Accessible Kitchen Appliances
From the Dynamic Living Newsletter
The kitchen is the most interactive room in the house. People, work surfaces, appliances, and tools - all work together several times a day to produce meals that are nutritious and tasty. Inappropriate placement or design of large kitchen appliances can be a nuisance, a burden, or even an impossibility. However, with some planning, you can look for features in your new appliances or identify modifications to your kitchen design that can provide a much more agreeable place to work.
Begin with a personal assessment of the needs of those who will be working in the kitchen, from their physical requirements to the types of food they will be preparing. Some households will have very tall or very short cooks. Some will have difficulty bending or stretching. Perhaps they cannot stand for very long, if at all. Still others will be using many small appliances to assist with preparation. Think about keeping the design flexible, as needs may very well change over time.
We know how important this topic is to you, so the staff at Dynamic Living, Inc. has done some extensive research on accessible kitchen appliances. Most of them can be found at local appliance stores or at building supply mega-stores like Home Depot or Lowe's.
With push button controls or dials in the front, dishwashers are already fairly accessible appliances. Most dishwashers are at least 34" in height and fit under a standard 36" high counter, but "standards" don't well work for everybody.
For example, people in wheelchairs find it easier to work at a counter that has space underneath for the wheelchair, with a height that is reasonable from the seated position. For most, a 34" counter height is ideal. If the kitchen design requires the counter to remain at 34" where the dishwasher will be placed, Equator has built a stylish dishwasher that is full-sized inside and only 32 ½" high.
What to do about the person who is very tall or has trouble bending? Try installing the dishwasher higher, as you would a wall oven. This raised approach makes loading and unloading dishes a whole lot easier.
Another design alternative is the use of our countertop electric dishwasherthat sits on the counter next to the sink. Hook-up is a snap (no plumber needed!). If you need the counter space, a portable dishwasher can also be placed on a rolling cart, so it can be pushed out of the way when not in use. Because they use less water, these dishwashers are also terrific for those city dwellers who are not permitted to have multi-cycle dishwashers.
Several major appliance manufacturers, such as Jennair, GE and Frigidaire, are now designing burners and ovens with accessibility in mind. Knobs or push-button controls are in the front, so the user doesn't have to reach across hot burners. Ceramic cooktop units, or burners with a flat surface, allow persons who have little upper torso strength to easily slide pots and pans from one area to another. Pan holders can keep a pot in place for single-handed stirring.
A cooktop and separate wall-mounted oven offer more placement flexibility than a floor-standing range. The cooktop might have an open space underneath for the wheelchair, allowing them to maneuver pans to the burners more easily, but be sure the underneath of the cooktop is properly insulated to avoid burns. (You can also use this space to store a rolling table or rolling vegetable bins/storage.) Or place the cooktop on an island to allow access from more than one side. If you locate the cooktop near the sink, you can fill a pot or pan using the hand-held sprayer without having to move the container off the stove.
People in wheelchairs might prefer the stove to be closer to the floor, making it easier to reach inside. Other cooks prefer built-in ovens, commonly 30" above the floor, because they don't need to stoop or bend to inspect cooking food or to remove hot pans from the oven. Choose a self-cleaning oven for easy maintenance.
How the oven door opens is also important. For some, a door that pulls downward provides a very convenient transitional shelf. Still others might prefer a door that swings to the left or right, allowing them better access to the oven racks. Side swing door models are sold by Frigidaire and Gaggenau.
Side-by-side refrigerators are the most convenient for everyone. Some refrigerators feature water and ice dispensers on the outside of the door that are easily accessible. GE has designed a refrigerator that is shallower in depth than traditional models making it much easier to reach for items at the back of the shelf!
Perhaps the best approach might be to install a smaller refrigerator, like an "office" sized unit, that could be raised on a table if needed. If freezer accessibility is an issue, a standalone upright freezer offers plenty of easy-to-reach storage.
Microwave ovens have some terrific benefits and offer great cooking flexibility. They are safer and cheaper to operate than conventional ovens and turn off at a predetermined time, which is great for the forgetful cook. When placed on the counter, their side-swinging door allows for easy transfer of plates.
Although it is common to see a microwave above the stove or high on a wall, we do not recommend that. Such a position is harder to reach and more likely to encourage spills from hot containers. If you decide to mount one lower on a wall, consider including a pull out shelf below it for easier transition of dishes into and out of the oven.
Most microwaves have a touch pad for programming operation. These pads are terrific, unless you have low vision. Some companies, such as Whirlpool Corp., offer optional Braille controls or the touch pad can be marked with raised dots to help the low vision cook. Control panels with fewer buttons are easier to understand and a backlit display is much easier to see. You can still find simpler microwaves that have a timer dial rather than a touch pad. This allows for quick programming of cooking time by a clock-like rotation of the dial.
Look for a door release that can be pushed easily with a closed fist or some other part of the body and a front edge that does not have a lip that might hinder a smooth transfer of dishes.
"Instant" hot water dispensers can provide great convenience for those who'd like quick access for coffee or soup, but have trouble lifting a kettle or reaching into a microwave. Please be careful about placement to prevent scalding accidents.
In-sink garbage disposers are a terrific way to dispose of food waste easily. Make sure the switch is located in an accessible position for you. If space permits, you might also consider adding a trash compactor as well. They can help eliminate excessive trips to empty the kitchen trash!