If you have worked on Chicago projects in the past, then you might be aware that the Mayor's Office of People with Disabilities (MOPD) allowed the upper cabinets in Type A unit kitchens to be adapted/lowered after first occupancy to an accessible height. However for this to be allowed, MOPD would require a letter signed by both the owners and the architects, that acknowledged and agreed to do the changes upon tenant request. This letter would have to be included with the project drawings as part of the building permit application. Good news is that the adaptability of kitchen cabinets has been addressed in the current Chicago building code, and this letter is no longer needed.
Chicago Building Code, Section 1101.4.12, amends ANSI A117.1- 2009, Section 1003.14 to state the following: “In kitchens, the lowest shelf of a storage facility mounted above a work surface complies with Section 905 if it can be relocated so that at least the shelf is 48” maximum above the floor without damage the storage facility.”
In summary, the bottommost shelf in the upper kitchen cabinets of the Type A units must either be located at 48" maximum above the finish floor (AFF) to the top leading edge of the shelf at first occupancy OR have reinforced in the wall so that it can be adapted later upon tenant request.
This requirement is applicable to all upper cabinets in the kitchen located above the countertops. Meaning the cabinets above the cooking range and the refrigerator are exempt, as they are not located above a countertop. The language stating “above a work surface” is sometimes mistaken as the accessible 30” wide work surface, however, the code is not referring to the 30” work surface required within Type A kitchens. To clarify it is referring to the countertops since they function as the ‘working’ surfaces of a kitchen.
Be aware that MOPD also requires the cabinet handles or other operable hardware for opening the upper cabinets to be located no greater than 48" maximum AFF. The reasoning is that a shelf mounted at 48” AFF can only be accessed by a tenant if the cabinet doors can be opened, hence MOPD does want to see cabinet hardware within an accessible reach range.
Placing the cabinet hardware at a low height isn’t always ideal from an aesthetic or practical standpoint. But there is another option to consider, extending the cabinet doors below the bottom shelf (as shown in the image below).
By extending the cabinet door below the shelf it creates a finger lip that can be used to open the doors. The lip functions as an operable part since it doesn’t require tight grasping or pinching to operate. This detail has been accepted on multiple projects as a way to meet the hardware requirements. MAPS recommends that the cabinet door lip extend 1” minimum below the bottom leading edge of the shelf.
Please feel free to reach out to MAPS if you have any questions regarding the accessibility or code requirements of your project. If you need help with your residential dwelling units, we can perform plan reviews or help with one-off questions in any jurisdiction nationwide.