Grabbing a snack from the fridge isn't always easy for people with disabilities, injuries, back problems, vision impairment or cognitive impairment. We've based the following guidelines for choosing an accessible refrigerator or freezer on information from the Assistive Technology Australia.
If you're in a wheelchair or have back problems
- Small and shallow fridges allow for easier access to items.
- A bottom-mounted freezer tends to make using both compartments easier – a higher freezer may be almost impossible to reach as well as clean.
- If you use the freezer a lot, you may prefer it on top, to minimise bending. If you don't, go for a bottom-mounted freezer so that the fresh-food compartment is at a handy height.
- Temperature controls should be easy to reach without bending.
- Check where the temperature controls are positioned in the fresh-food compartment: they're often towards the top and back, so you may need help to adjust them.
- Drawers or baskets that slide out easily in a bottom-mounted freezer also improve accessibility. But access to all of the fresh food, and in some cases the chiller, may be impossible with a large fridge.
- Handles running vertically down the side of the door are easier to use.
If you have an upper limb impairment
- The old-fashioned D-type handles are much easier for people with arthritis and lack of hand strength to use, but most modern fridges don't have them.
- Push-button controls are suitable for most people but may not suit those with tremors. In this case, controls with large knobs or slide-bars are better.
- Look for controls at the front of the compartment.
- Wire shelves and perforated door shelves are harder to clean and don't contain spills.
- You'll probably find two small crisper drawers easier to handle than a single large one. Make sure chillers, crispers etc. pull out smoothly and are stable once open – some tend to fall all the way out. People with tremors will find crispers with tracks harder to replace after removing them.
- Avoid small and tightly-spaced shelf guides, as lining up the shelf to slide it in can be tricky.
If you're vision impaired
- Opt for good internal lighting and clearly marked controls.
- Look for strong contrast on labels - such as black or navy blue on a white background - and between features (such as crispers) and their surroundings.
For people with cognitive or memory impairment
- Some electronic fridges sound a warning alarm if they're left open, which can be a useful reminder. However, this depends on the individual – some may find it confusing.
- Look for intuitive, simple controls and labelling.
- Food should be seen easily – for example, wire baskets in the freezer are better than ones with opaque plastic fronts.