How to Make a Kitchen Accessible for Every Body
If you're making breakfast from a wheelchair like I am, a five-minute process can easily turn into a 20-minute odyssey, especially if you live in an average, unaltered kitchen made for the able-bodied. In the last few months, I’ve worked towards making my kitchen as handicap-accessible as I can without the use of mass renovations. What works for me won’t work for everyone, but until housing is more accommodating to people with disabilities—or the price to convert comes down—these are some simple and effective changes you can make to enjoy cooking in your kitchen.
Short of navigating appliances, the greatest challenge in the kitchen is accessing counter space. Being short, my counters are just high enough that chopping vegetables is a struggle and looking into a pan is near impossible without climbing on things like Tarzan. The easiest way to fix this is to create a workspace using a kitchen island wide enough to hold a portable skillet and some other kitchen accoutrements. Some islands come on wheels which is great for moving it out of the way if your kitchen is small, though could lead to difficulties if actually cooking something on it. Many of these also come with additional places to hold things via low-level trays and shelves. Be sure to check out how much assembly is required before buying. If the island doesn’t work for you, I just decided to retrofit a wide end table which can work just as well. (Assembling the island I bought was a challenge I wasn’t willing to undertake.) The end table means I can keep my skillet and electric tea kettle on it and it also has a cabinet in the bottom where I keep tea and spices.
Electric appliances are my best friend, mainly because there are no open flames involved. The aforementioned portable skillet is a great resource to cook almost anything and are often small enough that they can fit on the smallest of tables. The portable tea kettle is fantastic for boiling water quickly, which helps fulfill my chronic tea addiction. I also recently purchased a portable rice cooker that takes the need away from having to boil rice on a stove. I’m saving up for a tiny mini-fridge, if only to keep milk and other liquids that are usually too high in my family’s refrigerator in an accessible space. All of these devices can round out a kitchen for a disabled cook, giving them access to a wider variety of foods without having to deal with height challenges or worry about personal safety. Depending on the size of your workspace there are a litany of portable appliances out there, from ice makers to slow cookers to expand the things you can cook on your own.
But what about the little things? The mise en place before you actually get cooking? If your workspace has additional storage it’s worth it to include a small knife block as well as a holder for forks and spoons. One of the best things I got for Christmas last year was a cutting board. Where most people use this to cut fruits and vegetables without messing up their counter, I put it in my lap and can actually see what I’m cutting. (The human lap is unwieldy so I recommend putting a washcloth or something under you while cutting.) I recommend going with a sturdy wooden board, as opposed to the plastic or rubber variety, as it provides a sturdier base. Having the food lower than me means I can cut things better, and not end up smushing them.
Cooking is a challenge for anybody, regardless of ability. But for people with disabilities the daunting task of having to navigate a space that wasn’t designed with you in mind only increases the frustration and anxiety. Cooking doesn’t have to be painful, and with a few tweaks and an Amazon account, you can cater your kitchen to exactly what you need.