Which wheelchair ramp will work best for you?
Our home was evaluated by a physical therapist when my mother-in-law was returning from rehab. She had fallen and broken her hip and required surgery. Now she was ready to come back home, and we all knew it was going to take a lot of effort for her to regain her mobility. One change we needed to make was to add a wheelchair ramp at an entrance.
I had never needed a wheelchair ramp before and didn’t know the first thing about them. However, I am pretty handy at carpentry and assumed I would just get some treated lumber and build one. I mean really, how hard could it be? I quickly realized it wasn’t the construction of a wheelchair ramp that was the challenge. It was knowing what to build.
Thanks to Google and YouTube I learned there are several basic design features that every ramp needs.
- You need a landing outside the door that is large enough to accommodate the swing of the door and room to spare for the wheelchair.
- You need rails all around to prevent the chair from running over the edge.
- You need to use a safe degree of slope. The standard slope for the ramp is 1 in 12. That is, for every 1” vertical, you need 12” of horizontal travel.
The 1 in 12 slope rule is not set in stone. It is an ADA (American Disabilities Act) requirement for all public facilities. But it does not apply to residential buildings. Still, it is a good safe rule to follow and it’s possible that the city you live in has adopted it as code for your area. Check with your city before you start. In the end, what’s important is that the slope is not too steep to provide for the safe and easy use by the wheelchair user.
Also, if the wheelchair ramp you acquire is for a mobility scooter, and not a manual wheelchair, the manufacturer will determine the slope capabilities of the scooter. Look at the manual which came with the scooter for this information.
Whew! Having determined what you need as far as size and slope, you now have another decision to make. Wood or metal?
We’re not considering concrete here, which could be a great choice in some situations.
There are pros and cons for both wood and metal wheelchair ramps. Here are a few things to consider:
- You can custom design and build your ramp to fit your slope needs and to have an appearance that will complement your home.
- Wood will probably be cheaper than other materials.
- Wooden ramps will be considered “permanent” by your city and will require permits.
- Wood will age and will require refinishing from time to time. Weather my cause warping and require repair.
- Wood has a limited life-span and requires more maintenance as it ages.
- Manufactured ramps are designed to fit your particular need and environment.
- Aluminum ramps are considered “portable” and can be removed. Therefore they do not require permits in most cities. Still, it’s best to check with your city’s building inspection office first.
- The aluminum ramp is removable and may be used again if you move to another home.
- An aluminum wheelchair ramp is weather resistant, will not rust and it never needs refinishing. They do require maintenance check-ups to make sure the bolts are tight, railing is sturdy, etc.
- An aluminum wheelchair ramp can be removed when no longer needed. It could be sold or used again elsewhere.
- Aluminum ramps can be rented by the month in most areas if you need it for a limited time. They can also be acquired through a “rent to own” program offered by many suppliers.
If you’re a carpenter, building a wheelchair ramp out of wood might be the easiest choice. But if you’ll only need the ramp for limited time, that wood ramp might become a scrap pile of wood rather quickly. So, there are times when an aluminum ramp makes perfect sense because of its many advantages.
Here at Caregiver-Aid, we sell an assortment of portable ramps by Ez-Access. Mostly, these are suitcase ramps that can be folded and loaded into your car and carried with you. If you need a more substantial aluminum ramp for your home, you can contact Ez-Access and find the dealer closest to you.