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Universal Design



Universal Design in the Kitchen

Univeral Design

What is Universal Design?

Universal design, also called barrier-free design, focuses on making the house safe and accessible for everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, or stature. Most of us think immediately of ramps and grab bars when we think of accessible housing, but universal design goes far beyond that while remaining largely invisible to the casual observer. In fact, applying universal design concepts such as wider doors and hallways makes a house feel more spacious. Here are some steps you can take to make your house more user-friendly.

In the Kitchen

  • Use pulls instead of knobs on cabinets and drawers. These are much easier on arthritic hands.
  • Install a contrasting edge-band on countertops. This makes it easier for someone with failing eyesight to see the edge of the countertop. Anyone navigating a dimly lit kitchen for a middle-of-the-night snack will also appreciate this touch.
  • Install varied-height cabinets and countertops. This is particularly appreciated in multi-cook families where, say, a very tall parent and a child may be working together to prepare a meal. Countertop heights can also be varied to accommodate particular tasks. For example, bakers value lower countertops for rolling out pastry and kneading dough.
  • Consider flexible appliances. Items such as under-the-counter refrigerator drawers make a kitchen more accessible for someone in a wheelchair. They are still pretty expensive, but the price is certain to drop over time. Elevating the dishwasher accommodates people in wheelchairs as well as people who may not be able to bend easily. You can even get a sink that raises or lowers at the touch of a button.
  • To accommodate a cook who uses a wheelchair, leave open space under the sink, cooktop, and prep counter, opt for higher toekicks on the base cabinets, install pull-down shelves in the upper cabinets, and choose a range with controls at the front or to the side of the cooktop (choose a model with a safety lock-out option if there are also young children in the house).


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