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Making your home work: ramps.

Ramps are alternative routes to elevated or lowered areas for people who cannot use stairs. They do not take the place of stairs, however, since some people find ramps more difficult to use.

The American National Standard Institute's publication The American National Standard for Buildings and Facilities -- Providing Accessibility and Usability for the Physically Handicapped People (ANSI A117.1), provides specifications for minimum standards for making buildings accessible, including a section on ramps. When using this document, one should keep in mind that these are minimum standards which may not be adequate for making buildings completely accessible for many people.


The slope of a ramp is the most important factor to consider before installation. The ANSI specifications state that the maximum slope of a ramp should be 8.33% or 12 inches in length for every one inch of rise (1:12). While the ANSI specifications are stated as minimum standards, many builders and designers use this as an absolute standard, and many people are still unable to independently use a ramp at this slope. Some northern states have established codes for 1:20 slopes for outdoor ramps because of the added problem of inclement weather but allow 1:12 slopes inside buildings.

The ANSI specifications state that the maximum length of a 1:12 ramp should not exceed 30 feet, but it can be longer if it has a more gradual slope. If the ramp exceeds 30 feet in length with a slope of 1:12, then a level landing area must be built midway into the ramp to provide a resting area. The landing may also be incorporated into a 90-degree angle or switchback design for very long ramps. Level landing areas should be a minimum of 5 feet wide.


The width of the ramp depends on the needs of the individual and on the mobility aid used. For a person in a wheelchair, the individual's ability to control the chair and how much leeway is needed from side to side will determine sufficient width.

The minimum clear width of a ramp should be 36 inches, but if it is heavily used or routinely has two-way traffic, the width should be a minimum of 6 feet. Many designers recommend 42 to 48 inches as a standard width. The top and bottom approaches to the ramp should be level and clear for a least 5 feet.

Low curbs, at least 2 inches high, or edges will prevent wheels from going off the sides of the ramp. The edges also provide a place to bank the wheels of a wheelchair when stopping midway on the ramp.

Surface Texture

Textural changes in the surface of the top and bottom approaches may be installed to warn pedestrians approaching the ramp. This is particularly important for persons with visual impairments.

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


Handrails should be installed on the sides of any ramp with a rise greater than 6 inches. The distance across from one rail to the other will be narrower than the ramp and will depend on the personal comfort of the user.

Handrails are usually installed 36 inches above the ramp, but a second handrail can be installed at 28 inches for children and people in wheelchairs. Handrails should extend 12 inches beyond the top and bottom of the ramp. The handrails can be square or round in shape, with round being preferred if the user is going to be holding on most of the time.


Outdoor ramps and their approaches should be designed so water will not accumulate on the surface. Anti-skid or textured surfaces can be added to ramps, but weather conditions should be considered. Some surfaces make it difficult to clear the ramp of snow and ice, and some surface treatments may increase resistance thus requiring greater energy output. A canopy can be built over ramps exposed to inclement weather and heating coils can be built-in to melt ice and snow in cold climates.

Modular Ramps

There are many styles of modular metal ramps that can be purchased ready to install. Modular ramps have the advantage of being more easily moved to another location if necessary.

Ramps can be custom-built from wood or concrete. Concrete ramps are permanent while metal and wood can be considered semi-permanent. Commercially available modular ramps come in sections of various sizes that can be dismantled. All ramp materials should be fire-proof.

Portable Ramps

Portable ramps are also available. Depending on the skills of the individual who needs the ramping, another person may be needed to set up the portable ramp. Portable ramps are relatively short in length with a standard width but they are made of a light-weight material, or they can be folding tracks wide enough for the wheels of a wheelchair. When using folding track-type ramps, two ramps are required and they must be carefully positioned each time they are used.

Track of 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 transport. These tracks can only be used by four-wheeled chairs, not three-wheel scooters.
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Title Annotation:includes buyers' guide
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Preserving human dignity.
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