There are several things that should be considered when it comes to making a kitchen accessible. First, you have to think about whether you want to design the kitchen to be accessible to everyone or just for the specific homeowner. For example, someone who is in a wheelchair might need all countertops and cabinets lowered so that they can access them.
Common Kitchen Designs for Universal Access
After you decide whether or not you want to design your kitchen around one specific person, the next step is to choose a layout. There are a few common layouts that are best for kitchens with universal design:
While the layout of the kitchen has a big impact on its accessibility, there are a few other factors that you should consider as well.
Other Concerns for an Equal Access Kitchen
Everything in the kitchen should be designed to accommodate someone with limited physical needs, including:
With some effort and thoughtful design, any kitchen can be inviting and usable for everyone.
In the modern era of high density living, people are more likely than ever to reside somewhere with multiple floors. Homes are also sometimes built on sloping land, which must be taken into account during the design of an accessible home. One of the best ways to account for elevation changes is through the use of stairs, ramps or lifts.
In an ideal situation, an accessible home will be built without any stairs at all. Even one step can be a dangerous barrier for someone who is disabled or confined to a wheelchair. If it is absolutely necessary to have stairs in the home, make sure they are sized at the appropriate width.
Staircases should also include some type of nonslip surface, plenty of lighting, and a landing at the top and bottom of the stairs so that users can steady themselves. The risers should be smooth and round to minimize the chance of catching someone’s foot. It’s also important that stair components are built up to the standards of the Building Code of Australia.
Ramps are important in a universally designed home because they allow people to move over areas with different elevations. The Building Code of Australia has no governance over ramps in private homes, but the standards used in the code are still applicable for these kinds of projects. In an ideal situation, ramps will provide an accessible way for a person to traverse a small change in elevation. A ramp should never be used for a change in elevation of more than one story. The ideal ramp gradient is no steeper than 1:14. Handrails and kerbs should be provided on either side, making sure that they are designed at the right height.
Stair lifts are excellent for those who have difficulty getting up and down staircases on their own. The best stair lifts include a wall-mounted switch, a seat that is adjustable, and the proper belts and restraints to keep the user safe. A wheelchair platform lift is a slightly different version of the normal stair lift designed to carry people in wheelchairs. This kind of lift includes more rails and continuous pressure controls that are more sensitive.
With the proper design, stairs, ramps and lifts can all make a home much more accessible for people of a variety of abilities.
A bedroom is the most personal room in any home. It should be a space where a person can relax and be safe. For truly equal access, every part of a bedroom should be designed thoughtfully, from the furniture to the lighting to the room’s accessories.
Bedroom Layouts for Universal Access
It’s critical to provide as much room as possible in the bedroom so that someone in a wheelchair can manoeuvre around and easily transfer to and from the bed. As a general rule, it’s suggested that bedrooms have at least 14 square meters for someone with a wheelchair.
A bedroom with universal design should also have easy accessibility to a bathroom, preferably en suite. There may or may not need to be a door between the bathroom and bedroom, depending on personal preference. Storage considerations are also important: it’s wise to use dressers for clothing storage that can double as a work surface, as long as they are at the right height.
Lighting, Windows and Accessories
Many people with a disability spend an extended amount of time in their bedrooms, and ideally they should have a good view to look out upon from their windows. Lighting is important as well: natural lighting is best when possible, but can be supplemented with artificial lighting when necessary. Lighting should be placed strategically to make it easy to do things like read, work at a desk, or find clothes in a wardrobe.
Be sure that all radios, televisions, and telephones placed in a bedroom are easily accessible for someone with disabilities. Power outlets and switches must also be placed thoughtfully in a bedroom. For safety, a bedroom for someone with a disability should have some type of communication that is accessible from the bed, whether it is an emergency intercom or a normal telephone. Floor covering should be firm enough so that it is easy to move across: short pile carpet is a good example.
A fully accessible bedroom is a place that will be comfortable, relaxing, and enjoyable for someone no matter what level of physical ability they have.
Bathrooms are usually the hardest and most expensive rooms in a home to get right when it comes to equal access design. All areas of a bathroom, including the shower, toilet and sink need to be made accessible for those with disabilities. As a starting point, you will want to consider the needs of the specific people in the home. After that, there are a few general things you should also consider:
Size and Location
The bigger a bathroom is the better: it allows people with restricted mobility to get around and move more easily. As for the location, you will generally want to place a bathroom as close to the bedroom as possible. Ideally, there will be a bathroom within easy reach of any area in the home, which means that if you have a multi-story home, it’s a good idea to have a toilet on each level.
Storage and Rubbish
You will want to have an easily accessible storage area in the bathroom where you can keep toilet paper, tampons, incontinence pads, and other supplies that someone may need in their bathroom. You should also include a rubbish bin where sanitary wrappers and empty toilet rolls can be disposed of.
Toilets and Bidets
Generally, toilets should be higher up than normal so that it is easier to get on and off of them when using the restroom. Grip rails should be installed on both sides of the toilet so that a person in a wheelchair will have adequate support when shifting to and from the toilet. Also make sure that the flush controls are accessible for those in wheelchairs or with limited strength. A bidet is a great hygiene aid for someone with limited mobility. Separate guardrails may be required for this unit as well.
Vanities and Sinks
The vanities and washbasins in a bathroom designed for universal access will most likely need to be lower than a normal bathroom. Semi-recessed basins are also a good idea, since they give people in a wheelchair more space to get closer to the washbasin when they are washing their hands or face.
Showers and Baths
Showers are usually safer and more accessible than bathtubs. It’s important that shower stalls or cubicles be installed on a flat surface so that there are no high edges to step over. Wet area showers are a great idea: this design is simply an area of the bathroom that is used as a shower. It is often designed with a sliding glass door or a sloped floor to help promote drainage. If possible, try to add a seat in the shower to make it less strenuous for a person with a disability to bathe.
Taking these steps will help you make any bathroom in your home more accessible to people of all ability levels.
Choosing the interior finishes of a home can have a big impact on both the aesthetics of the home and its level of accessibility. Finishes are used in all different rooms of a home, from the bedroom to the kitchen. There are several kinds of interior finishes that must be selected carefully for a home to be fully accessible.
Common kinds of floor finishes used in a home include carpet, vinyl, ceramic tiles, and timber.
When selecting the interior finish of a home’s floor, it’s important to consider several elements, including:
It’s also important to think about the underfoot temperature of the various kinds of flooring finishes that can be used inside of a home. People with disabilities should try to choose flooring finishes that will stay at a consistent temperature and firmness all throughout the year.
In some areas of the house, finishes can be damaged by contact with a wheelchair, especially near the footplate. In homes where this is a concern, it’s important that finishes with durable materials that will resist impact from wheelchairs or similar devices are selected. Another option is the installation of metal skirting or PVC baseplate protectors to prevent damage to walls and furniture.
Colours are also a concern for those with disabilities, especially visual impairment. Best practices for colour use in accessible design suggest that colour be used as a way to contrast between vertical and horizontal planes, such as floors and walls or walls and doors. Colours can also be used to identify doorframes and lightswitches. It’s particularly important that colours be used in critical areas of the home, such as the kitchen or bathroom.
For more information about the importance of finishes as it relates to accessible design, visit our PDF guide on interior finishes.