A kitchen adaptation can be one of the most expensive areas within your home. When planning any changes to the kitchen area, it is worth thinking about the following:
There are a variety of conditions that can impact on your ability to use the kitchen. Consider the following:
The risks of injury are far greater for those with physical, visual and cognitive impairments but it is important to balance the risk of injury against the rights of the person to make their own choices and decisions about what they chose to do and how they their operate in their home. It is important where possible and safe to do so, to support and promote a person's independence and personal choices.
If you need to control or restrict someone’s use of the kitchen because of safety concerns - for example, in the case of young children or for people with additional needs such as autism or dementia who may be less aware of potential risks, more information can be found in DLF's fact sheet Adapting your home: managing cognitive impairment and challenging behaviour.
Before embarking on the costly process of designing a new kitchen, it may be worth considering what small changes you can make to improve access and usage. For example:
Difficulty lifting kettles and saucepans
A smaller kettle can be easier to lift. A kettle tipper holds the kettle or teapot and provides support when tilting and pouring out the contents. Alternatively a hot water drink dispenser removes the need to lift a kettle or carry hot water. Consider replacing heavy pots and pans with lighter weight versions. Using a cooking basket for vegetables enables you to lift the basket out of the pan, rather than having to lift the whole pan.
Cupboards that are out of reach
If you have limited standing balance or need to rest frequently, a perching stool can be of benefit.
Food preparation using one hand
There are a number of devices that you can use to make it easier to prepare food with one hand. For example:
There are also many kitchen aids available to help with a variety of difficulties from food preparation to eating and drinking.
An Occupational Therapist or your local Social Services maybe able to trial aids and gadgets with you to make life easier. Alternatively you can get advice privately from an Occupational Therapist who can assess your difficulties and recommended aids and possible changes you could make at home.
The design of a new kitchen will vary enormously, depending on the size and layout of the existing kitchen and the needs of the users and their difficulties. It is advisable to consult an Occupational Therapist so that they can carry out a full functional assessment to ensure that the kitchen is designed to meet your specific needs and priorities.
A key design principle is to consider whether you can create a ‘working triangle’ The general advice is that kitchen layouts should be planned so that the oven, hob and sink unit are in a continuous uninterrupted run of units. The run of units may be straight, L-shaped or U-shaped. This working triangle approach is recommended to create a flow between the appliances, minimising the amount of movement required in between the food preparation, cooking and cleaning/washing up tasks, thus conserving energy and time for everyone who uses it. If the distance between these main work areas is too small, people may feel cramped or if the distance is too large, more energy will be consumed walking, wheeling, lifting, carrying and cleaning etc.
If possible, it is recommended to always design for your worst possible day or the worst possible future in order to try to ‘future proof’ the environment.
Space requirements may vary according to whether you need to use a wheelchair. Detailed guidance on minimum dimensions are laid out in the Approved Document M (4) Category 3b Wheelchair Accessible and additional best practice guidance can be found in The Wheelchair Housing Design Guide.
Kitchens should have a minimum clear width of 1200mm between kitchen unit and appliance fronts and any fixed obstruction opposite (such as other kitchen fittings or walls). Wheelchair users require an uninterrupted floor space for the wheelchair turning circle of 1500mm. However this may vary depending on the wheelchair size. A person walking, but with mobility issues, may prefer a more compact space.
Carousels, pull out drawers and work surfaces, wheeled work surfaces and pull-down baskets can all be useful, depending on a person's strength and movement limitations.
The depth of the work surface should be 600mm. To enable an easy reach of any wall hung cupboards, units should be positioned a maximum of 300mm above the counter top.
Sinks and taps
In a family kitchen height adjustable sink units with flexible plumbing will provide more options for ease of use for people of different heights and abilities. A sink with a shallow
insulated bowl that provides knee space underneath can allow wheelchair users to reach it more easily.
Most lever taps only require a quarter turn to turn the tap fully on and off and can be beneficial for people with limited dexterity of grip strength. Taps with hose attachments or high loop swivel taps can make it easier to fill a kettle for example. Taps that are easier to recognise and operate and have clear hot and cold water indicators can be considered for people with dementia who may find modern lever taps confusing. The water pipes supply could also have a thermostatic control installed to reduce the risk of scalding.
Large D handles on cupboards and drawers which are easy to grip or place fingers through may be beneficial for those with difficulty gripping. Recessed/profiled drawers and cupboards with light touch opening can be easier to open and remove protrusions that may be an issue for people who bruise easily
Careful consideration should be made when purchasing any new appliances.
Further advice on choosing appliances can be found on RiDC's website.
Cookers and hobs
Further reading: Choosing cookers, ovens, hobs and microwaves by RiDC.
Operating switches and controls
Sockets and electrical points should be 100mm–150mm above the work surface and at the side of the wall where possible so they are easy to access. Rocker switches may be helpful for those with difficulty gripping and/or pushing small objects. A double socket with the switches placed on the outside, rather than centrally, can help make it easier to use.
Slip resistant flooring is recommended, so as to minimise the risk of falls. Guidance is available from the Health and Safety Executive. If the kitchen dining area is open plan, avoid a stark difference in colour or tone between the kitchen and dining areas. A dark floor next to a light floor for example can be perceived as a hole or a step for some people with dementia.
Windows should be within easy reach. Fitting window openers can help with opening and closing windows. These can be manually or electronically operated.
The key in designing a kitchen for multiple users is simplicity and flexibility; it will largely be dependent on the abilities each user has and will require careful assessment and consideration to ensure one design element does not negatively impact on another.
Fixed worktop heights should be at 760mm for a wheelchair user, 900mm for a walking (ambulant) user or 850mm for use by both. For wheelchair users a continuous worktop that incorporates a hob and sink with minimum clearance of 700mm below the worktop for knee space is required for easier access. There should be a toe recess 250mm by 150mm at the bottom of the base units to enable a person to sit as close to the work surface as possible
Height adjustable units, or rise and fall units, can be operated automatically or manually by either a switch or a winder. The units can be raised and lowered to the desired height of the person using it at the time, thus helping to ensure strain is not put on the user's back by having to prepare food on a low work surface or prevent them from using the unit altogether
The depth of the work surface should be a minimum 600mm - this allows for comfortable reach. However if reach is not an issue, a deeper worktop can accommodate worktop level storage. The work surface should be continuous at the same height to enable items to be pushed or pulled along the counter to reduce the need to lift and carry. If space is limited to provide worktops with knee space, a pull-out worktop may be an option.
If the kitchen and dining area is open plan, consider whether there is an option to extend the worktop, or position it as close as possible to the dining area, to avoid the need to lift or carry meals or hot drinks.
Good visual contrasts between work surfaces, appliances and electrical sockets will help those with visual and memory problems.
Any exposed hot water pipes should be insulated to protect from burning, especially if the person is sitting with their knees under the counter.
This is a broad title for very varied and complex impairments; we do not cover all the different types of cognitive issues here (which can include someone who has special learning needs, dementia, a brain injury, conditions relating to general aging, a neurological illness or a congenital disorder). These examples can all cause difficulties - for example with sequencing (the ability to arrange language, thoughts, information and actions in an effective order) not being able to understand danger, or being unable to recognise everyday objects.
If you are refurbishing a kitchen for a person with cognitive problems, such as dementia, then a simple uncluttered design layout that resembles what the person is familiar with is recommended (Government of South Australia, 2008). Also a good visual contrast between adjacent surfaces, e.g. walls and worktops and fittings, e.g. electrical switches and sockets, will help by drawing attention to essential features. (BS 9266:2013 Design of accessible and adaptable general needs housing – Code of Practice).
In some situations it may be necessary to prevent access to all potentially dangerous areas, such as the hob or oven, to reduce the risk of burns or scalds. In these circumstances you may need to contact your energy supplier to request turning off or capping gas supplies.
Reducing risk and enabling independence
There are some simple changes you can make to reduce potential risks whilst at the same time enabling people to continue to be independent with simple tasks in the kitchen. These include:
There are many different and varying types of visual impairment and vision loss. Some key design ideas are covered here.
Your local social services department may be able to offer you a sensory services assessment in which they can offer you advice and aids to help in the kitchen. If you need to make changes to your kitchen due to your eyesight, there may also be other vision related services or equipment that would be of benefit to you.
Sometimes it is essential to reassess the wheelchair style and fittings, for example the type of footplates, or type of control of a powered wheelchair in conjunction with the kitchen design. In some cases if there are particular space constraints for example, and it is an affordable option, a height adjustable wheelchair may be a way to make it easier to access storage.
It is advisable to consult an occupational therapist who specialises in wheelchairs before considering making a purchase yourself. Alternatively, your GP, physiotherapist or hospital staff can refer you to your local wheelchair service for an assessment. The type of wheelchair that might be provided for you by the NHS will depend on an assessment of your specific individual needs.
Cupboards and units
Sinks and taps
Cooker and hob
There are two approaches to kitchen adaptations and these will depend on the child’s needs.
If you are paying privately it may be one of the largest investments you will make in your home, so its important that the final result suits both your needs and tastes. In some situations you may be able to receive assistance with modifications. You may wish to approach your local social services Occupational Therapy Team via your local council in the first instance to see if you can obtain an OT assessment. However please be advised that waiting lists and eligibility vary greatly from area to area.
If you are self funding, you may wish to seek advice from a specialist housing OT who can work with you to design the best possible kitchen to meet your individual needs.
There are a few options available for funding of equipment and minor adaptations; this can vary across the UK. We provide an overview of the options available here, but it is worthwhile checking what arrangements are in place locally.
In England, if you are assessed as requiring preventative intervention, equipment under £1000 would be free of charge to you (Department of Health 2014, section 2.9). In Scotland, Local Authorities make their own arrangements for provision of minor adaptations and details can be accessed via your Council website. If the equipment or adaptation costs more that £1000, you may have to apply for a Disabled Facility Grant (Mandelstam 2016).
The Money Advice Service has some useful information about funding for adaptations.
It is recommended that you seek advice from an occupational therapist before considering which equipment is suitable to you. You may be entitled to an assessment by a Local Authority Social Services Occupational Therapist. Alternatively a list of independent Occupational Therapists can be found on The Royal College of Occupational Therapists' website.
If you need advice before you buy, contact your local equipment demonstration centre where you would have the opportunity to try out a range of equipment. There are several of these around the country where you can go for impartial advice. Your local authority will also be able to supply information about where your nearest centre is located. Also Disabled Living Centres and some retailers have showrooms which have areas set up so you can try out items of equipment to see if they will suit you before you commit to making a purchase.
If you are unsure if you can afford the equipment or any of the associated costs, requesting an assessment or advice from an Occupational Therapist or local well-being service (local areas may have different titles for support services) will help with decision-making. It may be that another way of accessing equipment is more suitable for you.
Also consider if you can afford a service contract for more complex items of equipment. These may seem expensive at first but in the long run call out costs or replacements may prove to be costly. Some items such as hoists and slings need to be ‘LOLER’ (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations, 1998) checked. This is because they are used to move people mechanically and these checks are a legal requirement every six months. Others with moving parts or electrics will have a service schedule recommended by the manufacturer which is included in the instruction manual.
Before purchasing, look for a sales company that belongs to a trade association, such as the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA). BHTA members have signed up to a code of practice governing standards of customer service (further details are given in the Useful organisations and resources section).
Some suppliers will fit equipment, but some is sold ‘supply only’. Finding a tradesman to fit items may not be easy. There may be a local arrangement for fitting small items such as a care and repair service or Home Improvement Agency or there may be a list of ‘trusted traders’ provided. Websites such as Checkatrade provide feedback from previous customers which can help you find a reputable service provider and Trading Standards may be able to advise if there are concerns over a company you are considering using.
Equipment which is specifically designed for those with disabilities may be purchased ‘VAT free’. N.B - this is not claimed back via the personal tax system / HMRC, but during your purchase. If you have purchased something which should have been VAT free, it is not possible to claim this back from the supplier or HMRC.
Equipment suppliers may have the VAT exemption form on their website or you can download a general form from the GOV.UK website. You will need to fill in a form for each supplier you use, but you will only need to do this for the first purchase with them.
A local authority Disabled Facilities Grant, often referred to as a DFG, may be available for essential home adaptations for you as a disabled person, if they are deemed ‘necessary to meet your needs’ and the work is ‘reasonable and practical’. This can include extensions and structural work to accommodate fixed hoists, stairlifts, downstairs bathrooms, shower units etc. If this type of adaptation is needed, a local occupational therapist will come to assess your needs and then contact the relevant council departments. The occupational therapist’s recommendations are taken as evidence that the work proposed is appropriate and meets all the requirements for funding.
Disability Rights UK have some very comprehensive online information about DFGs and other housing grants.
DFGs operate across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Conditions for DFGs will vary according to the country in which you live. For details of schemes in Scotland see Disability Information Scotland and Scottish Government (2009) Help with adaptations to your home: A guide for disabled people in private housing in Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
Please note that you may not receive any grant if you start work on your property before the council approves your application.
If you do not have the funds to buy equipment it may be possible to request support from a charity. They will usually have criteria which they will apply, and most will not consider equipment which should be provided by the NHS or Social Services.
Some charities will only consider requests which are supported by an involved professional, usually an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or a nurse. This may require them to be present during the assessment for an item of equipment. This is to ensure that the equipment is appropriate and will not have an impact on planned treatment or rehabilitation programmes.
Equipment is not always purchased outright and gifted to you. Some items are provided on loan, either for a specified length of time, or to be returned when no longer needed or appropriate for use.
A number of charity websites that offer funding are listed here:
Following an assessment some local authorities will issue you with prescription for the equipment that you need. This can be taken to a local retailer (usually a pharmacy or independent equipment retailer) and you can collect the equipment and begin to use it immediately. Usually there is the option to have the equipment delivered to your home if you have difficulty accessing your local retailers.
If your need is short term it may be cost effective to hire equipment.
Mobility Hire for example is a national source for mobility and assistive equipment on hire or purchase. They offer short or long term rental solutions to meet most requirements – equipment ranges from wheelchairs to bathroom aids.
If the equipment is required for a holiday it is advisable to look for a supplier near to your destination – they will be able to respond to any issues such as a breakdown / breakage.
NB - equipment from Social Services is provided for use at your home address and should not be used elsewhere as:
However, if you are permanently moving home into the area of another local authority, you can take the equipment with you if you still need to use it and it is the most cost effective solution. You will need to discuss this with the service that issued the equipment to you.
This is available via an NHS employee (Nurse / Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist) or via a Social Services Occupational Therapy Service.
Loans can either be short term to assist after an operation or illness or longer term to promote independence or support care-giving.
Long term loans are usually the responsibility of Social Services (Adult Social Care / Children’s Services) and will be provided following an assessment by an Occupational Therapist. Straightforward items, such as raised toilet seats or bath seats and boards can be provided by an occupational therapy assistant. Arrangements vary across the UK and you may find that local arrangements allow different services to provide equipment on behalf of each other.
Also, equipment may be offered as an alternative to an adaptation. Your occupational therapist will explain why they are making this suggestion.
Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments and Attendance Allowance are benefits available for those who need support with activities of daily living. Which of these can be claimed depends on the age of the person claiming the benefit. Information on claiming these is available from GOV.UK (https://www.gov.uk) and the Citizens Advice Bureau (https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ ); this website has advice specific to each of the home nations and enabling you to check your eligibility if you are not already claiming one of these benefits.
For clear, practical advice and information on products and suppliers of daily living equipment, please have a look at our Living made easy website.
If you would like further advice related to choosing equipment for everyday living you could try relevant sections of AskSARA, our free online guided advice tool. AskSARA will ask you questions about yourself and your environment and then offer relevant advice, product suggestions and supplier details.
You can contact the DLF Helpline, which is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Tel: 0300 999 0004 (calls charged at your standard land line rate even if you are phoning from a mobile).
Alternatively, you may wish to contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To help us give you a concise and informative reply, please provide us with as much detail as possible, including information on the difficulties you are having and any solutions you have considered, such as equipment ideas.
Another source of advice is a disabled or independent living centre where you would have the opportunity to try out a range of equipment. There are several of these around the country where you can go for impartial advice. Your local authority will also be able to give you details of centres in your area.