Ramps are an important feature in accessing a home or other building, and are built for people who can’t use stairs, or otherwise need a gentler, less stressful way to change levels. This applies not only to people who use wheelchairs but also to those who have difficulty climbing stairs, such as people who have arthritis, and those who use walkers, crutches or canes. To be safe and most effective, ramps should be built with a few basic guidelines in mind.
Slope is the term used to describe how steep a ramp is. The slope is extremely important because it affects how difficult it is to travel up and down the ramp. The 1 to 12 slope ( one inch of rise for every twelve inches) should be seen as the steepest slope to be built and may even be too steep for some people.
There may be a temptation to build a ramp that is steeper than the recommended 1 to 12 minimum in order to conserve space or reduce costs. Before deciding to build such a ramp, remember that the steeper the ramp is, the more dangerous it becomes to anyone using it.
Ramp Project personnel have replaced steep ramps that have caused falls resulting in serious injuries and ramps that were so steep that the person needing it could not use it independently.
The width of the ramp should be at least 36 inches. 36″ may be appropriate for someone walking or using a cane, crutches, or a walker. (32″ may be appropriate for persons who need to lean on both railings when moving.) 42″ to 48″ is appropriate for someone using a wheelchair, or where a person can walk with assistance at the side.
Landings are the level areas required at the top, bottom, and sometimes at intermediate locations in a ramp-way. These areas allow a person to maintain balance while performing tasks like opening doors, transferring in and out of a vehicle, resting for a time, and safely changing direction of travel when a ramp makes a turn. Recommended landing sizes are based on these functions.
Top landings should be nearly flush with the exterior door threshold. 1/2″ is the typical maximum, particularly when a wheelchair user is involved-anything larger will abruptly stop a chair’s relatively small front wheel, or is a tripping hazard for walkers. Pay attention, too, to threshold specs if a new primary door is being installed. If a pre hung unit’s going in, most don’t have the low threshold that’s needed here.
Top landings at minimum should be at least 60″ X 60″ if there is an out-swinging door, with at least a 12″ to 24″ of “elbow room” space provided off the door’s handle side, particularly for a person using mobility equipment. These dimensions give enough room for a person to move off to the side while opening the door without having to back up to get out of the way of its swing. If there is no out-swinging door, the landing may be somewhat narrower- probably 48″ at minimum.
Is a ramp the best option?
There may be alternatives available that will do a better job of meeting the needs of individual(s) involved. In some cases a new set of long-trend low-riser steps can be built for a person using crutches, cane or a walker. Sometimes a lifting device can be used rather than building a ramp.
Consider the length of time the access solution is likely to be needed. If the anticipated need is quite short, it may be cost-effective to consider alternate living arrangements. Many factors need to be evaluated in order to come up with the solution that best meets your needs.
Assistance for barrier free access planning may be available from a local barrier free living access contractor.
With information and materials available from most local building supply stores, an individual with ordinary carpentry skills can fabricate his or her own ramp. This is clearly demonstrated by the millions of homemade decks that have been constructed over the past few years. If a person lacks the basic carpentry skills, a local carpenter or contractor should have little trouble constructing a ramp. In cases where financial resources are limited, the ramp might become a public service project of a local service organization, school carpentry class, carpenter’s union, or vocational agriculture class. Contact one of these groups or the local Easter Seal Society, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, or volunteer hotline for possible assistance.
The modular ramp design creates the possibility that ramps will become easily recyclable. The design allows flexibility in creating various length runs of sloped surface and pre made modules can be matched to custom segments built on-site to create the needed ramp. The width of the ramp can be tailored to individual needs by changing the width of each module. Usually the landing at the doorway will require customization and sometimes the ground level end of the ramp will need to be modified to meet the site conditions. Having reusable components for the majority of the ramp reduces costs and increases the possibility of obtaining either short-term or long term access.