Adam Thomas - From Campaigner to Award-Winning Kitchen Designer
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Adam Thomas has been campaigning for the rights of disabled people since he worked for the Rights Now campaign and took part in the Direct Action Network campaigns that ultimately led to the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995. He was spinally injured in an accident in the 1980s, and had a very poor experience of the local authority adaptations service first-hand when he attempted to live independently.
At this time there was a profound lack of understanding around access issues, a measure of endemic denial, and no expectation that disabled people should be able to live independently. Frustration at the situation led Adam to take radical action during his early campaigning years, and he met his wife Agnes Fletcher, now a leading diversity and inclusion consultant, when they were both chained to a bus during an anti-discrimination protest in central London. They married a year later.
Before his accident, Adam had been working as a trainee kitchen designer and his employer, Richard Smithies of Design Matters (now retired), adapted the showroom to make it wheelchair accessible for Adam so that he could return to work. These were busy and productive years, where Adam was balancing home life, his campaigning work, his day job as a kitchen designer, and his passions for Arsenal FC and fly fishing.
It wasn't long before Adam wanted to design a kitchen for himself, and he persuaded Richard to help him adapt standard furniture, to make it more accessible. In these early days this involved chopping up cabinets, removing material to create knee spaces, and lowering worksurfaces. Soon after, Adam's friends began asking him to help them access their own kitchens, and he designed a number of accessible kitchens that were basic by today's standards, but a huge improvement on the solutions available at the time.
Adam and Richard quickly realised that adapting furniture was time-consuming and difficult for the installation teams, and that standard cabinets were of limited use when designing for the most challenging impairments. Adam had determined through extensive research that there were critical heights to make kitchens safer for disabled people, and these could not be achieved without a more bespoke approach. Adam began work on the Access Matters range of furniture and, since he had access to some of the finest bespoke manufacturers in the UK, he was able to create tailored solutions to address many of the most difficult problems experienced by disabled people in a kitchen setting.
The Access Matters range produced some of the world's finest wheelchair accessible kitchens, transforming hundreds of homes across the UK with an unrivalled choice of materials and safety features. Adam and Richard gained an impressive reputation for their work, and Adam's personal experience of disability and his ability as a designer gave him unbeatable insight into the challenges encountered by disabled people in the kitchen, and the ability to solve these problems.
Adam's ground-breaking ideas were soon drawing interest from professional across the English-speaking world who were following developments from a distance. To meet the growing demand for training, Adam and his team developed a series of training seminars for occupational therapists, grant officers and environmental health officers. He was consulted by expert witnesses, and acted as an advocate for clients who were bringing claims for compensation after catastrophic injury. Concerned about the amount of money allocated for kitchen adaptations at Court, he also lobbied personal injury lawyers in an attempt to achieve a more realistic funding model for kitchen adaptations.
Over the years, Adam's success was recognised by numerous organisations with an interest in access, and he was nominated for a series of awards in both the disability community and the UK kitchen industry. He has also been a guest lecturer at the New Buckinghamshire University Kitchen Design course, and was invited to advise on the Olympic Village, London 2012. Adam opened his design consultancy in 2016, providing a design service for OTs and private individuals. Working closely with Symphony in recent years, he has helped develop their Freedom range of inclusive and multi-generational kitchens, pictured below.
Adam designed his own kitchen in partnership with Roundhouse Design as part of the extensive renovation and adaptation of his family home in Buckinghamshire (below). He now provides a range of design and consultancy services to private clients, architects, OTs and personal injury lawyers, and provides training in conjunction with selected partners.
Adam's story continues, and perhaps you are part of it? If you require the expertise of the country's leading accessible kitchen designer, please feel free to make contact.