowest part of the cabinets. Little drawer pulls won't do it; in a wheelchair-accessible kitchen, you need to install larger, more ergonomic handles.

Space under the sink for a wheelchair: A major impediment for wheelchair users is sinks with unreachable faucets. In order to make a sink accessible, there needs to be clear space underneath to accommodate a wheelchair. The sink should be customized to the wheelchair user. He should be able to roll his chair so that his legs can rest comfortably beneath the sink, reach inside the sink, and also comfortably reach the faucets.

Counter height: While cabinets tend to occupy the space beneath counters, a low counter with nothing underneath needs to be built into the kitchen in order for it to be wheelchair accessible. The wheelchair user should be able to wheel his chair underneath the counter as if he is sitting at a table. The counter should be low enough that it is comfortable for the wheelchair user to do such tasks as chopping vegetables.

Type of refrigerator: A side-by-side refrigerator is more wheelchair-user-friendly than a fridge with a freezer on the top or bottom. It helps to have a lazy susan installed on the refrigerator and freezer shelves. A counter-depth refrigerator might work better than a deeper refrigerator.

For more information on designing a wheelchair accessible kitchen, visit the Universal Design Living Laboratory. It is a house that was built by contractors in Columbus under the direction of Manley Architecture Group.

Chaya Kurtz originally wrote this story for It is reprinted with permission here.

Related kitchen stories on MNN:

Photo: peppi18/Shutterstock