Sunday, November 06, 2005

Dresser Drawers and People With Disabilities

The Question

I received this question in an email from someone who was referred to me at work:

"I am trying to accommodate a grandparent who no longer has the ability to open a dresser drawer by hand and would like some sort of solution that would allow her to do that. Is there some sort of generally available technology to motorize the drawers or attach a foot pedal or something like that?"

The first notable aspect of this question is that I've never heard it before.

How to Think About It

The immediate answer is that I've never heard of nor seen a dresser with powered drawers.

I do know of stove tops and counter tops, and even kitchen cupboards that are motorized so that their height is adjustable. I know of large motorized file cabinets that have Ferris wheel-like arrangements inside that bring an entire shelf of files to a convenient height to avoid reaching and stooping when doing filing.

I spent about half an hour on the web looking for "automatic drawer openers", and the only things I found were garbage compactors that had a foot opener option.

So -- the initial answer would be, "No, I don't know of any available technology like you describe."

But, my question is, "What is it about opening the dresser drawers that causes difficulty?"

Dressers I Have Known

I had a dresser (still have, actually) when I was a kid that has six drawers and stands about 5 feet high. The drawers slide in and out pretty easily, unless they are overfull. There is a handle on each side of the drawer (that is, 2 handles per drawer). They are horizontal handles that lift up, that you can wrap your fingers around. They provide pretty good leverage, and only hurt my fingers if my hands are already sore for some reason.

I have also used dressers where the drawers do not slide easily, regardless of how much stuff is in the drawer. Sometimes, the handles that are on the drawer are difficult to grasp, because of their shape or size.

I don't use dressers all that much because I don't like standing in front of a dresser stowing things, or searching for things.

First Idea

Find out why Grandmother is having difficulty with the dresser.

Are the drawers sticking? Is the handle hardware too small, too awkward? Could the drawers be oiled or adjusted to slide better? Would different handles be helpful? What about tying tassels on the drawers? Would pulling on a rope/tassel be functional for Grandmother?

I have a newish dresser from Ikea, and the drawers slide very, very easily. There is one handle, right in the center of each drawer, and you hook your fingers underneath the handle to grasp it. The edge that hits your fingers is a little sharp, and if my fingers were a little more sensitive, it might be a problem. If that was the case, I would look into replacing the handles, because the drawer slide aspect is really great.

Second Idea

Think about the function of a dresser. To store clothing and other personal items, right? Would shelving serve the same purpose?

Just this year, I have started storing a lot of my everyday clothing on the shelves of what used to be a bookcase. I've also used this shelving, in the past, in a kitchen that had too little cupboard space. (The shelves are Swedish -- look at I have no affiliation with their site.)

There is a wide variety of shelving out there, in every price range. You can also get shelving shaped like cubes, and you can get baskets to use with the shelves, so that you can put things in the baskets, and then slide the basket out part-way -- a little drawer-like in usage.

I like the shelves in lieu of hanging things up, because I don't like standing at the closet. I can sit and use the shelving, particularly if I don't use the highest or the lowest shelves, except for items I don't use that often. This is also working for me because I pay someone to help me with my laundry, and she arranges my stuff on the shelves for me.

The Answer and The Lesson

So -- no, I don't know about motorized dresser drawers.

I suggest that the problem be approached from 2 directions:
  1. What does Grandmother use the dresser for, and can the dresser be replaced by a different type of storage system/furniture?
  2. What about the dresser has become problematic? Can this be solved by getting drawers that slide more easily or different drawer handles?

I hope this is helpful. Let me know how it works out.


Penny L. Richards said...

I like Teri's summary of the problem. But I'd also add some aesthetic/emotional consideration. Grandmother may be very attached to the idea of a dresser, and whatever its disadvantages, she might find a switch to something more informal like shelving or baskets upsetting. A traditional item that might work instead would be a trunk--clothes are still hidden away inside a substantial piece of furniture...but there are no drawers. Most trunks are made with safety hinges and props, to avoid injury.

Reality Check Woman said...

Good comment -- I had taken Grandmother's potential fondness for a particular piece of furniture, or a particular type of furniture into account. It is why I stressed how important it is to analyze why the dresser's use has become difficult.

The downside of a trunk might be that a significant amount of bending over could be involved; also, a lot of loading/unloading of stuff to get to a single item.

The main thing is to be thoughtful, and to stress "what will Grandmother actually use" over what "sounds good".