Wheelchair Ramp Considerations



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Several years ago, my mother-in-law fell while trying to sit down on her bed. At first, there seemed to be no apparent injury. But after a few days, it was determined she had a fractured hip and would require surgery.

She was 80+ years old and needed a wheelchair more than 50% of the time. After surgery and rehab, we had her at home with the assistance of a home health care service.

The first thing our home care company did was to send out a Physical Therapist to evaluate our mother-in-law and our house. It didn’t take but a couple of minutes for the PT to inform us of the need for a wheelchair ramp.

A wheelchair ramp is an inclined plane installed in addition to or instead of stairs. Ramps permit wheelchair users and people pushing strollers, carts, or other wheeled objects to access a building more efficiently.

A wheelchair ramp can be permanent, semi-permanent, or portable. Permanent ramps are designed to be bolted or cemented in place. Semi-permanent ramps rest on top of the ground or cement pad and are commonly used for the short term.

Permanent and semi-permanent ramps are usually made of aluminum, concrete, or wood. Aluminum ramps are more durable than wooden ramps and can be moved or reconfigured. Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheelchair_ramp

You should review several considerations and requirements before acquiring a new ramp. The preparation beforehand can take longer than the actual building and installation of the ramp. You may even ask for bids from several ramp companies before deciding.


Which entry door are you going to use for the ramp?

  • The practical consideration is space for the ramp and height of the exiting doorway from level ground. The higher the door, the longer the ramp and the more area needed.

    Lack of space can disqualify one location over the other. City codes and Home-owners Associations may have regulations that must be adhered to, affecting the location.

Space Limitations

  • A common error is constructing a wheelchair ramp in a very constrained area, making the slope too steep for safe use. Many reasons may encroach on the needed space for a ramp: large trees, parking for autos, buildings, etc. And where do you want the exit landing to end up?

    Each location is different. You’ll need to determine what is best for your home. If you are using a ramp company, they can assist you.

Home-owner Preferences and Neighborhood Aesthetics

  • Local associations or city codes may impose restrictions concerning the type of materials and overall aesthetics.
  • If you rent your home, the home-owner may have their own requirements.

Person’s Abilities Using Ramp

  • A steeply sloped wheelchair ramp is challenging to climb and can result in the user tipping or rolling backward without control.

    If the height is no more than a couple of steps, you can use a small portable ramp that can be easily removable. Taller than that, and a more substantial design is in order.
  • If the user has a motorized cart or chair, the manufacturer of such equipment will have a recommended degree of slope that the chair can safely use.

    You should always follow these recommendations in the letter. It will do no good to go to the trouble and expense of a new ramp only to find the patient can’t travel it safely.

    If there is any doubt, call the manufacturer’s customer service. Again, it’s all about the degree of slope.
  • Stop and consider the user’s space considerations before you go any further. Sometimes, the user may have to use a wheelchair with one or both legs fully extended.

    They will need more room to navigate the ramp, meaning wider lanes and larger landings.

Permanent or Temporary

  • Will you need the ramp for years or only a few months? Instead of purchasing and erecting a permanent ramp, you can hire a portable ramp if you require a short-term structure.

    Generally speaking, wooden and concrete ramps are considered permanent. Wooden ramps require more maintenance and typically have a shorter life span than other materials.

    That said, wood ramps, done right, can be quite attractive and, in some cases, cost less than other options.
  • Aluminum ramps are considered portable.

    They are portable because they can be reconfigured, added to, or removed and reused elsewhere.

    They can also be installed in less than a day. Many different companies supply aluminum ramps systems.

When the Physical Therapist explained our need for a ramp, the first concern was “getting out of the house in case of a fire.”

Here are a few more reasons to have a ramp:

  • Bouncing downstairs with Grandma aboard can further damage Grandma and the chair.
  • Lifting or carrying Grandma can harm the Caregiver with a strained back.
  • Lifting or carrying Grandma can harm Grandma.
  • Increased difficulty leaving can cause the user to become “home-bound” and have less activity.

    Reduced activity may, in turn, further reduce users’ abilities.

As you can see, it’s not a “one size fits all” situation. Plan ahead, check with your city’s code department, and ask for medical and professional construction help.