How Kitchen Independence Can Help People with Physical Disabilities

Jupiterimages/ Stockbyte/ Getty Images
Jupiterimages/ Stockbyte/ Getty Images

When people with physical disabilities learn independence skills, they also gain self-confidence. However, cooking involves some of the more challenging skills that people with physical disabilities will encounter. The potential difficulties may result from organizational issues, a kitchen that is not accessible or the specific challenges of a particular disability.

Recognizing what kitchen independence can do for those with physical disabilities, Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago provide training on accessible cooking and nutrition education, teaching several key points about kitchen accessibility. For example, spices and kitchen equipment need to be stored at a level that can be reached from a wheelchair or other mobility device. And, those in wheelchairs are reminded to not use their laps as work surfaces — instead, make sure tables at a lower level are available in the kitchen for all prep work.

Kitchen independence is not only about having easy access to adaptive tools and work surfaces. It’s also about nutrition and meal planning. “Individuals know what they like to eat,” says Jane Becker, a registered dietitian at Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, Fla. “The challenge is to identify the motivation that will encourage patients to want to learn how to be involved in their own meal preparation.”

Meal planning is an important part of independence for people with disabilities, How Kitchen Independence Can Help People with Physical Disabilities - says Kim Muir, an occupational therapist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “They often have a more difficult time getting to the grocery store and it takes more time for them to prepare meals,” she says. “By planning ahead, they can avoid taking multiple trips to the store and are less likely to go out to eat or order take-out.”

It is important for people with disabilities to safely push their limits and attempt to learn independence skills. Learning to cook may help them build a skill set towards living independently.

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Tracy Williams
Tracy Williams has a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University. She won five mini-grants from the Kids Eat Right campaign of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for community nutrition education. She is a regular sponsored presenter at Abilities Expo. You can connect with her through her website You can also find her on Facebook and LinkedIn as well.