What needs to be considered when it comes to designing accessible kitchens?
For elderly and disabled people, having an accessible living space is crucial, both for the physical and psychological benefits. It allows individuals to remain in their own homes, reduces the need for carers and – when it’s viable to do so – avoids paying steep care home costs.
We spoke to Peter Davies at Ropox, one of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of independent living solutions for bathrooms and kitchens in both domestic and care environments, who shared his insights on what needs to be considered when it comes to accessible kitchens and the client.
What should people consider when designing an accessible kitchen?
Family home – It is vital to include the individual as they are likely to have very specific needs, such as right or left handed, limited hand movement, poor sight, and other strengths and weaknesses. If it is a family home, the whole family needs to be considered to ensure the kitchen enhancements for one person will not inconvenience the whole family, this can require more flexibility and possible compromises.
Care home – If the installation is for a care home, the most flexible option may be needed to suit several different users with different levels of mobility.
People undergoing rehabilitation – A training kitchen may be used for teaching specific skills, testing of abilities or of a layout with a view to using a kitchen at home. Extra space for training staff is often required.
There are a huge numbe of acitivies performed in a kitchen, all of which need to be taken into cosideration. These include:
- Moving between work stations
- Worktop food preparation
- Cleaning vegetables at the sink
- Washing up
- Cooking at the hob
- Using the oven
- Accessing the fridge and freezer
Listing and prioritising the importance of each of the above, and possibly even more activities, will help develop the design brief and ensure the final design meets all the needs of everyone involved.
Individual wheelchair users will often need to carry out these activities at different heights. For example, cooking at the hob may be easier at lower heights than when washing up at the sink.
What common mistakes do people make when designing an accessible kitchen?
People have often found ways of “managing” in a poorly designed kitchen and want to incorporate these movements in a new kitchen – afraid that a better design might not work for them.
For a wheelchair user, minimising movement and being able to slide pans between the hob and sink are crucial. Very often, people want an adjustable height sink and a hob and put them either side of a normal height fixed unit. This creates a stepped barrier between the hob and sink and can be quite dangerous.
It’s also fairly common to forget to have preparation space between the hob and sink and this is where most time would be spent.
When planning a kitchen, do you work alongside healthcare professionals?
It’s always really important to work with the occupational therapist as well as listening carefully to the client. Very often, the client can feel that everything is decided for them, so listening to their priorities and thoughts and involving them in the design is vital.
How have accessible kitchens evolved over the years?
At Ropox, we’ve been involved in making adjustable height frames to make kitchens flexible for nearly 50 years. Initially, the only total kitchen suppliers were specialist manufacturers of units which were relatively expensive, making the kitchens only practical for use in therapy/rehabilitation centres.
We have simplified our systems over the years so that they can work with any standard kitchen manufacturer’s units and worktops. This has meant that the costs of an adjustable height kitchen can be as low or as high as any customer buying a standard or really upmarket kitchen will face.
Everyone has their own ideas on style of doors and colour and just because you happen to sit in a wheelchair, this shouldn’t limit your choice to just a small range.
The contents of units should come to the user for easy access from a wheelchair. There has been a trend in standard kitchens to have more drawer units, pull out baskets and shelves and this has brought the prices down for these accessories.
Do you think that installing an accessible kitchen in a person’s home is a better option than that person moving into a care home?
If someone can cook safely with a well-designed accessible kitchen, cooking can develop into a passionate hobby and a way of improving self-reliance, well-being and self-worth. It also allows the individual to do something for family and friends, rather than be on the receiving end of care all the time.
Research has shown that people being able to live independently will live longer and spend less time in care homes – even the Government can see that this is a lower cost and a better outcome for everyone involved.
Looking to the future, what do you think we will see in terms of product innovation?
We’ve got some really innovative ideas in our development pipeline. One of the biggest changes recently has been the changes made in the 2016 Doc M Building Regulations, relating to kitchens in new build wheelchair accessible dwellings.
With much better room layouts and sizes than in the previous Doc M, this has a long-term positive effect on the accessible housing stock which, hopefully, will have a knock-on effect on refurbishments and adaptations.