There are some causes that are more important to me than others. Home accessibility is one of them for me. My grandfather was born with cerebral palsy and was wheelchair bound for most of my life.
I grew up seeing directly how important an ADA compliant kitchen could be. Especially now, with the rise of aging in place, couples need to consider handicap accessibility when they are doing their kitchen remodels.
An ADA compliant kitchen is slightly different in several ways. From your cabinets to your flooring, there are several details to consider when doing your kitchen remodel. Be sure to check out the article on planning your kitchen remodel budget so that things go smoothly.
To help plan your kitchen remodel budget for your ADA compliant kitchen remodel.
Table of Contents
What is an ADA Compliant Kitchen?
Let’s start with the basics, shall we? ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990. This act, in short, requires that disabled people deserve equal access to basic services such as buildings, transportation, employment, communication, etc. For extensive reading on it, head to their website.
There are some measurements which must be met in order for a kitchen to legally be considered ADA compliant. However, I would suggest you go the extra mile, if you will, and put in some extra considerations.
How do I Make my Kitchen Handicap Accessible?
You will find that it can be incredibly complicated to make your kitchen handicap accessible. But there is a simple method of testing it out. As you are designing, mimic being in a wheelchair using a rolling office chair or kitchen chair.
Ask yourself if you have room for your legs and if you can reach things. Would you have room to move around and turn in a circle? Can you access all of the items in the cabinets or on the countertop?
For most wheelchair users, items are considered optimally accessible if they are between 20” and 44” from the ground.
What are ADA Cabinet Requirements?
ADA compliant kitchen cabinets are really very similar to other kitchen cabinets. From the outside, they look very similar.
Without a tape measure, some people wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference.
Important Measurements for ADA Accessible Cabinets
ADA compliant cabinets are slightly lower than standard cabinets, with a required measurement of just 32-½” overall. But these couple of inches can make a world of difference to someone in a chair.
Another important required measurement for kitchen cabinets is the toe kick, the area underneath the cabinet proper that…your toe would kick. To accommodate feet on a wheelchair’s footrest, the toe kick is required to be at least 9” deep.
What Does ADA Compliant Mean for Kitchen Sinks?
Part of the reason ADA kitchen cabinets have to be lower is because ADA sink cabinet requirements need the sink between 28” and 34” from the ground. If you use a standard kitchen cabinet, the kitchen sink will be too tall.
An ADA depth sink should be shallower than a standard kitchen sink, anywhere between 5” and 6-½” deep. This way the user can reach the bottom from a seated position. Can you imagine not being able to reach the plate in the bottom of the sink?
ADA Kitchen Faucets
Once you have an ADA compliant sink area, make sure that you have an ADA compliant faucet.
To make sure that the kitchen faucet is easy to use, it should be able to be turned on and off with a single hand or hands free.
A nice feature, though not necessarily required, is a pull down faucet that allows the user the option to use the spray function easily.
The faucet should stick out far enough that the user can reach it easily from a seated position as well.
How to Make Kitchen Cabinet Organizers ADA Accessible
To meet ADA cabinet requirements, a person in a wheelchair must be able to access 50% of the shelf space. You can meet this requirement a few different ways but make sure to account for the upper cabinets that are included in that requirement.
Drawers vs. Doors
Drawers are preferred in any kitchen remodel and ADA kitchen is no exception. If your lower cabinets have drawers, it is easier for anybody to reach the items in the back. Especially for the lowest shelf, this is really important to wheelchair users.
Lift Functions and Pullouts
An option that’s even better to create an ADA compliant kitchen is to use kitchen cabinet organizers with lift functions and pullouts to make your cabinets super functional. There are kits that will lift 20 to 30 pounds to countertop height.
You can also get pullouts that let you pull items from the back to the front and even out of the cabinet. Rev-A-Shelf is one of the most popular makers of these kitchen cabinet organizers for a reason.
There are numerous options and they are sturdy enough for everyday use.
ADA Kitchen Counter Height
Imagine a scenario if you will. You would like to cook dinner but you can’t face the counters so you have to do it to the side. After only a short time, I promise you will be driven mad by the experience.
As much as possible, try to make sure that somebody in a wheelchair can roll straight into some parts of the countertop. Of course, this would come at the expense of the lower cabinets so it isn’t possible throughout the kitchen.
However, I would suggest having strategic locations where the user can fit a wheelchair under the countertop. Somewhere next to the stove and next to the sink would be prime locations.
To make sure that you have an ADA height counter, make sure that the knee space underneath is at least 30” wide, 27” high, and 19” deep. The back of it is allowed to slope toward the back.
How to Make Kitchen Walkways ADA Compliant
The walkways of an ADA compliant kitchen are the most important aspect of the remodel to consider. If the walkways are not wide enough to be used in a chair, it doesn’t matter how nice or easy to use the rest of the kitchen is.
ADA Compliant Kitchen Walkway Measurements
Kitchen walkways need to be at least 40” wide if there are two access points, such as a galley kitchen.
The walkway can be as narrow as 36” if there are counters or appliances only on one side, but I would recommend against it.
If you make the walkway that narrow, it will be incredibly difficult for the person to use. I’ve tried to drive a wheelchair through a 36” wide walkway and it’s virtually impossible not to go bouncing off the sides.
Turn Around Zones for ADA Compliant Walkways
Any turnaround zone in your kitchen needs to have a 60” diameter to allow the wheelchair to easily turn around. This means that if your kitchen has only one access point, such as a U-shaped kitchen, there needs to be a 60” circle in the center.
If you have an L shaped walkway, make sure that there is the same 60” circle at the corner. Of course, like the rest of remodeling an ADA compliant kitchen, bigger is definitely better.
Choosing an ADA Accessible Kitchen Flooring
If you are in a wheelchair, the flooring in a kitchen remodel is a vital decision because it can make or break how well the kitchen functions. It is important that the kitchen flooring selected is easy for a chair to roll on but also stands up to the abuse.
Hard Surfaces vs. Soft Surfaces
I know, this should be an obvious factor, but harder surfaces are easier for a chair to roll on than soft surfaces.
This means that surfaces like stone tile, concrete, or hardwood should be considered.
Avoid softer surfaces such as cork or thicker sheet vinyl flooring. They will create more resistance when the chair rolls over them, making it difficult for the person to get around the kitchen.
Cleanability of Kitchen Flooring Options
Something to consider is not only how your kitchen functions but also how long the materials will last. Make sure that you choose a flooring that will be able to be cleaned easily.
Wheelchairs go in and out of houses constantly and their rubber wheels pick up debris and leaf scuff marks.
Imagine never being able to take your shoes off, no matter what you stepped in, when you went into your home. So, ease of cleaning is important in making your kitchen accessible to wheelchair users.
How to Add in ADA Accessible Appliances
Making sure that your kitchen is ADA compliant should also include your appliances. I mean, you can’t make dinner without access to the fridge and your stove. Again, imagine using the appliance while sitting down and you’ll have a good idea if it’s ADA compliant.
Fridge and Freezer
There are a few things that would make a more ADA compliant fridge and freezer. For example, a top freezer is a bad idea because there is no way that somebody could reach the freezer if they couldn’t stand up.
You could consider using a fridge and freezer combo with the freezer on the bottom. This way the wheelchair user can access a couple shelves of the fridge and access the whole freezer.
It would be even better if it had one of the drawers that could flex functions to be either a fridge or a freezer.
A side by side would probably be the most friendly in an ADA compliant kitchen. Using this model would allow the wheelchair user easy access to both the fridge and the freezer.
This one, like the flooring choice, should be obvious but I was surprised by it. The controls to the stove need to be on the front edge of the stove. If the controls are on the back of the stove, the user will have to reach over potentially hot burners in order to use the controls.
The oven in an ADA compliant kitchen should be easy to reach. You know that wall oven or the double oven that most people want? It’s not that high on the ADA kitchen list. An oven that is under the countertop height would be preferable.
Most people have their microwave on top of their countertops and usually crammed to the back of the counter.
Next time you need to use the microwave, try using it from a chair. I bet you’ll pull it forward at the least and wish it were lower.
You may consider a microwave inset into the cabinets under the kitchen countertop. While this is usually an idea for children, it’s a great idea for an ADA compliant kitchen.
I ask that, even if you are not personally in a wheelchair, that you consider creating a home that is ADA compliant. There will be a time that you will need an ADA compliant kitchen or a visitor will need an accessible kitchen.
Whether it is an injury or aging in place, the kitchen is the heart of the home and it may need to be used without full capability.
My grandfather was on a mission from some of my earliest memories to make the world easier for people who had to live in wheelchairs.
From making sure that restaurants were ADA compliant to making sure that he could easily access a home, he had a mission. I am proud to continue that mission.