Product group manager at Häfele UK, Jo Cole, explains why there’s never been a greater need for kitchen designers, retailers, and installers to consider accessible and inclusive design.
Day-to-day, many of us don’t give much thought to how we use our homes. But for millions of people with a disability, every day is a challenge when it comes to using their homes as safely, comfortably, and independently as possible. It’s a problem the government sets out to address in its new National Disability Strategy, which includes steps to create more accessible, adapted, and safer homes. Although this is a welcome improvement, there’s more we can – and must – do to make sure designing and developing homes for accessible living becomes common practice rather than an afterthought.
A growing need
According to government figures, more than one in five people in the UK are disabled, but currently many live in homes not suitable for their needs. A recent UK Disability survey reported 47% of people with a disability have at least ‘some difficulty’ getting in and out of where they live, and further research from housing association Habinteg estimates over 400,000 wheelchair users are living in homes that are not adapted nor accessible.
On top of that, people are generally living for longer, with scientists predicting that humans may live to the age of 130 this century. As outlined in the government’s recent Future of an Aging Population report, this is likely to lead to an increase of ill-health and disabilities, including chronic conditions and cognitive impairments.
It’s therefore not only important that action is taken now to make homes more accessible and inclusive, but we can see the need for accessible living is only going to grow in the very near future.
What can we do?
The National Disability Strategy sets out immediate steps to resolve some of the challenges, including raising accessibility standards for new homes to boost the supply of housing for disabled people, as well as accelerating the adaptation of existing homes by improving the 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.
But this is only the start. Yes, homes need to be more accessible, but it’s vital we think about how rooms themselves are designed and function too. Kitchens, in particular, require careful consideration.
Thankfully there are many innovations on the market that combine function and style when it comes to accessible living. But how many of these are thought about upfront rather than as a retrofit option? It’s vital that designers and studios work with manufacturers to understand what solutions are available so they can be considered as an essential part in all kitchen designs.
Design advice for accessible living
Firstly, it’s important to think about the kitchen layout. For example, a wheelchair user might require a turning circle, and a one-sided or L-shaped kitchen might be the most appropriate layout to give enough space to move around. Alternatively, a two-sided kitchen may be more user-friendly for people with mobility impairments as they can lean on the worktops.
Secondly, fixtures and fittings that are safe and easy to use for people with different disabilities are crucial. Corner wirework solutions help people access everything in the cupboard without reaching in. Another option, electric height adjustable shelves, are manufactured in the same way as traditional cabinetry but attached to an electronic framework that is controlled by a switch to drop the cabinet vertically.
There are also linear-style induction hobs that allow users to place pans in a row rather than in a group formation. Boiling water taps may be a more suitable option for some as they don’t have to lift heavy kettles.
Movable furniture could be a good option too. For example, trolley-style work surfaces can help people who may otherwise struggle to move heavy or hot products around the kitchen safely.
Accessories such as handles, and levers can also dramatically improve the functionality of a kitchen. In some instances, J-pull doors that can open cupboards and drawers from a variety of angles may be easier to use. Even considering how handles operate can make a big difference – for example, some people may struggle to grip and turn circular handles.
With 14 million people with disabilities in the UK, it’s vital that everyone from manufacturers and designers through to retailers and installers consider how to make homes accessible and inclusive. Thanks to the latest innovations and continual research and development, the industry can make accessible living a key focus and not an afterthought to help millions of people now and for generations to come.