Kitchen Tips for People with Mobility Impairments

Cooking with a physical disability can be challenging and time-consuming if your kitchen is not accessible. However, there are several strategies to make cooking easier.

The Cooking Process

  • Plan ahead. Decide what you want to cook and break it down.
  • Stay organized. Keeping your kitchen organized will save you time and energy. Make sure you know where you keep things. Storage of items at convenient heights and a de-cluttered kitchen will help make work in the kitchen much easier.
  • Work with small quantities, saving bulk cooking for days you have people to help you. Always have easy food on hand for days you don’t feel up to cooking.
  • Go to the refrigerator once to get what you need and make sure you have everything out that you need to cook with before you start to cook.
  • Rearrange, throw out, and organize food so that access is better.
  • Enjoy the process of cooking and learning new recipes. Appreciate the tactile experience and using your senses. Cooking can be therapeutic in and of itself, and the end product doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Rest if you need to. If you get fatigued, take frequent breaks and keep a chair or stool nearby in case you want to sit down.
A dark chair sits just outside the kitchen
Chairs make great spots to rest | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

The Kitchen

  • Have good lighting overhead in your kitchen.
  • Tools, seasonings, and pans can be set up to surround your work area. Leave them out so you don’t have to worry about getting them out of cabinets. Dry goods can go into canisters, vegetables into hanging wire baskets, spices on a spice rack, and pots and pans on a pegboard.
  • Ideally, a kitchen should have a 5×5 foot turning radius for wheelchair access. If there is limited space, the prep work can be done at a table outside the kitchen.
  • If you have the funds, raise the counters if you have a difficult time bending over; lower the cabinets if you can’t reach them. Use carousel trays, which make 360-degree turns to store a lot in one place. Check a hardware store or stores that sell RubberMaid items; their turntables often sell for about $10 online.
  • Cupboards that slide out and have pull-down baskets can be very useful.
  • A one-piece, stove top that allows pots and pans to slide off the stove instead of being lifted will allow easier and safer removal of hot items.
  • When shopping for an oven, look for easy roll-out shelves.
A young man with dark hair and a well-kept beard reaches over his wheelchair's joystick to turn on an electric stove burner
WID employee, Alex Ghenis, turns on the stove in an accessible kitchen | Photo by Elizabeth Layman
  • A side-by-side refrigerator is helpful. The items needed can be stored on the bottom shelves. Also, the narrow doors leave more room if you use a wheelchair.
  • From a wheelchair, it’s easiest to function in a kitchen with lowered cabinets and more knee space. An inexpensive way to have knee space is to remove cabinet doors below the sink and some cupboards. Under the sink, a plumber can move the hot water pipe out of the way of your legs or can insulate the pipe with foam rubber to prevent scalding.
  • A sink installed lower than usual and with no cabinet underneath will make it easier to slide up to use the water there. Longer faucet handles and a pot sprayer on the side of the sink are also helpful. It is easier to wash dishes if the sink is fairly shallow.
  • A faucet that is hands-free or electronic touch can be very helpful.
  • If you use a wheelchair, having linoleum or tile flooring is easier than carpeting because it’s easier to roll over.
  • Smooth surfaces throughout the kitchen also help with the cleaning process.
  • If using an oven or stove is too difficult, a toaster oven or microwave oven are good alternatives.
  • For wheelchair users, small appliances such as microwave ovens, toasters, and blenders should be on a low counter top or low open shelves.
A microwave with its door swung open invitingly
Microwaves cook food fast | Photo by Elizabeth Layman

The Tools (Also, check out more tools on our Accessible Kitchen Tools and Devices list.)

  • Use creativity! Install a wall-mounted can opener at the appropriate height.
  • The Long Arm Grabber that is made by Norpro is very simple and can make a kitchen much more user-friendly. This extended tool has a clamp on one end that works from a handle on the other end. This equipment allows someone who uses a wheelchair to have access to items in higher cabinets. This equipment sells for under $10 in most stores.
  • You can put cylindrical foam on handles of utensils, which makes gripping easier and less stressful on your finger joints.
  • Single-handed cutting boards with spikes hold food in place for people who are only able to use one hand. Catalogs that carry daily living aids sell a wide variety of adaptive cookware. Also, some adaptive cooking utensils are available at larger cooking supply stores.
A woman uses a large knife on a green cutting board to chop a stalk of celery
Find tools that work for you when chopping veggies | Photo by Marsha Saxton
  • Having a small table on wheels as a working surface can be hugely helpful. A rolling utility cart allows you to move a heavy pot of water across the room or bring plates, glasses, and bowls to the table.
  • A tray with a bean bag base that can be held on your lap can also be handy. This tray allows you to steady it on your lap to transport plates, food, and glasses to the dinner table.
  • Hang a mirror above stove burners to help with cooking from a seated position.

If you’re interested in reading more, go to our impressive list of Accessible Kitchen Tools and Devices or click on our resources listed below:

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