Access all areas: Making kitchens accessible

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By Jo Cole, Product Group Manager, Häfele UK

With an ageing population and recent guidelines introduced from the Government to make homes safe and comfortable for everyone, there’s a greater focus in the construction industry on accessible living. Thankfully there are products to help make homes more accessible, particularly in rooms such as the kitchen, which need to be practical, safe, and stylish. So what do installers need to know about the growing demand for accessible homes and what solutions could they consider?

A focus on accessible living

Accessible living refers to when homes are designed or modified to help people with disabilities live as independently as possibly. As well as considering the architectural design, accessibility can be achieved through installing specific types of furniture and technology.

Rather than considering accessible living as an afterthought, for example by retrofitting features and fittings as and when they’re required, arguably it makes sense to consider it during the early stages of a home’s design. And it’s something that the Government is putting a greater focus on following the introduction of the National Disability Strategy, which outlines plans to improve the day-to-day lives of disabled people.

The suggested measures include boosting the supply of housing for disabled people by raising accessibility standards for new homes, as well as accelerating the adaptation of existing homes by improving the efficiency of local authority delivery of the Disabled Facilities Grant. This £573 million pot can be used for improvements such as widening doors, installing ramps, and introducing heating or lighting controls that are easier to use.

UK Disability data shows that more than one in five people are disabled, with 47 per cent of people with a disability saying they have at least ‘some difficulty’ getting in and out of where they live. Additional research from Habinteg suggests over 400,000 wheelchair users are living in homes that are not adapted nor accessible. While there is a clear need now for accessible homes, this is likely to grow over the coming years due to an aging population.

The Government’s Future of an Ageing Population report shows nearly one in seven people will be aged over 75 by 2040. By 2037, it’s expected there will be 1.42 million more households headed by someone aged 85 or over– an increase of 161 per cent over 25 years. As the population gets older, we can expect an increase in chronic conditions, illnesses, disabilities, and cognitive impairments.

Design and installation considerations for accessible living

The initial steps in the National Disability Strategy are important, but upgrading the accessibility of homes is only one factor; as an industry we need to make sure that rooms are designed and fitted out in such a way that enables everyone to use them as comfortably, safely and independently as possible. Kitchens in particular need to have health and safety as a number one priority and whether you’re working on a new build or a refurbishment project, there are several considerations.

Layout: Some layouts are more effective than others when it comes to accessible living. One-sided kitchens enable people to work next to each other, providing space for assistance, while two-sided kitchens can help those with mobile impairments as they can lean on the worktops. For wheelchair users, they need to have space to turn, so an L-shaped kitchen might be more appropriate.

Mechanisms: Rather than static units, you can choose alternatives such as height adjustable wall cabinets, which help people to reach items that are stored higher up. There are also motor and control boxes on the market, which you can fit to the frame underneath worktops to change the height electronically.

Moving parts: As well as adjustable units and worktops, you can also create or install movable furniture. For example, multi-functional adjustable table frames can help those who may otherwise struggle to move heavy or hot products around the kitchen safely.

Lighting: Lighting is an effective design feature in any kitchen, but when it comes to accessible living it can be used in a way to help different activities. For example, you could fit LED strip lighting to run along the bottom of units to illuminate pathways along the floor. Or you could fit lighting into the bases of cupboards to aid food preparation and other activities. There are plug and play systems available which don’t require an electrician, are easy to install, and controlled via an app, removing the need to reach up to turn on a switch.

Appliances: Linear style hobs which remove the need for leaning over front rings, or boiling taps which get rid of the need for filling and carrying heavy kettles, can be installed instead of more traditional options to make kitchens more accessible.

Storage: Maximise usable storage with pull out baskets, swing out larders, corner units, carousel sets, and pull-down wire shelves to help people who can’t otherwise reach up or down to access items that are stored away.

Futureproofing housing

With 14 million people living with disabilities in the UK and people generally living for longer, accessibility needs to be a key focus when it comes to building and renovating homes. Installers can prepare for the growing demand to fit furniture, fittings and fixtures that aid accessible living by finding out more about the latest products available on the market, as well as make sure any training is up-to-date.

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