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Getting in & out of your home; ramps, elevators, lifts and doorways.



Since few homes or apartments are accessible at ground level without stairs or thresholds, ramping can be a big help. In selecting the best place for an entry ramp to a home, convenience, adequate outdoor space, and ease of maintenance are key considerations. Ideally, a ramp would be sheltered from bad weather; or, at least, protected from the "side effects" of bad weather such as snow falling from a roof onto the ramp.

The slope of a ramp, the relationship between the length of the ramp and the height of the ramp, is critical. The generally accepted ratio for slope is 1:12; that is, for every one foot of height, a ramp must extend 12 feet so that the slope will be reasonably gentle. A longer extension makes the climb even easier so a ratio of 1:14 may be better--if there is enough space at the entrance to the home. In fact, if the ramp rises more than two feet, a slope of 1:20 is likely to be much easier. However, when space is very limited, a steep slope of 1:8 may be workable.

When the amount of outdoor space is limited, a ramp can be built with the proper slope by using "L" or "U" shaped turns (called switchbacks). When this is done, it is usually helpful to have a landing at the switchback (turn) as a rest area. It is suggested that landings be level and at least 48" in each direction.

Landings for rest are also recommended on long straight ramps. For every 30 inches of rise, a landing 36-42" long is usually suggested. Landings can also be helpful at the top and bottom of a ramp. These should provide sufficient level space to turn, maintain balance, and open the door. Sometimes, at the end of the ramp, where it is likely to meet an already constructed structure, a so-called safely curb may be helpful for a smooth transition.

The width of the ramp depends on needs of the individual and on the mobility aid used. For example, if a child was learning to walk with crutches needing an adult alongside for assistance, a ramp would need to be rather wide.

For a person in a wheelchair, the individual's ability to control the chair and how much leeway is needed from side to side both contribute to determining sufficient width. Based on "typical wheelchairs," a width of at least 36" or more, up to 40-44", is usually suggested. A narrower width (30") may sometimes be adequate.

When the child is going to use handrails to help propel himself up the ramp, then steady and secure handrails on both sides of the ramp are needed and the distance across from one rail to the other must be measured carefully. This distance will be narrower than the ramp and will depend on the personal comfort of the child. The handrails can be square or round in shape, with round being preferred if the child is going to be holding on most of the time.

A small curb (at least 2" high) along the sides of the ramp will prevent the chair from slipping off the sides. If small children are likely to use the ramp, sides or some protective material along the sides can prevent falls.

The surface texture of a ramp should be designed to minimize slipping in wet weather. If the ramp is wooden, the wood planks should run across the ramp rather than up and down. If the ramp is concrete, it should be textured. Metal ramps are designed to minimize slipping.

Concrete ramps are permanent while metal and wood can be considered semi-permanent. Commercially available ramps come in sections of various sizes that can be dismantled, called modular ramps. All ramp materials should be fireproof.


Two kinds of ramps are portable and can be moved from place to place. Depending on the skills of the individual who needs the ramping, another person may be needed to set up the portable ramp.

Portable standard ramps are narrower (usually 26" wide) than permanent ramps and are usually hinged in the center for folding and have handles for carrying. The length of these ramps can vary from 30" to 10 ft and are of various weights depending on the materials used. Smaller sections can be bolted together for longer distances and adjustable support legs can be used at the connecting points of separate sections.

Track or telescoping ramps consist of two separate channels for the wheels of a wheelchair. Channels come in various lengths and are usually hinged for folding and carrying. Sometimes the channels telescope into each other for ease of transport. There have been some efforts to attach telescoping ramp channels directly to wheelchairs so that the individual can bring his or her own ramp.

Portable ramps may need rails, curbs, or landings depending on how they are to be used.


People and wheelchairs can also get to an entryway via an outdoor lift or elevator. Stairlifts and elevators can also be used indoors.

Stair elevators or vertical lifts may be in an encased shaft (elevator) or can be open, fitted onto guide rails or wall tracks. These devices can provide access to a porch or can be placed alongside steep stairs. They can also be used indoors if there is sufficient space in stairwells. Enclosed elevators need sufficient lighting and may need a communication device, like a telephone, in case of trouble. Special lifts are available to provide entry to a motor home.

Stairlifts are usually designed for straight stairways inside a home. Stairlifts are platforms with various types of seating (or standing), supports, and controls. The platform travels up and down the staircase on tracks on the stairs themselves or on the adjoining wall. Some are designed for the person to be seated on the lift itself; others can accommodate a person in a wheelchair. If a stairlift only accommodates a seated person, the ease of transfer from the child's wheelchair to the lift needs careful assessment.

Stairlifts, while expensive, are likely to be a less costly alternative to bedroom and/or bathroom access than creating a bedroom and full bathroom on a ground floor. If a home has two sets of stairs, two lifts are probably needed. Curved rails for staircase turns are available. Stairlifts should not use all the room on stairways.

Lifts should provide smooth rides, without jerkiness, and be easy to operate. Safety belts and gates are probably needed as is sufficient room at the top and bottom of the lift to exit or enter safely. Finally, lifts, like any powered equipment, are subject to power failures so some safety mechanism should protect the rider in such an emergency.

Stair tracks are a completely different way to get a person in a wheelchair up stairs. The person in the wheelchair is wheeled onto the tracks (and frame). With another individual at the controls, the stair track climbs the stairs. Stair tracks can be battery operated and portable.


Once a person in a wheelchair, or walking with crutches or cane(s), reaches the top of the stairs to a home, the door needs to be opened. For a person in a wheelchair to get through a doorway, an opening of at least 30" is essential. To accommodate a wheelchair propelled by a person's hands, with sufficient room for both arms and elbows, usually requires 36", based on studies of average sized adult wheelchair users.

Interior doors which are often 32" wide may be sufficient. However, doorway widths can be deceiving because when a door is swung open, a few inches of width can be lost. Special hinges that allow a door to swing completely open can solve this problem.

Another consideration is which way a door should swing open to offer the best amount of clearance space. Spacewise, a sliding door can be ideal as long as the channel for the bottom runner of the door is set in the floor so it does not become a barrier.

Special handles can make a door easier to open than dealing with round doorknobs. Heavy rubber bands or nonslip strips can make round doorknobs easier to turn. In addition, a door may need a special handle to help the person close the door once through the doorway. For the person in a wheelchair, doors probably need kickplates since the person is likely to push the door with the metal footrests of the wheelchair.

At entry doorways, a shelf for packages or bookbags will be helpful as will a handy light switch. Doormats need to be recessed or out of the way. Whenever possible, entry doorways should be covered to provide weather protection. Storm doors can add additional complications since two doorways close together must be managed. As a result, some people in cold climates use a single heavier door instead of storm doors.

Thresholds, or doorsteps in any doorway, can be an extra problem. It may be necessary to construct a wooden wedge; or a doorstep ramp can be purchased.

PHOTO : A stair lift from National Wheel-O-Vator Company

PHOTO : Telescopic Channel Ramps made by Lakeshore Products

PHOTO : Ramping system with ANSI-approved handrails made by Lakeshore Products.
COPYRIGHT 1989 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related information
Author:Dill, Melody B.; Grall, Terry B.; Trefler, Elaine
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Previous Article:Social integration: a parental challenge.
Next Article:Eligibility for services for persons with specific learning disabilities.

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