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  • Writer's pictureTiffany Dill

Accessible Kitchen Appliances: the microwave

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Are you having a microwave debate or simply overwhelmed with microwave options like wattages, drawer vs door, on top or below countertop, etc? Perhaps, we can help you breakdown the decision-making process, especially when factoring in accessibility.

As a universal and accessible design consultant, I strive to reduce the stress load on my clients and do a lot of digging about products. I also factor in trends, personal experience, and client feedback. BUT, it really all comes down to one thing: Your preference. But even your preference can get complicated when you consider your current and future functional performance. Therefore, my job is to provide a few “best fit” options and let the client do the final picking.

Whether you care about the “ADA Compliant” stamp or not, let’s dive into what that means for microwaves. Keep in mind, this label doesn’t mean it’s the MOST accessible microwave. What it means is that it meets ADA regulations and you may also see the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) or UFAS (Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards) compliant labels, as well, which means the product meets minimal requirements or recommendations for those with physical disabilities. However, none of those labels mean it’s necessarily “universally accessible” or accessible by MOST people regardless of their functional abilities.

These government standards apply to design of spaces and products in public spaces and therefore, to meet code, public buildings have to adhere to “ADA compliant” regulations. Some states offer a tax deduction for integrating ADA design and products in your home or small business, so you might want to check with your accountant. So, keep in mind that these minimum requirements do not apply to residential homes. It is okay to think outside the box and design beyond ADA.

What is an ADA microwave?

It really depends on the placement of the microwave. For instance, over-the-stovetop microwaves are fading out. The benefit is the fan but the disadvantages are enough to pass on this placement. GE offers a fantastic guide on ADA Compliant Appliances in general and even directs you to a list of their products that meet these regulations.

General ADA regulations:

  • Reach is within 48” to the top and minimum at 15” from the floor

  • Bottom of microwave cut-out should be no less than 15” and no more than 37” from the floor

  • All controls must be operable with one hand and are within arm’s reach (15-48 inches above the floor)

  • Require less than 5% force to activate or open

  • Be operable with one hand and not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist

Tips for finding the ONE:

  • Know the product. Check out consumer reviews especially on maintenance, the quality and longevity and warranty. All microwave drawers function through the Sharp brand meaning they are the only one with the patent for the drawer function.

  • Know your reach high and low especially when determining placement of microwave.

  • Rate the importance of features. Such as a convection oven option and a turntable which are not available in the pull out or drawer microwaves.

  • Above countertop vs under countertop. Factor in which height is more universal for you and any other household members, what height increases safety (which way is easier to remove hot plates / bowls), and think about how often you use your microwave to determine on top or below.

  • Factor in the clearance with door opened. ADA guidelines would recommend 30” of clearance in front of door OPENED but since that is minimal and if you have space, why not have more clearance space in front.

  • Access points. A drawer microwave offers 3 access points (side reach on right or left and forward reach).

  • Door vs. Drawer. All drawer microwaves are patent and made by the company called Sharp, meaning no matter the brand you purchase, it’s all manufactured by Sharp. If opting for door option, perhaps consider placing it on top of the countertop or at custom height inside of a pantry cabinet. See below of advantages and disadvantages on microwave drawers:

The advantages of a drawer microwave under countertop:

  • Promotes good ergonomics. Easy reach with less bending and access over top (think when stirring food between cooking times), however, it does require bending over to look inside the drawer window while cooking something like oatmeal

  • Three access points or three sides to access from a wheelchair. Side and front approach

  • Minimalistic. Fits in small spaces and adds more countertop space

  • Reduces risk of spillage and burns. Especially with access over top

  • Safety lock.

The disadvantages of drawer microwave under countertop:

  • Takes more time to open/close drawers than swing doors

  • Watch out for little fingers when in use!

  • Limited on certain features. Turntables and convection not offered on drawer microwaves yet

  • Requires bending and awkward reaching, to clean inside of drawer microwave

Happy shopping!

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