Most kitchens weren't designed with wheelchair users in mind
I’ve lived with a disability for 29 years. I’ve been cooking with a disability for one. I have brittle bone disease that’s left me short of stature and I use a wheelchair to get around. It’s not that I’ve never wanted to learn how to cook. I have fond memories of reading recipes to my mom, helping crack the occasional egg or doing the work no one wanted to do, like whisking things. But as my family and I realized, houses weren’t designed with disability in mind, but rather a one-size-fits-all mentality.
Decades passed with the unspoken awareness that someone would probably cook for me. Last year my mom briefly went into the hospital, leaving me to confront an unfriendly kitchen that kept food just out of my grasp. My mission: conquer it, once and for all.
In the last few months I’ve carved out a small portion of my kitchen for myself, with an island that’s my size, an electric skillet and a cutting board. These fundamentals help get about 90 percent of my cooking accomplished, and yet the process of making something to eat reveals a variety of new problems that most people wouldn’t think of.
Let’s look at Cooking 101: scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs are easy to make, but the process is a bit more complicated with a wheelchair involved. In my house it’s not just turning the skillet on. First, I must gather the eggs. In this case, I’m required to precariously stretch up to the section in my refrigerator that holds the egg carton and pull it down without popping the top open (and that’s not counting if my mom put a stray egg on top of the carton). Once that’s done I gather oil, a spatula, a cup and a fork, all in different drawers and cabinets, leading to a variety of stretching and bending (this counts as exercise, right?).
Once the eggs are actually in the skillet it becomes a process of scrambling them. The way my counter is designed, my wheelchair doesn’t meet it flush, leaving a small gap that forces me to lean forward with a spatula to scramble the eggs. The problem is that getting too close runs the risk of being scorched by the electric skillet, so it’s a bit of a ballet to scramble my eggs to perfection. Once everything is done—and preferably scorch-free—it’s time to take them out.
Now, where most people just pick up the pan and put them on a plate, things get sticky for me. I have to get said plate (another series of long stretches and prayers I don’t drop it) and my trusty spatula. Because I can’t lift the electric spatula, I have to scoop the eggs on to the plate, which becomes incredibly hot because it’s on my lap. With one hand holding the spatula and another the plate, it’s enough to make me wish I had three arms (let alone be able to stand).
Most people will read this with a litany of suggestions for how to better do this, but it would negate my disabled experience. Many people forget how a simple height difference of a few inches can make a counter a mountain. By the time I’m done cooking eggs—and don’t get me started on how clean-up works with a wheelchair, an electric skillet and a tall sink—I’m exhausted, almost too exhausted to eat them. Thankfully my egg skills are good enough that it’s a worthwhile process; I just wish it were simpler.