Making your Kitchen Work for you

Let’s face it. Most kitchens are not made for people with disabilities. They have to be custom designed allowing for short stature, wheelchair use, hands free operation, or other requirements. Every disability has its issues with opening doors, using buttons and knobs, reaching for things in cupboards, lighting gas stoves, storing things in the fridge, and lots more. You get it. I wish more people did.

It is costly to outfit an existing home for someone who has special needs. Updating and modernizing can be pretty darn expensive if you can find someone to do it right, that is. You need a designer with specific expertise to meet your goals. They are few and far between. This is a new calling for an enterprising soul.

So how do you make your kitchen work for you without spending a bundle? Sinks, fixtures, appliances, cabinets—they are all standard. How do you adapt to a non-standard need? This is a big question that I can’t really answer. I can just point out a few deficiencies that need addressing. For one thing, height. If a person is in a wheelchair, not only do they need sufficient space to maneuver, but they need to gain access to cookware, dishes, pantry items, and the like. It has to be reachable. No stepladders will do.

The appliances also have to be the right size. Fortunately, there are apartment size units that are smaller in scale and often a little lower. What aren’t available are different types of countertop gadgets like food processors, blenders, mixers, etc. For these, it’s important to read pressure cooker reviews or vacuum sealer reviews or whatever gadget it is that you’re looking at, to make sure it’ll be easy enough for you to operate. If you can’t reach the countertop, then you are out of luck. My suggestion is to have a custom-built island to house daily equipment, some on racks underneath. If that doesn’t work, you can buy a small butcher block table and cut down the legs. Once things are within reach, everything falls into place.

As for the sink, a pullout faucet is a must with no touch handles if possible. What is yet to solve is how to turn on the garbage disposal and load it. An electrical remote system must exist in someone’s mind to help out those with disabilities. This is a must for any and everything possible.

Yes, already I can see that you can make some of your kitchen work for you barring lowering cabinets or just using the ground level ones. You can easily load a dishwasher and do laundry this way. Forget stacking the washer and dryer. It is all about repositioning and relocating what you use the most. If you really can’t handle the existing setup, have someone help get out what you need for the next day and put it on your central table. This could be the butcher block, island, or your dining table. Then you can work as you wish and have someone put it all away later.

You sometimes have to get used to having help and not doing it all alone when it comes to the kitchen. Food prep is complicated and needs lots of stuff. You can no doubt open drawers with peelers, graters, spoons, knives, etc. in them. But for the big stuff, you either have to reach, lean over, or call a friend or spouse.

The Disability Dilemma: Tragedy or Pride


The disability community these days places a great deal of emphasis on being proud and not letting your disability get in the way of leading a great life, and I completely agree with that. One of the tough things about explaining your condition to an able-bodied person is the simple fact that a lot of them basically view you as a cautionary tale. That’s not a life that anyone wants to lead.

However, I think that there’s also a lot of pressure in the disability community to pretend that nothing bothers you and you would never have it any other way. Not only do you love your life as a disabled person, but you would never want to be able-bodied again. Any challenges you have, according to them, are the product of an able-bodied society that is prejudiced against disabled people and nothing more.

I agree that ableism is a problem for all disabled people, and even for able-bodied people. Ableist slurs are used against them, too, and they live in fear of becoming like us because of the way that our culture views the disabled. However, ableism could be eliminated tomorrow and it still wouldn’t erase all of the problems that disabled people will face over the course of our lives, so it can’t be the only thing that the disabled community talks about.

Not to mention, the idea that some disabilities are not inherently unpleasant is just wrong. People with severe mental illnesses have to live with their own depression and anxiety every day, which is going to hurt no matter how people react to it. I’m sure my cultural perception of people made losing a leg worse, since our culture rarely acknowledges the existence of the disabled. However, when I get phantom pains for my leg or when it’s frustrating that my prosthesis is not capable of sensation, that isn’t purely the result of an ableist society.

I felt pressure from the disability community to ‘just get over’ the loss of my leg when I was a teenager. I also felt the same pressure from the people who are not members of the disability community and who just don’t want to have to think about something similar happening to them, so they demand that you shut up about it one way or another. There are plenty of people in this culture who cannot handle negativity of any kind, even if it is justified. They seem to think that if they’re positive all the time, then nothing bad will ever happen to them. Really, it just means that they will be less equipped to cope with the bad things that can and will happen to them at the worst of times.

I should never be told to get over it by anyone, and neither should anyone else. The disability community definitely should never say anything of the sort. Some people develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the loss of a limb. I was fortunate enough to avoid that problem, although coping with the loss of a leg was really difficult at first. However, the disability community may ironically end up being ableist if they try to pressure other members to ‘just get over’ their disabilities, since the anxiety itself may be just another disability and another cross for them to bear.

I love my life. Losing a leg didn’t somehow make my life too difficult to bear, and a legless body can still be a healthy body. However, of course I wish that the accident never happened to me and I didn’t have to spend all of those years adjusting to life as an amputee. I wonder what would have happened when I was in my late teens and twenties if the accident hadn’t happened, and that is a version of my life that I will never get back and can never get back. It is okay to mourn the loss of the life that your disability stole from you. It is also okay to learn to love the new life that you have now, rather than holding out hope for a treatment that will never come. Getting to that point is a journey, and it is your journey to take. Don’t let people of any political persuasion rush you.