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Universal Design

Guidelines for Ramps

Specifications for width, slope, landings, and other important features.

Ramps aren't just for wheelchairs anymore. Sure, wheelchair users need ramps to get in and out of buildings. But ramps also help lots of other people. It doesn't matter how old you are. It doesn't matter how strong you are.

Maybe your knees are bad and you can't climb stairs. You might use a walker. Perhaps you broke a leg and are using crutches for a few weeks. You could be taking care of a grandchild who is still in a baby carriage. Whatever the reasons, there are days when all of us are glad to use a ramp instead of taking the stairs.

It seems that no two ramps are alike. Some are made of wood. Others are concrete, asphalt or metal. "Straight-shot" ramps make no turns. "L-shaped" ramps make a 90-degree turn. "Switchback" ramps make a 180-degree turn.

Ramps aren't easy to build. That's why you should hire a professional to do the job right. If your builder doesn't know very much about ramps, give him or her these guidelines.

General Design

A steep ramp is more dangerous than having no ramp at all. So build yours with a gentle slope. The higher your ramp is, the longer it needs to be. You should have at least 12 inches of ramp for every 1 inch that the ramp has to climb. It would be better to have 20 inches for every 1 inch of vertical rise.

Let's say your front porch is 18 inches above the ground - that means your ramp should be 216 inches - or 18 feet - long (18 inches times 12 inches = 216 inches divided by 12 = 18 feet). Want to have 20 inches of ramp for each inch of vertical rise? Then your ramp should be about 30 feet long (18 x 20 = 360 inches divided by 12 = 30 feet).

Don't build a ramp this long as a "straight shot" into your front yard. It won't look very attractive. And it will be hard to use. Ramps look better if they are close to the house. A ramp that is 30 feet long will be easier to use if it has a flat landing in the middle where the user can take a rest.

Landings are an important part of every ramp. You need to build a landing every time the ramp changes direction. Make this landing 60 inches long and 60 inches wide. You will also need one landing at the top of the ramp and one at the bottom. The top landing will keep you from rolling or falling backwards when you open the door to your house. The bottom landing will let you move safely from the ramp to level ground. Landings should be at least as wide as the ramp. They should also be at least 60 inches long.

Your ramp and all its landings must be level from side to side. A ramp that slopes even a little is hard to use. It upsets the balance of a person with a walker. It makes a wheelchair hard to steer.

Ramps in Bad Weather

Keep in mind that you'll use a ramp in all kinds of weather - sun, rain and snow. Make sure it is safe no matter what the season.

Design your ramp so water doesn't pool on its surface. Put gutters on your house so rainwater doesn't fall from the roof onto the ramp.

Make sure the surface of the ramp won't be slippery when wet. Attach "grit" tapes to the ramp. They will give more traction. Add sand to a can of polyurethane and use that to paint the ramp. Create a rough texture on a concrete ramp by brushing the surface with a broom before it hardens.

Don't put the ramp near trees that drop leaves or pods. These droppings could become very slippery if it rains. Build the ramp so it faces south, if possible. The way, the sun can help dry the ramp surface after it rains or snows.

Ramp Accessories

Once your ramp is built, spice it up with these important accessories:

•  Mount guardrails along the side of the ramp. Put them about 18 inches from the ramp floor. This rail will help keep people and wheelchairs safely on the ramp.

•  Install edging along the floor of the ramp so no one will slide off. The edging should be 2-inches high.

•  Put handrails on both sides of the ramp. Use wood; Metal could be hard to hold in winter. Handrails should extend at least 12 inches beyond the ramp at both ends.

•  Build a set of stairs off the top landing of the ramp. This way, friends and relatives can use the stairs if they don't want to use the ramp.

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