Cabinets can be used by all household members when the cabinets are thoughtfully designed and installed. Yet, research suggest that cabinet storage is inaccessible to many people with disabilities, particularly those who use adaptive equipment for mobility. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most frequent locations for cabinets, and a majority of people who use a wheelchair report difficulties with kitchen and bathroom activities. Inaccessible cabinets can interfere with Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, the activities necessary to maintain a home. For example, the University of California's Disability Statistics Center reports that a majority of people who use wheelchairs (56.3%) experience a limitation in meal preparation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) resulted in the development of specifications for the design of commercial buildings, including reach and mounting criteria for cabinets. These specifications are found in the Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). The ADAAG is not mandatory for private homes, but it provides valuable guidelines that can be helpfully applied when designing and installing your cabinets.
Decisions about re-placing or re-finishing cabinets cabinets should focus on the structural integrity of the cabinet. New finishes shouldn't cover damaged wood. Once the decision is made, cabinets should placed so that they can be used by all members of the household. The second shelf of a standard wall cabinet can be reached by most people who use wheelchairs when a cabinet is lowered from a standard 18" to 15".
When choosing cabinets, consider the counter-tops on which cabinet items are placed. Accessible counter-tops are no higher than 34" from the floor, with open space for the legs of a person who uses a wheelchair. Of course, a room's doors and floors must wide enough to comfortably accommodate wheelchair use. Other considerations in choosing cabinets include:
- drawers with full-extension glides;shelves, baskets and cutting boards that pull-out or roll- out
- focused, low-glare lighting in cabinet and counter-top areas for people with low vision
- hardware that can be easily pulled for people with impairment of their hand function
- appliances, switches, thermostats, and electrical outlets that are positioned at an accessible height
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