Ask the Contractor: Darren R. Williams

This is an excellent time of year to renew or remodel your kitchen. The goal of designing a kitchen is to make it assessable and user friendly for the abled and disabled. As we have discussed in earlier articles, we like to make our improvements using Universal Design concepts so the changes look as though they are original.

It is estimated that more than 30 million Americans face the challenge of using a wheelchair or walker, and this figure will continue to grow daily for years to come. We are choosing to live self sufficiently and to age gracefully at home. How can we adapt our kitchens to accommodate our needs now and into the future?

The kitchen is where we spend a great deal of our time. Let’s first discuss countertops and differences between standard and basic ADA guidelines (Americans with Disabilities Act). Kitchen countertops are generally 36 inches high. The recommended height for someone in a wheelchair is 32 inches but can be varied between 28 and 34 inches. Countertops are standard at 24 inches deep, although someone in a wheelchair uses only 15 to 18 inches of the countertop depending on his or her reach.

A common idea is to vary the heights of your counter tops so it makes working in the kitchen comfortable for all. A wheelchair area under the countertop should be at least 30 inches in width and 24 inches in height; this generally allows for comfortable conditions for the legs.

With base cabinets, there are a lot of options to consider. What areas of the counter shall be kept open to get my wheelchair under for food preparation and eating? Shall I install a cooktop and sink (with single handle faucet) that I can maneuver my legs under? Shall I install the oven lower?

Using full-extension glides on your drawers and shelves also is important as they allow you to reach the back of cabinet. Make sure to use an easy to grab cabinet hardware. Install 180-degree hinges on your doors; this will allow you full access to your cabinet. Electrical switches on the face of the cabinet are convenient, and outlets should be placed no lower than 15 inches from the floor. Refrigerator placement, dishwasher height and access, island eating bar height and size and type of flooring are just a few of the many questions you must consider.

Wall cabinets' standard distance from the countertop is 18 inches. With an accessible kitchen, 15 inches is the standard distance. Pull-out shelves work great, adding sides to your shelves can keep certain items from slipping off. Pull-down shelves work well as the shelves drop down to the counter. Stowaway spice racks keep spices organized. Under-counter lighting is also very functional and provides safety.

As you consider your options, remember that many kitchens do not always need a complete remodel as we can cut out bases, drop down uppers and construct custom-fit cabinets to modify your existing kitchen to fit your needs. So make those changes now — and make your house your home for your lifetime.

Check us out on our website at and follow us on Facebook, Call 1-888-656-9960 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Darren R. Williams is owner of All Generations, a general contracting business based in Clackamas and serving the tri-county area. Williams is a certified aging in place specialist (CAPS) and welcomes questions from homeowners about making their dwellings more accessible as they age.

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