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Accessible kitchen design

Consider how new innovations and appliances can make your kitchen more usable to everyone.

The side-open Frigidaire oven in black.
This Frigidaire wall oven opens to the side to allow wheelchair access.

I'll freely admit that I rarely--if ever--thought about accessibility issues before I had a son with special needs. Now, it's an issue that's nearly always on my mind. Have you ever noticed how many commercials and TV shows aren't closed captioned? Have you tried to navigate any Web sites using a text-to-speech reader lately? How about something simpler, like unloading a dishwasher in a typical kitchen--when you're in a wheelchair?

Fortunately, I'm not the only one thinking about this. Whether it's to woo an aging population with mobility issues or advocating on behalf of a specific group, companies and consumers are increasingly aware of the need to design appliances that can serve a range of needs and abilities.

For example, a dishwasher drawer, such as those available from Fisher & Paykel and KitchenAid, offers convenient access for those with mobility issues. With one drawer on either side of the sink, you can load and unload the dishwasher without bending down. Its added benefit: energy and water savings when you run a single drawer.

The American Foundation for the Blind regularly evaluates home appliances from an accessibility standpoint for blind and visually impaired consumers. Dynamic Living provides information useful to people with limited mobility, low vision, limited hearing, and other disabilities. Appliance 411 and Action Online have information geared toward consumers with limited mobility, like an article about a Frigidaire wall oven with a door that opens sideways, allowing wheelchair access.

Most of us won't bother to think about accessibility until it becomes personal. But it might be worth exploring these options--or at least being aware of them--before you need them. Because, at least in my house, if it's your turn to unload the dishwasher, we don't want you to have any excuses.