Creating Accessible, Equitable Kitchens

The term universal design is sometimes inaccurately used as the politically correct description of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other access codes or guidelines. Universal design is a broader approach that incorporates the needs of all users, not one specific group. Universal design is an ideal whereas code compliance is simply following a dictate.

Understanding the principles of universal design is fundamental to creating kitchens that ensure the end user’s well-being. Universal design is inclusive and equitable, meeting the needs of a variety of people. It is much more than the misconception that it is design limited to medical solutions or access challenges.

Universal design concepts must be applied to kitchen planning so the kitchen will function for, and benefit, all residents and visitors.

Following is the Center for Universal Design’s Seven Principles of Universal Design with applications that apply to kitchens. You might use these principles as a checklist of additional criteria during design.

Equitable use

Design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
  • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Provisions for privacy, security and safety should be equally available to all users.
  • Make the design appealing to all users.

Design applications

  • Rocker light switch.
  • Motion sensor lighting, ventilation or faucets.
  • Side-by-side refrigerator.

Flexibility in use

Design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

  • Provide choice in methods of use.
  • Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
  • Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
  • Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.

Design applications

  • Knee spaces with door and storage options, allowing for seated or standing use.
  • 48-in. work aisles, ensuring either a perpendicular or parallel approach to appliances.
  • Multiple counter heights.
  • Movable (portable) storage.
  • Storage for an optional stool.

Simple, intuitive

Design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.

  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
  • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
  • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
  • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Design applications

  • Operation of single-lever faucet that moves left for hot and right for cold.
  • Use of red to indicate hot and blue to indicate cold.
  • One-step controls on a microwave for preprogrammed recipes.

Perceptible information

Design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

  • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
  • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Design applications

  • Digital temperature control on faucets or ovens that sounds and blinks when limits are reached.
  • Lighting controls that light up in the off position and go dark when on.
  • Smoke detectors with sound and light alarms.
  • Cooking controls that use numbers and pictures to indicate cooking mode/process.

Error tolerance

Design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors. Most-used elements, most-accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated or shielded.
  • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
  • Provide failsafe features.
    • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Design applications

  • GFCI outlets that reduce risk of shock.
  • Temperature limiting faucets that prevent accidental scalding.
  • Timed automatic shut-off on faucets or ventilation.
  • Induction cooktops.

Physical effort

Design can be used efficiently, comfortably and with minimum fatigue.

  • Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
  • Reasonable operating forces used.
  • Minimize repetitive actions.
  • Minimize sustained physical effort.

Design applications

  • Lever handles.
  • Remote window controls.
  • Remote controls for cooktop ventilation.
  • Motion activated appliances and controls.
  • D-pulls on cabinetry.
  • Conveniently located storage and appliances (raised dishwashers, counter height microwaves and ovens).

Size and space

Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.

  • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • Make the reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
  • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
  • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

Design applications

  • Split double ovens at comfort height.
  • Storage accessories installed within the universal reach range (15 to 48 inches above finished floor).
  • Movable (portable) storage.
  • The 30-in. x 48-in. clear floor space in front of all appliances.
  • Knee space at a sink, cooktop, work counters or adjacent to tall appliances.