The Facts on Kitchen Cabinets for Wheelchair-Standard vs Handicap Height

Universal/accessible design of the home from an occupational therapy and a construction perspective. This blog is part of a quest for cool, convenient, functional design that makes life safer, easier, and as maintenance-free as possible. It's about the lifestyle.
Cabinet specifications and heights are important when planning a kitchen.  In order to make the right choice for your kitchen you need to know a few things.  But first instead of calling the cabinets handicap height I think they should be called seated height which is what I they will be referred to in this article.

Standard cabinets-obviously most popular.

  • Base Cabinet: 34 1/2" tall with counter top the cabinet is approximately 36" from finished floor.
  • Base cabinet 24" deep.
  • Base cabinet toe kick 4"- 4 1/2" high and 3 1/4" deep.
  • Upper cabinets are typically hung 54" above the finished floor or 18" above the counter tops.

Seated Height Cabinets.

  • Base cabinet 32 1/2" tall with counter top the cabinet is approximately 34 1/2" from finished floor.
  • Base cabinet 24" deep.
  • Base cabinet toe kick 8 1/2" high and 6" deep.
  • Upper cabinets to be mounted 48" above finished floor or 14" above the lower cabinets. 

       Elevated Toe Kick
The 9-inch by 6-inch. toe kick offers space for wheelchairs and mobility assistive devices and raises base cabinets to a comfortable height. Kraftmaid Passport Series sold at Lowes.

       What is the difference in look?
         Standard cabinets:

                 Standard cabinets

Standard cabinets





          Seated Height Cabinets:

Seated height cabinets

Seated height cabinets

          How close can a wheelchair user get to a standard base cabinet compared to a seated height base cabinet?

A wheelchair can get 5" closer to a seated height cabinet with an elevated toe kick than a standard cabinet when approaching from the front. The taller/deeper toe kick allows for closer front approach without damaging the face of the cabinet.

The extra 5" closer to the base cabinet allows better access to the upper cabinets.

Click here to see pgs 114-116 of ADA standards for obstruction reach for counters.

Opinions on cabinet heights:
  • Washing dishes in a seated position at a standard height sink is sometimes an issue with shorter people because the they have to reach up to the sink which causes the water to run down their arms and get them wet.
  • When designing a cabinet with a kitchen sink for working in a seated position the ideal height is 34" height cabinet (unless the person is tall)A wheelchair accessible kitchen sink basin needs to be 7" or less deep so when a person is washing dishes in standing the bottom of the sink is at the approximate height of a standard kitchen sink in a standard height cabinet.
  • Base cabinets for someone in a wheelchair should have full extension drawers instead of cabinet doors with full extension shelves.  Cabinet doors are an obstacle in a wheelchair.

    In my opinion the best choice when designing a kitchen is to have counter tops with different heights to accommodate working in the kitchen in a seated position or a standing position regardless of your abilities.  It's nice to sit down after a long day.

The counter top heights I like to incorporate into kitchens are:  
  • 34" for working in a seated position.  
  • 36" standard height for working in a standing position.
  • 40"-42" height for bar stool height and standing.
Does anyone else have experience or thoughts with wheelchair accessible cabinets/seated cabinets or utilizing base cabinets while in a wheelchair?

Chicago Home Modification Business Adventure Tour Of the Frank Lloyd Wright Wheelchair Accessible House Day before the AOTA Conference


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Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

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Chris H said...

Great article, Karen. Thanks! Are you aware of universal design cabinets from manufacturers other than KraftMaid? Not all my clients like KraftMaid and custom cabinets are too expensive for many.
I'm doing a kitchen and bath remodel now for a client that was recently injured and is in a wheelchair. Although I designed a kitchen and bath that incorporated KraftMaid cabinets for universal design, the client's spouse refused them and selected standard cabinets. I tried hard to persuade the spouse and I'm disappointed but also eager to see how well my client is able to work with standard cabinets.
AIP Solutions in FL

Karen Koch said...

Thanks Chris,I've used Legacy cabinets and Timberlake. I'll write a post soon and showcase cabinet brands.

Chloe Nedds said...

We are kitchen cabinet distributor, most cabinet lines offer universal design cabinets. I've never had a line that didn't offer universal design. The following lines are the ones we carry that offer universal design:
Legacy Cabinets
Timberlake Cabinets
Marsh Cabinets
Showplace Cabinets
Ultracraft Cabinets
Haas Cabinets
Harlan Cabinets
Wood-Mode Cabinets
One minor correction on your article, the dimension from the front of the base cabinet to the wall is 24". Standard toe kick height ranges from 4 - 4 1/2" in height & depth is usually 3 1/4".

Karen Koch said...

Thank you Chloe for listing the cabinet companies that have universal design cabinets, and for the corrections.:-)

Terra kitchen said...

Thanks for sharing kitchen Cabinet specifications and heights for wheelchair standard and handicap height. It is useful and instructive.