It’s common knowledge that the UK’s population is getting older. It’s common sense that older people are still going to need somewhere to live. Some may wish to move into purpose-built retirement accommodation but many are likely to want to stay in a standard home.
In addition, there are also younger people with particular accessibility needs.
This means that it can make solid business sense for both landlords and home improvers to think about accessibility when they are updating their properties and if there is one place in the home where accessibility takes on a particular level of importance, it’s the kitchen.
The kitchen and accessibility
In simple terms, the kitchen is usually the part of the home where the most potential dangers are lurking. It’s the place where we boil kettles and use heavy pans on hot hobs and cut food with sharp knives. These dangers are magnified for anyone with accessibility needs – unless those needs are met.
General design considerations
The good news is that, in general terms, designing an accessible kitchen is much the same as designing a regular kitchen. In other words, you want to create a simple, minimal workflow focused on the over/hob, sink and fridge/freezer.
There are, however, some considerations which are of particular relevance when considering accessibility.
Firstly, if you want to make your kitchen wheelchair-accessible, then you’re going to have to ensure that there’s space for a wheelchair to move and, in particular, for it to turn.
You may also want to look at height-adjustable units so that the same kitchen can be used conveniently by both wheelchair-users and non-wheelchair-users, e.g. carers.
Secondly, it’s preferable to ensure that there is a high degree of contrast between the different working areas as this can make life much easier for people with visual impairments (and also for people with some degree of memory loss as it can make it easier to remember what goes where).
Non-slip flooring is strongly recommended in any kitchen and is vital in an accessible kitchen. It’s also helpful if the flooring is easy to clean as people with accessibility needs may find it difficult to undertake strenuous physical work.
All the usual lighting considerations apply; however, there are a couple of points which are of particular relevance to those with accessibility needs.
First of all, you will generally want to maximize natural light as much as possible. This is becoming less of an issue (from a health perspective) with the move to LEDs, especially daylight LEDs, however, it can still bring psychological benefits.
In the UK, however, it is in the highest degree unlikely that you’ll be able to use natural lighting all the time, so you’re going to need some form of artificial lighting and it’s probably going to be a combination of general lighting and task lighting.
Your second consideration, therefore, is to set this up in a way which maximizes the light and minimizes any shadows it casts, regardless of the time of day.
These should all be both easy to reach and easy to operate. For the most part, levers, buttons and switches are preferable to anything which needs to be turned. If controls need to be marked in some way (e.g. numbers on a microwave) then the markings should contrast with the background.