Building or buying a wheelchair ramp isn’t difficult but working within the required Accessibility Guidelines developed by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) can make it challenging.
The Accessibility Guidelines should always be followed, which is why it’s so important to only use contractors that know and abide by the ADA guidelines. The guidelines are in place for the safety of the wheelchair user. Many people try to get around the ADA specifications to save costs, while others simply don’t know about them or understand why they are so important.
Safety is the number one consideration for wheelchair ramps, followed by ease of use. A ramp that is too steep is probably too difficult to use by most people, or will be as the user ages and declines in strength. Steep ramps can also cause the user to tip over backwards when going up or gain too much speed when going down.
The ADA Accessibility Guidelines state that for every 1 foot (12 inches) in height, the ramp must be at least 12 feet long. This gives an incline ratio of 1:12. While this is the maximum incline allowed, many times it is better to double that number to 1 foot of height for 24 feet of length. This number works better for elderly or weaker users.
This sounds fairly simple to follow until you see just how fast the ramp length can add up. If you need to clear an outside set of stairs that are only two feet high, you need at least 24 feet of ramp length. What if you don’t have 24 feet of space directly in front of the stairs? In many cases you won’t have that much room so it’s time to get creative. Modular ramps are one solution where the ramp travels back and forth from side to side. Another option is to use a Vertical Platform Lift or Incline Lift.
Another consideration often overlooked for wheelchair ramps is the weight capacity. Will the user need a caregiver to push up and down the ramp? If so, it’s important to assess the weight of the chair with the user in it as well as the weight of the caregiver. The same goes for motorized scooters.
Don’t ignore the landings at the top and bottom of the ramp when thinking about building or buying a wheelchair ramp. Landings should be flat and level and provide a rail or wall at the top so the user doesn’t go off the side.
Wheelchair ramp landings at the bottom should be free from anything that could injure the user if they lose control on the way down or build up too much speed. Again the ramp incline is important to prevent accidents and injuries. If it is too steep at the bottom where it meets the landing, the front wheels could get caught and tipping over would cause serious injury.
Raised edges are always necessary for whelchair ramps, and handrails along the entire length of the wheelchair ramp provide the most safety for the user and caregiver.
When installing permanent or semi-permanent ramps, note the conditions where the ramp will be used. Outside ramps in areas that get a lot of rain or snow should provide good traction and be weather resistant which is why so many are made of aluminum. It is lightweight, durable, and holds up well in inclement weather. Make sure it provides good traction though, and if it doesn’t already have it, ask about applying a traction material.
Wooden wheelchair ramps can be custom installed to match the home or area where they will be installed. These are very attractive but the same considerations apply for weight, traction and durability.
While it can be challenging to meet the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, it is imperative for the safety and ease of use for the user to be ADA compliant. There’s always a solution to be found even in a limited space. An experienced wheelchair ramp company or builder will help you find a way to make it work safely. Always ask for examples of previous work just to be sure you’ll get exactly what you need and want.