As a part of accessible design within dwelling units, the use of removable base cabinets is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. By taking advantage of this concept, design professionals and builders can incorporate additional accessibility at particular important elements within the kitchen and bathroom without detracting from the overall design and aesthetics of the room. The removable base cabinet is mainly a function of Type A units where a forward approach may be necessary under certain elements including lavatories in bathrooms, kitchen sinks and work surfaces. Other elements and appliances that do not require a forward approach for access, but may assist the end user, include cooking surfaces and wall ovens. One important thing for designers to note is the removable base cabinet can be incorporated into any kitchen to look as natural as any other cabinet. The end goal is to achieve adaptable accessibility when the user requires it without anyone knowing the adaptability existed in the first place.

It is imperative to keep in mind the end objective when employing the use of removable base cabinets as an adaptive feature in Type A units. Even if it is planned properly with all attention given to clearances and width requirements, it is possible to miss a few small details rendering your adaptable feature useless in some cases. For example, if the lavatory is mounted too low, when the base cabinet is removed there may not be enough knee clearance to accommodate the forward approach.

The first component, which is often overlooked, is ensuring the ease with which the base cabinet can be removed. It is the intent by providing removable base cabinets that the end user is capable of removing the cabinet themselves using simple hand tools without any assistance. This may require creative thinking when installing your cabinet to ensure its adaptability is readily achievable. The second requirement to be incorporated into design aspects of the removable base is providing the floor and wall finishes beneath the adaptable area, and cabinet finishes on the left and right sides. This will ensure that no further work is necessary once the base is removed. The third component to be addressed is the space beneath and clearances to ensure a forward approach can be achieved under an element. These space and clearance requirements are detailed below.

Minimum width
When removing a base cabinet to provide a forward approach, whether in a kitchen or bathroom, the required space beneath the cabinet is required to provide a 30 inch minimum width to accommodate a 30 inch by 48 inch clear floor space. In Type A kitchens, this space is required to be centered on either the sink or required 30 inch work surface. Contrary to this, bathroom sinks only require that a 30 inch minimum width space be provided at the fixture, not centered. Note: if this space is used within kitchen areas to provide a “T” turn, the width must be increased to 36 inches minimum.

Counter heights
In a Type A kitchen, we have the ability to provide counter tops at 36 inches with the caveat that the 30 inch minimum wide work surface or sink counter top can be adjustable between variable heights of 29 inches minimum and 36 inches maximum above the floor without cutting the counter or causing damage to adjacent cabinets, walls, doors and structural elements. This is an adaptable feature that will allow designers and installers to mount their counters at the industry standard of 36 inches. Upon adaptation, the sink and work surface can be provided at an accessible 34 inches or lower depending upon the user’s needs. This is not an option in Type A bathroom sinks however, which should be mounted at a height of 34 inches maximum above the floor.

Knee clearances
Assuming that our counter tops, and sinks are provided at the required 34 inch maximum height, knee clearances must be provided with adequate height to ensure a person in a wheel chair can take full advantage of the lowered sink/work surfaces. The minimum height required for knee clearances is determined to be 27 inches minimum from the floor to the underside of the object, extending 8 inches in depth. This clearance is permitted to grow form 8 inches to 11 inches minimum at 9 inches above the floor.

Toe clearances
Toe clearances to consider when designing a removable base cabinet are defined as the space beneath an element up to 9 inches above the floor. Toe clearances are permitted to extend beenath an element a minimum of 17 inches and a maximum of 25 inches from the front edge of the obstruction, however toe space clearances are only permitted to extend 6 inches maximum past the knee clearances provided at 11 inches off the floor. The required knee and toe clearances are depicted here:

Once the cabinet has been removed, the final aspect is providing protection beneath an element from burns or abrasions. This can be accomplished in a few ways. The first is provide pipe protection/insulation on the drain and feed lines using a plastic PVC coated material that wraps all plumbing elements beneath a sink. A second option for protection is to provide a matching panel already in place so as not to detract from the newly opened space beneath an element. Also, if providing a forward approach under a cooking surface, a protective panel should be installed to protect the user’s knees and legs from any sharp edges, or burns.

By incorporating all of these design elements into a plan for an adaptable kitchen or bathroom, design professionals and builders can ensure the overall design concept remains intact while providing additional accessibility to particular required elements within kitchens and bathrooms. If you need additional information please contact tperry@accessibility-services.com.