Accessible Kitchen Design

Interior finishes for disable daccessA home’s kitchen is supposed to be the warmest, most welcoming part of any home. Make sure you extend the welcome to everyone by making it accessible to people of all physical ability levels.

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:

  • L-shaped: an L-shaped plan usually has a meal area that is enclosed within the preparation area. The benefits of an L-shaped plan are that it offers wide corridors between tables and preparation areas, a compact workspace, and continuous work surfaces to make moving objects around the kitchen easier
  • U-shaped: a U-shaped plan has a meal area that is adjacent to the work area. This plan provides a good amount of workspace and cabinet storage, as well as lots of room to manoeuvre. It can also be easily closed off to children or household pets
  • Galley-shaped: the galley-shaped plan consists of three different rows: two rows of preparation space followed by a row of space for eating meals. This design encourages the kitchen to be open for social interaction and can be entered from multiple sides, making it easily accessible for people in a wheelchair

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:

  • Cabinets and countertops that are low enough to be accessible by someone in a wheelchair or with limited reach
  • Lighting should be uniform and include adequate task lighting for meal preparation
  • Handles, faucets, and drawers must be designed to be accessible by those with limited strength and mobility
  • Sinks should be shallow enough to accommodate people of all abilities and placed in a strategic location within the kitchen

With some effort and thoughtful design, any kitchen can be inviting and usable for everyone.

Accessible Stairs Ramps and Lifts

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.

Accessible Staircases

Accessible Stair Ambulant Vision ImpairedIn 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

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.

Accessible Bedrooms

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

Wheelchair Access to BedroomsIt’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.

Accessible (Disabled) Bathroom Design

Accessible Bathroom for DisabledBathrooms 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

Disabled Accessible Bathroom DesignThe 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.


Interior Finishes for Disabled Access

Interior finishes for disable daccessChoosing 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.

Floor finishes

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:

  • The budget of the homeowner
  • The function of the room and space
  • Which surface will be easiest for the occupant to move across
  • The most appropriate colour selection for the room
  • The desired acoustic qualities
  • The need for the interior surface to be stain resistant and easy to clean

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.

Wall and Furniture Finishes

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.