The “Ins and Outs” of Access and Wheelchair Ramps
Before you start shopping for that much needed wheelchair ramp, think about all the spaces in your home that have steps, raised thresholds or other barriers that you’ll need a ramp to cross – there are probably more of them than you think. The most common areas where ramps are needed in the home include:
Steps leading to front or back entry doors
- Steps from the garage into the home
- Doors with raised thresholds or lips, such as exterior doors
- The threshold between the floor and the shower in your bathroom
- Vehicle thresholds, like vans or SUVs
Without getting too technical, the length of the stairs and the vertical height the ramp needs to ascend will determine the type of ramp you need. Also consult the guidelines in wheelchair or scooter manuals. The ramp length that you’ll need can be easily calculated with a few simple measurements.
- 1-Inch Rise: 12-Inch Run (4.8 degrees): The number of inches in total vertical height = the number of feet in length you need. For example, two 5-inch-high steps would account for 10 inches in total vertical height and would therefore require a 10-foot-long ramp.
- 2-Inch Rise: 12-Inch Run (9.5 degrees): Calculate by dividing the total vertical height in inches by 2. A 2-inch:12-inch slope is the maximum recommended for any ramp installation, including portable ramps used by occupied wheelchairs and scooters.
- 3-Inch Rise: 12-Inch Run (14.5 degrees): Calculate by dividing the total vertical height in inches by 3. This is the steepest incline a ramp should have and should never be used by occupied wheelchairs and scooters.
Once you’ve determined the length (from the calculation above), you will need to determine the ramp width you will need. To do this, consider the following:
- How wide is the wheelbase on your wheelchair or scooter? It’s important to make sure your chair can safely cross the ramp surface with some margin for safety on either side.
- If using a ramp to get in and out of a vehicle, consider the width of the door opening on your vehicle. Depending on the ramp you purchase, you’ll need 30 inches or more for a door opening.
Now that you’ve figured out the ramp length and width, there are several types of ramps you can consider to meet your needs.
Shower Ramps?: Shower ramps are small, short surfaces that can be purchased to blend in with the flooring in your bathroom. They’re meant to eliminate the small barrier that exists at the front of walk-in showers.
Doorway and Threshold Ramps: Doorway ramps are used to cross a couple of steps. Solid ramps and panel ramps are the two most common types of doorway ramps. Before purchasing a doorway ramp, calculate the length you need. If your required length is longer than standard doorway ramps, consider an exterior access ramp.
Threshold ramps are the most common type of ramp needed inside and outside the home, as raised thresholds, usually ½ inch or 1 inch high, are common at many doors. These ramps are very short, designed to facilitate a very small rise, portable and light. Consider locating threshold ramps permanently at any doors with raised thresholds.
Portable and Automotive Ramps: Portable ramps are most commonly used to enter and exit a vehicle or to use in the home occasionally. These ramps usually fold up like suitcases and can be carried with you, although there are some shorter ramps that are solid surfaces. When purchasing a portable ramp, consider the total weight of the ramp to ensure it can be easily and safely carried.
Exterior Access Ramps: You may need a ramp length beyond what’s offered for getting through front and back doors. When this is the case, consider a home access ramp with customizable length. There are two main types of exterior access ramps:
- Custom wood ramps are built from readily available lumber and building materials. These ramps can usually be customized to match your home style or an existing deck or porch. Custom wood ramps are advanced projects, best suited for someone with advanced building skills, like a professional. For a little extra money you can get your ramp made out of maintenance-free materials. This is especially a good investment if you are pretty sure you will be using the ramp for many years.
- Aluminum modular ramps are made from durable aluminum and can be bought in sections to create the length and path you need. You can buy straight sections in various lengths as well as platforms on which to make left, right or U-turns. While not as complex as building and installing a custom wood ramp, this is still a job for someone with solid building skills who can ensure the safety and stability of the ramp.
- A Gatehouse Custom Access Ramp System is a hybrid of the custom wood and aluminum modular ramps. These systems feature an aluminum modular support structure that’s outfitted with off-the-shelf decking and railing products to create a custom look. This type of ramp requires the same level of skill needed to install an aluminum modular ramp, but it can be customized to match any home style, like a custom wood ramp.
When choosing an exterior access ramp, refer to local building codes. Also consult the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessibility.