Several years ago, my mother in-law fell while trying to sit down on her bed. At first there seem 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 to use 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, as well as people pushing strollers, carts, or other wheeled objects, to more easily have access to a building.
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 of aluminum, concrete or wood. Aluminum ramps are more durable than wooden ramps and can be moved or reconfigured. Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheelchair_ramp
There are several considerations and requirements you should review before acquiring a new ramp. The preparation beforehand can easily take longer than the actual building and installation of the ramp. You may even decide to ask for bids from several ramp companies before making the decision.
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 space needed. Lack of space can disqualify one location over the other. City code and Home-owners Associations may have regulations that need to be adhered to and therefore affect the location.
- Many people make the mistake of building a wheelchair ramp within a very confined space thereby making the slope too steep for safe use. There are many reasons that 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 will be able to assist you.
Homeowner Preferences and Neighborhood Aesthetics
- Restrictions concerning type of materials and over-all aesthetics may be imposed by local associations or city codes.
- If you rent your home the home owner may have requirements of their own.
Person’s Abilities Using Ramp
- A steeply sloped wheelchair ramp is very difficult to climb and can result in the user tipping or rolling backwards without control. If the height is no more than a couple of steps, you may be able to use 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 to 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.
- In some cases, 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. Stop and consider the user’s space considerations before you go any further.
Permanent or Temporary
- Will you need the ramp for years to come or only a few months? If you are in need of a temporary structure, you can rent a portable ramp instead of buying and installing a permanent one. Generally speaking, wooden and concrete ramps are considered permanent. Wooden ramps require more maintenance and generally 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. There are many different companies that supply aluminum ramps systems. They are considered portable because they can be reconfigured, added-to, or removed and reused somewhere else. They can also be installed in less than a day.
When the Physical Therapist explained our need for a ramp, the number one concern was “getting out of the house in case of a fire”.
Here are a few more reasons to have a ramp:
- Bouncing down some stairs 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 user’s abilities.
As you can see, it’s not a “one size fits all” situation. Plan ahead, check with your city’s code department, ask for medical and professional construction help.