020: The tale of two kitchens in one!

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020: The tale of two kitchens in one!

Show Notes

The image we are discussing in this episode is one we found on the internet that was either labeled “universal design” or “accessible design,” and it depicts a kitchen.

Picture found on the internet with a traditional kitchen set-up in the background and an accessible kitchen in the foreground.

Also discussed in the episode was an article we wrote on the different practice settings an OT works in within the niche of environmental design, and how healthcare professionals may have different perspectives on projects depending on their focus.


[00:00:31] Hello! Today I’m going to share the results of another image we had our design advisers review. If you haven’t tuned into us before, we are discussing what images pop up on the internet when terms like “universal design” or “accessible” are typed into the search bar for images around the home. We’ve found that many times these pictures aren’t really depicting universal design or miss the mark for accessibility, and it’s very possible that architects, builders, advocates, and consumers will see these pictures, assume the design works for everyone and then run with it.

[00:01:05] We’ve seen time and time again that someone will call something universal design and in reality it doesn’t work for a segment of the population the design was actually intended for. That’s why we feel like it’s necessary to approach design with a variety of voices at the table to make sure we don’t miss anything important.

[00:01:25] So we’ve decided to conduct a little experiment on our own to ask our volunteers whether or not the images actually depict universal design and if the setup would even work for them or their clients from a functional standpoint. For those of you who might not know here at The Universal Design Project, we have a group of volunteers called Design Advisors who have personal experiences with disabilities themselves as a person with a disability, a caregiver or someone who directly works with people with disabilities, like PTs, OTs, and other healthcare professionals. 

[00:02:00] The image I’m going to share the results from today is a picture of a kitchen that has been renovated. I posted it in the show notes of this episode, so if you haven’t taken a peek at it, you should.

[00:02:12] When first looking at this picture, I had to do a double-take myself. It’s actually two kitchens in one. You can tell that the kitchen original to the home is in the background with a standard design of counters at a standard countertop height and low and high storage options. In the foreground, you can see that there has been an addition to the kitchen, maybe an expansion of what was already there, but looks to be usable by someone in a wheelchair, as the countertops are lower and there is no storage under any of the counters, which gives room for someone to roll underneath in a chair to face forward as there is room for their knees to go under the counter like you would see at a table or a desk. 

[00:02:56] We don’t know who this kitchen was designed for and if it worked well for them. It may have fit that person’s needs really well, but if this home were to be resold, or this was a new build, that was to appeal to a variety of consumers, would all buyers feel like they could fall in love with this kitchen? 

[00:03:15] So this begs the question, is this universally designed?  Is it functional for a wide variety of people? 

[00:03:22]We decided to ask our design advisors if this kitchen 1) worked well, 2) could be better, or 3) it won’t work at all. They were asked to pick one of these options and then had a text box to describe why they chose the answer they did.

[00:03:40] We divided the answers into categories to include comments that were positive, negative, those that indicated ideas, and then a category for questions. 

[00:03:50] So here are the results. We had a total of six people respond to our survey. Of those six people, one person thought it worked well, three said it could be better in two people thought it wouldn’t work well .

[00:04:03] Let’s dig into their feedback and I’ll share some thoughts from an occupational therapy perspective as well as someone who has a focus on universal design. 

[00:04:13] So these are the positives

[00:04:15] One person said that it seems as though the window coverings over the sink in the accessible section look automatic and hopefully have a switch within reach for someone seated.

[00:04:26] Several made the comment that it seems inclusive as it does allow people with different functional needs to use the kitchen because there are two different spaces to accommodate their needs. Another person indicated that this could increase the socialization of “togetherness”, and that it would be easy for cooking and preparing meals for holidays or for other occasions because it allows those with impairments to take part.

[00:04:52] Someone felt it was a good cooking space for a group home or an occupational therapy session to help with functional skills, fine motor training and IADLs, which if you’re not sure what IADLs are, those are Instrumental Activities of Daily Living. This could be things like cooking, housework, bill management. these are like higher-level activities. And it could also work for any ages, especially if raising a child with a disability. This would be able to work,  for someone to do one on one tasks with them in the kitchen. 

[00:05:29] Another design advisor also liked that there was a lot of room at the sink for a wheelchair to roll underneath and that the flooring looks easy to maneuver on.

[00:05:38] So from an OT perspective, I do love the possibility of there, maybe being an  automated window covering in the kitchen. Oftentimes it’s difficult for individuals to operate blinds, with decreased hand function and most often the wand for turning the blinds is out of reach. 

[00:05:55] Plus when working in a kitchen, your hands might be dirty or wet and pushing a switch can sometimes be easier than manipulating the blinds themselves. I know that some companies do offer smart blind options as well that could be potentially controlled through a remote, maybe your voice or your phone. 

[00:06:16] As an OT, I know it’s easy to get caught up in the functionality of the area of the home, so I totally agree with what’s being stated above from our design advisors, that the accessible portion of this kitchen does improve the ability for people to participate, which would increase social opportunities as well as increase skills for independence to participate in the cleaning up of a meal or the preparation of a meal.

[00:06:42] These types of features are there to increase independence for certain tasks. I could also see this design of two kitchens in one design working in a group home or a rehab facility to help people practice different tasks in that setting, um, that’s similar to their home, or to give them options for what they could do in their home to make it more functional.

[00:07:05] It would also give them more room, for multiple people to be working on skills in the same place. So if there were multiple OTs with multiple patients. However, we will see in the negative section that even though the kitchen provides some level of functionality, it lacks and other areas of convenience, plus it’s not necessarily universally designed, in that one kitchen design provides opportunities for all people. This setup tries to be inclusive, but has two different kitchen setups to meet the needs fully. 

[00:07:38] So let’s jump into what people didn’t like about the design. 

[00:07:41] One person stated that the accessible kitchen looks functional, but they thought having two different kitchens was absurd. Another said that this design was a poor use of space in their opinion. It only creates separate counter space and second microwave and oven options with a lowered counter space. The rest of the kitchen was not accessible. 

[00:08:05] There was a lot of discussion with the design advisors about having to transport dishes or food from one kitchen to the other kitchen, depending on what you were doing. So for example, the dishwasher and dishwashing came up a lot. So the dishwasher is on the typical side of the kitchen, the standard kitchen, and not easily accessible as you would still have to go out of the accessible kitchen and around the cabinets to get to the other kitchen for the dishwasher.

[00:08:34] Someone else noted that the small kitchen sink on the accessible side is really only useful for food prep and not really washing dishes. So again, they’d have to carry them around to the other side of the kitchen where the dishwasher is. Most items do appear to be stored in the standard kitchen and not located near the accessible kitchen, which would cause a person to have to figure out how to transport things from place to place.

[00:09:03] One person noted that the lighting was poor in the accessible side of the kitchen. Another mentioned that they didn’t see any easily accessible drawers for utensils, although they did notice that the drawers on the accessible side on the left of the counter could be accessible, but this person preferred them to be located under the counter.

[00:09:25] It also looks like there’s a long reach to access some of the drawers and other high cupboards in the standard kitchen, and they noted this would be difficult for anyone.

[00:09:36] And one design advisor noted that it would be difficult getting anything out of the oven on the accessible side, because the door opens toward the counter. So the item would have to be picked up from the counter, transported past the oven door, and then placed in the oven or vice versa.

[00:09:56]So from an OT perspective, I definitely have to agree with the fact that the use of space isn’t ideal, and while the intent was to create a dedicated space for someone who has impairments to be able to prepare food and clean up, all of the pieces of the kitchen aren’t on the accessible side. So there would be a lot of back and forth in the transportation of items between the two kitchens. 

[00:10:21] This can be especially frustrating for people that use a walker or wheelchair for mobility. They may need to push things on a cart or use their lap to carry things, which can be tricky and could pose a fall risk for someone who’s trying to balance their body, but also trying to balance plates and utensils and then potentially try and catch something if, if it slips. 

[00:10:45] In addition, someone with decreased activity tolerance or just wanting to make their meal prep simple would probably get easily frustrated trying to get materials in the right place to do the task easily. 

[00:10:57] I think the big takeaway here is workflow. How would one do all of the tasks of preparing the meal, to cooking it, and then cleaning it up. In OT language we call looking at each of these steps in an activity, an activity analysis.

[00:11:13] And that’s exactly what needs to occur to make sure the elements create ease in completing the task for everyone who could use the kitchen. That’s a big puzzle in itself, to look at every potential person that could use the kitchen. Our organization is working through the details of analyzing these things, and we will definitely chat more about that in future episodes.

[00:11:34] So onto the ideas. 

[00:11:36] One of the design advisors stated that this design could be better if the wheelchair accessible counters were along one wall. So the entire kitchen would be accessible by the person in the wheelchair without having to go around those cabinets. 

[00:11:50] And then we have another person who’s a designer, as well as has clients that are aging, and this person believes that there is more to be done from a universal standpoint to make a single kitchen work for all occupants in a house. For resale, you would have to  redo the kitchen over before showing it. 

[00:12:10] From an OT perspective, I have to agree that trying to incorporate all of the elements that are functional with a flexible  design for those who need different storage heights and work surfaces is really necessary. Especially for the resale of this home. 

[00:12:25]The idea of inclusion to work well here would be for all of the elements to be in one kitchen versus trying to create two spaces that meet some functional needs.

[00:12:35] This is where having the skill set of a designer in the process would help make the kitchen look pretty while being creative to put in some of these functional pieces. Collaboration is definitely necessary here. 

[00:12:48] So onto questions. 

[00:12:49] There were quite a few, many wondered where the refrigerator was as well as the dining room table and stovetop.

[00:12:56] Where’s the trash can? If it’s that little black patch from under the counter to the left, it’s pretty small. 

[00:13:03] Storage was an issue too. People wondered where specific items were going to be stored and how would people reach the cabinets over the window. And the big question was, why do you need to be separated from others in the kitchen?

[00:13:15] Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to these questions as I don’t know the full story behind this picture, but these items are of importance. Having the refrigerator close to the workspace helps in gathering items to prepare and clean up food. If it’s too far away from everything else, it makes cooking more difficult for those who need things to be  within easy reach. An accessible stovetop is also a good feature to incorporate too. 

[00:13:42] It’s interesting to me that some design advisers saw this kitchen area as a place that was inclusive to others and actually brought people together while others saw it as a place that separated people. I think that’s partly our frame of reference and personal experiences for what we deem to be accessible, user friendly, and universally designed.

[00:14:03] Is it accessible because some of these features are present and may work for one client or a segment of users or are we looking at the bigger picture of how all of the features can be combined into one design that is functional and desirable by consumers out there who do have a disability and those that don’t even have a disability?

[00:14:27] I would think that one of the difficult things about universal design as it sometimes gets a bad rap and gets confused by people because they think it’s designing for one specific need and one person. That is not what universal design is, and that’s why we’re doing this series to show what universal design is.

[00:14:47] Plus, if you listen to what our design advisors said, there are elements in this “accessible” kitchen, for what we can see in this picture, that aren’t actually accessible. You have to analyze how someone will actually do the tasks in the kitchen and all of the back and forth between the two kitchens isn’t too convenient overall.

[00:15:07] So in the feedback we received from this design, our design advisors stated that this design could be better or really wouldn’t work at all. And they did really highlight these reasons for why it might not be universal. So we can conclude that it is not truly universal and would most likely not be a good fit for a wide range of people.

[00:15:30]We need to make sure the voices of people who actually experience disability firsthand are being heard throughout the design process. So we don’t have to go back and make renovations or changes to fix something that could have been addressed in the earlier stages of design. This costs time and money.

[00:15:47] So if you’re designing a new home or even renovating one, consider this example. Do you want the design to be two separate places to help make something more functional for one person in the home, or figure out a way to design one space that meets the needs of people with and without disabilities.

[00:16:06] Depending on the type of project you’re working on, collaborating with a healthcare professional and people who have experienced disability is helpful, so you can design the environment as functional as possible. 

[00:16:18] As a side note, I’m going to link an article in the show notes about different perspectives healthcare professionals have on this topic. Home modifications for one individual and their needs is different from something universally designed for use by a wide variety of people. Neither is bad or wrong, but there is a difference and you’ll want to collaborate with a healthcare professional who has the same mindset as you do in the goals for the project.

[00:16:43] Our organization has set out to focus on designing for a wide range of users and doing so in a new design versus having to renovate something that was designed for a variety of users from the beginning. 

[00:16:55] Last but certainly not least, we wanted to give a huge thank you to our design advisors. This wouldn’t be possible without them. We appreciate you allowing us to use your words and feedback to help educate and advocate for universal design and our collaborative process. 

[00:17:12] We hope that you continue joining us for new episodes of our podcast and that you’re actually learning some new things about universal design and the benefits of collaboration. 

[00:17:22] Have a great day!


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