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Refrigerators and Accessibility

Side-by-side refrigerator-freezers are much easier to use than top-and-bottom models.

Do you need a new place to hide things from your grandchildren? A place to stash small birthday presents until the special day is here? A place to hide candy and other goodies? A place that kids will never find? Try the freezer.

Top-Mounted Freezers

Your freezer sits on top of your refrigerator, right? Then it's a perfect hiding place. The children will never be able to reach it. Put your goodies in the back of the freezer and they could stay hidden for years—even from you.

Top-Mounted Freezers

The same features that make freezers good hiding places also make them bad for storing food. Because freezers sit on top of the fridge, some adults simply can't get to them. A number of these adults are short. Others can't raise their arms. Many use wheelchairs. And all need a better way to store their food.


Side-by-Side Refrigerators

Fortunately, not all refrigerators come with a freezer on top. Some units have the refrigerator on one side and the freezer on the other. They are called side-by-side refrigerator/freezers. Side-by-sides, for short.

Each section of a side-by-side has shelves that sit at many heights. The lowest shelf might be a foot or two off the floor. The highest shelf could stand five feet from your toes. This mix gives everyone a chance to reach their food. Children and short adults can use lower shelves. So can people who have trouble lifting their arms. People who have trouble bending can use upper shelves.

Side-by-sides are also easy to use if you're in a wheelchair. You can open the smaller doors without moving your chair too far away from the fridge. You can reach your food from where you sit. And, the freezer is no longer so far above your head.

Food Storage Features


Having food at the right height doesn't solve every fridge problem. Small items still get stuck in the back. And large items are still hard to squeeze in. But some new fridges have neat features that make it easy to store food and find it later.

Look for shelves that slide in and out of the fridge. These help you see—and reach—every item you put on the shelf. Folding shelves help you make room for foods that come in all shapes and sizes. Fold a shelf up to make a space for the Thanksgiving turkey. Fold another shelf down to find room for that small dish of cranberry sauce. You make these changes at a moment's notice. No need to clear off the shelf and then re-hang it.

Shelves that you find on the door of the fridge have always been the easiest to reach. Now they are getting even easier to use. Some doors have special holders for oversized gallon jugs. Others use dividers to keep your food from sliding around or falling out. Have fun with these shelves. But don't overdo it. The more you store on a door, the harder it will be to open.

Consider buying an ice and water dispenser for the outside of your freezer door. Push a button and you or your grandchild can get a drink at any time of the day or night. Be sure you choose a dispenser that lights up. It will help you see what you're doing at night or when your kitchen light is dim.

Other Ideas


Side by sides aren't for everyone. They cost more. They also use more power. And, their shelves may be too narrow to fit a sheet cake or pizza box. If this is important to you, consider some alternatives, like:

  • A refrigerator that has the freezer on the bottom.
  • A smaller fridge or freezer. If the unit is small enough, you could put it on a counter.
  • A stand-alone freezer. Keep the fridge you have and use the second unit to store your frozen foods.

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