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  • Writer's pictureTiffany Dill

Accessible Kitchen Appliances: The Refrigerator

What is the most accessible kitchen appliance? The answer is, there is not ONE. Kitchen appliances have certainly come a LONG way and have been tried, tested, and engineered to be more user-friendly, efficient, energy saving, and universally-accessible.

As an accessible and universal design consultant, I’m still digging into the most current best products for my clients, especially when accessing from a wheelchair.

Let’s start with refrigerators.

When doing a search for the most accessible refrigerators, you’ll find the French doors, French door refrigerators with freezer drawer, and the quad French doors (French doors on top for the fridge and bottom for the freezer).

The truth. There is not one that is the MOST universally accessible. It’s truly what is the best fit for you and your space factoring in the function, the reach, and the size. AND, what does it mean when it’s stamped “ADA compliant”? That stamp certainly does not mean it’s the MOST accessible. Here is a simple guide to determine one that is the best fit. If an ADA compliant or energy star rated appliance is selected, check to see if you qualify for tax deductions or rebates.

What is an ADA refrigerator?

It really depends on the style of the refrigerator. For the most part, many people do not go for the top freezer type anymore. GE offers a fantastic guide on ADA Compliant Appliances and even direct you to a list of their products that meet these regulations.

General ADA regulations:

  • At least 50% of the refrigerator is within reach range

  • 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, quality, longevity, and warranty. The last thing you want is to spend more on a refrigerator and discover it has problems after one year (trust me, our freezer door dispenser went out within 2 years, just shy of the 1 year warranty).

  • Know your reach high and low.

  • Rate the importance of features (water / ice dispenser). Keep in mind these take up space inside. Consider the reach of the controls while standing and seated (they are not at standard heights). If you already have a filter on your tap water, maybe a water dispenser is not quite as important. Ice from the freezer drawer may be easier and cleaner to access (often some of the ice from the door dispenser ends up missing the cup and falling on the floor.)

  • Counter vs. Standard depth. Counter depth is more shallow at 24” (inside) with easier reach access and Standard depth is about 30” (inside). Standard depth is larger but sticks out more from the countertop and has a deeper reach. The Counter depth does cost slightly more even though it’s smaller, but many people say that they don’t lose products in the far back as easily. So, smaller may be better for both reaching products and not losing them.

  • Factor in the door open space and access to drawers. Some doors open to full range and some partial range. Consider the space around your appliance. What is on the side of your refrigerator such as a cabinet, wall, or door that could either put a dent in your door or limit how far the door can open? Also consider the space around the refrigerator and make sure ample room allows passing with the doors opened.

Happy shopping!

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