Universal design is an important concept for all of us who practice human factors and ergonomics. What I value most about universal design is that it does not treat people with limitations as fundamentally different populations, but rather simply at the tail end of a distribution that we all fall somewhere along. It is not the case that non-disabled have 100% of their working memory capacity or vigilance and the cognitively challenged all have the same smaller amount. It is not the case that non-disabled have 100% bicep strength or aerobic capacity and the physically challenged all have the same smaller amount. Some people fall high on the distribution, some medium, some lower. The disabled may fall lower on some distributions, but are just as likely to be higher on other distributions.
Preparing food seems to be the most normal thing on earth. And that is exactly why we don’t bother performing all the tasks while working in the kitchen. But within a closer look we’ll recognize that some of the tasks are more complex. Especially this complexity problems develop especially for elderly and disabled people while performing the tasks. For them preparing their meal often becomes a hurdle and a struggle which they have to deal with every day.
The Chop Chop kitchen designed by Dirk Biotto is a great example. He is a designer rather than a human factors practitioner, but he certainly seems to have the same concept of universal design. PSFK has a great summary from an innovation perspective.
As you can see from the linked photos, the design includes the area around the kitchen sink. There are features that are designed to accommodate the elderly and the disabled, but as I read through the description I found myself craving each one of them.
The back wall behind the sink area has a peg board. By placing the pegs where you want them, you can hang the utensils that you use the most in just the right place. And since you can adjust the spacing, you can maximize how many items will fit in the space based on what you want to hang. And if you fall somewhere on the low end of the reach envelope distribution, for any reason (short, in a wheelchair, painful to bend because of injury, low range of motion because of aging), you can put everything low on the board. PSFK expects users might respace the pegs based on what they are cooking that day, but I doubt many of us would be that proactive, except perhaps special occasions such as a dinner party. We have to face the fact that most of us are just too lazy for that. But it is nice to know you can.
There is a hose faucet attachment that is occasionally found on high end or double sinks. This makes it easier to reach and once pulled out becomes significantly closer to use. The front of the sink has a forward slope to make the reach even easier.
Another great feature is the grater that is inset into the counter with a drawer directly below. Because it is fixed, it requires only one hand to operate. That is not only helpful to the physically challenged, but it a great feature if you have touched raw meat and don’t want to cross contaminate the equipment. Or if your hands are full. The drawer below means you don’t need a third hand, or even a second, to catch what comes out.
Take a look at the photos on the web site and pick out the features that you like best. I only touched on my most favorite. We would love to hear your perspectives.
Image Credit: 17Drew