Making the Kitchen Wheelchair Accessible Part 1: Food Prep

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Written by: Jason Biddle, The Helping Home 

Thanks to the concept of Universal Design first introduced in the 1960’s and the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines in 1992, designing with accessibility in mind has become increasingly prevalent throughout the United States. Unfortunately, much of the country’s existing housing stock still lacks the accessibility man sitting in manual chair in front of a pantry with pull out shelvesdesign elements that can be of great benefit, and even necessity, to wheelchair users.

With the holiday season fast approaching entertaining and cooking is inevitable. If you or a loved one is a wheelchair user who finds that the kitchen at home isn’t meeting certain needs, then it may be time to consider making some modifications to the space. In this first part of our three-part series, we look at solutions in the kitchen that help wheelchair users with food preparation.

Pull-out Pantry

Traditional pantries typically require users to reach into the pantry to retrieve items. If you have a pantry like this, then consider converting the standard shelves to a roll-out style that brings the pantry items to you. In many instances, this sort of modification can be done rather economically, too!

Accessible Refrigerator Man sitting in manual chair accessing a lower drawer to an amour style refrigerator

The most accessible refrigerator truly depends on user preferences and the kitchen layout. Sometimes a side-by-side refrigerator is best because it offers plenty of access to both the freezer and the refrigerated sections along the bottom half of the unit. On the other hand, there may not be enough space to accommodate the door swing of side-by-side refrigerators, so a bottom freezer-drawer refrigerator may be the ideal style. Avoid freezer-top refrigerators unless there is a separate, accessible chest freezer.

Pull-out Cutting Board

built- in light wood colored cutting board sliding out of the kitchen counter Create a more accessible working space by installing a pull-out cutting board into the existing cabinetry. Find a base cabinet with a top-level drawer that is worth sacrificing and place the pull-out cutting board a few inches below countertop height so it is easy to use. If you have a side-swing wall oven, consider inserting the cutting board just below the oven so you have a handy landing spot to place hot items.

Be sure to check out part two of this guide for home modifications that help with cooking and part three for solutions that help with washing dishes.


Financing Assistance

If you need help with financing and are enrolled in or qualify for Medicaid, then click here to learn if your state’s Medicaid program covers the cost of medically necessary home modifications.

For military service members, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers three different types of grants for medically necessary home modifications. Learn more about the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant and the Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) Grant here. You can learn more about the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) Grant here.

Also, there are other state-specific programs that provide financial assistance for home modifications, so it is worth taking the time to research what else is available.

Finally, Rebuilding Together is a national non-profit that helps retrofit homes to make them more accessible and user-friendly. You can check to see if there is a local affiliate by visiting the Rebuilding Together website.


What have you found to be helpful with food prep in the kitchen? Can you offer up some helpful tips on what you’ve done to make your kitchen accessible? Share your experience and insights with us!

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