How to Choose the Right Wheelchair Ramp

Wheelchair ramps
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When a person has impaired mobility, their prime need is to be as independent as possible. Mobility aids such as wheelchairs, powered chairs, and rollators can provide users with greater freedom, allowing them to undertake daily activities more easily without requiring assistance. When obstacles however are encountered, such as steps, curbs, and uneven surfaces, these can impede their accessibility and impact their safety.

The use of a wheelchair ramp can greatly improve someone’s accessibility, allowing them to overcome common obstacles that are found around the home as well as ones found outside.

There are a wide range of wheelchair ramps suited for all purposes and needs. If you’re struggling to understand what ramp is the most suitable for your particular needs, this article will help you.

We will help to demystify how you go about choosing the best ramp. We will cover the types of access ramps that are available, their individual benefits, and we will also cover the important factors that you should consider before purchasing one.

Contents

Who Can Benefit From a Wheelchair Ramp?

Wheelchair ramps can improve the accessibility for users that use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, rollators, walkers or mobility scooters.

They can help to maintain someone’s independence as it allows them to safely and more easily navigate over different types of thresholds and obstacles including doorways, steps, kerbs or uneven surfaces which they may have otherwise have struggled with.

Mobile threshold ramp

Types of Wheelchair Ramps

Wheelchair ramps can come in range of different styles and sizes to suit all needs and types of environments. Ramps can either be portable, semi-permanent and permanent, the most common ones include:

Threshold Ramps

Threshold ramps allow a wheelchair, walker or mobility scooter user to safely manoeuvre over low rises such doorframe sills or other types of smaller thresholds that you would usually encounter in and around the home. Depending on the ramp, it can either be placed by the door lip to allow the user to more easily traverse over it or it can be used to bridge the threshold over uneven surfaces.

They are normally constructed from durable but lightweight materials such as rubber, aluminum or fibreglass. They can vary from freestanding ones that are portable and can be used throughout the home, to fixed ones that require fastening to the floor. Fixed ones are preferable for anyone using heavier mobility aids such as wheelchairs or mobility scooters. They are securely held in place and are unlikely to move as the user traverses over the ramp so they are generally considered safer.

Threshold ramps can come in a range of heights ranging from ½ inch up to 6 inches to suit all types of thresholds and most have a weight capacity of at least 600 lbs.

The threshold ramp from Prairie View Industries is an example of a good quality one that is suitable for home use and can help users to traverse over thresholds and transition between doorways.

It comes in a range of sizes ranging from 8 x 32 inches up to 24 x 32 inches to suit different sized-width doorways. The ramp is suitable for thresholds between 3/4″ – 1.5″. It is fitted with pre-drilled holes so it can be attached permanently to the floor helping it to securely keep it in place.

It is constructed from lightweight but durable aluminum and it has a weight capacity of up to 600 lbs making it suitable for heavier scooters and wheelchairs. The ramp is fitted with an anti-slip surface thus helping to reduce the risk of users slipping.

>> Click here to see a list of threshold ramps from Amazon

Suitcase/Folding Ramps

Threshold ramps are suitable for impaired mobility users to assist them to manoeuvre over small rises such as over a doorframe. A portable suitcase ramp on the other hand, is more suited for transitioning over larger thresholds such as a flight of stairs or for helping users to get in and out of a vehicle such as a van or SUV.

As the name suggests, these are foldable but lightweight ramps which makes them easy to transport so they can be taken out by users as needed and can quickly be set-up. As they take up minimal space when folded, they can be conveniently stored away when not in use.

These types of ramps usually have higher weight capacities (up to 800 lbs) which makes them ideally suited for larger mobility aids such as scooters or powered scooter that can often weigh in-excess of 500 lbs. They are usually constructed from fiberglass or aluminum and for extra safety they are normally fitted with non-slip coating and raised edges.  Ramp lengths can range from anywhere from 2-feet up to 12-feet.

The following portable ramp from EZ-ACCESS comes in a range of different lengths ranging from 2-feet up to 6-feet. It can be used as one unit or it can also be separated into two lightweight sections depending on your needs.

It is fitted with carrying handles so it can easily be carried when you’re out and about and it is also relatively lightweight. One of the stand-out options is it is fitted with self-adjusting transition plates which means it can adapt to all sorts of terrains and it has a slip-resistant tread for increased safety.

The ramp is constructed from heavy-duty aluminum which makes it extremely durable and it has a hefty weight capacity of 800 lbs.

>> Click here to see a list of suitcase ramps from Amazon

Telescoping Track Ramps

A telescoping track ramp is a retractable style of ramp that can be extended to different lengths. This style of ramp offers greater flexibility over a suitcase ramp as it can extend to different sizes depending on the height of the threshold. They can be used both at home as well as outdoors.

As they are retractable, they are compact and can easily be stored in smaller spaces such as in a car, SUV or van. Telescoping ramps are ideal for use over stairs as well as for transporting powered chairs and scooters in and out of a vehicle.

They usually come in two different styles, including bi-fold or tri-fold. A bi-fold consists of two individual panels while a tri-fold consists of three separate panels. 

The retractable ramp from MABIS DMI Healthcare can extend from 3 to 5 feet. It is an ideal ramp to help users navigate over obstacles, as well as to move mobility aids in and out of a van, SUV or car. The inside width of each ramp measures 4.5 inches and each one weighs 6 lbs. The ramp can support a total weight of 600 lbs so should be suitable for most wheelchairs or scooters that have a ground clearance of over 2.5 inches.

>> Click here to see a list of telescoping track ramps from Amazon

Modular Ramps

Modular ramps are a semi-permanent style of ramp, it is more suited for higher thresholds, for example, where there are lots of stairs leading up to the front door or where there is an extreme incline thus making a portable ramp impractical as well as dangerous to use.

It is assembled in sections which are fitted together. It is constructed from either aluminum or from polyurethane tiles. Due to the custom nature of these types of ramps, they can usually be constructed to the individual needs of the user and they can also be customized for a particular location.

A modular ramp will usually require more space, so this type of ramp is only suitable for larger spaces. While modular ramps are a more expensive option, they are particularly suited for users with permanent disabilities where a semi-permanent ramp is preferable over a portable one.

While the ramp is a more permanent type of ramp, it can be disassembled if required and can be reassembled elsewhere.

The following modular ramp from Prairie View Industries is designed for 16″ vertical rise and measures 16′ L x 36″ W. It comes with a handrail so the user can support and leverage themselves up while in a wheelchair.

It is constructed from aluminum which is both durable and is resistant to corrosion. Due to the freestanding nature of the ramp, it doesn’t require any additional permits to install. For an additional fee, the ramp can be installed by an expert.

>> Click here to see a list of modular ramps from Amazon

Factors to Consider Before Purchasing a Wheelchair Ramp?

Choosing the right wheelchair ramp for your particular needs will depend on a number of factors. These include such things as where you plan on using it, the type of mobility aid that you use, the height of the threshold and your physical abilities.

Here are some important factors to consider before deciding on the right ramp for your needs:

Ramp Length and Vertical Rise

Once you’ve decided on the style of ramp that you need, the next step will be to decide on the required ramp’s rise/steepness and length.

The ramp steepness is correlated to the ramp’s length. The shorter the ramp, the steeper the gradient will be. A ramp that has gradient that is too steep, can be unsafe for both the wheelchair or scooter user and anyone assisting them as it can make traveling up or down it more challenging. 

A ramp’s gradient is calculated by dividing the height by the length of the ramp. A ramp with a gradient of 1:12, means that for every inch in height, the ramp will be 1′ (12″) in length. The higher the rise, the longer the ramp will need to be.

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) recommends the following ramp gradient specifications:

Commercial Occupied Use Residential Unoccupied Use Residential Occupied Use
Recommend Gradient 1:12 3:12 2:12
Description For wheelchair ramps on commercial premises, ADA recommends a 1:12 gradient (5 degrees incline). So 1" of vertical rise requires at least a 1' (12") minimum ramp length For wheelchair ramps on residential premises, where the scooter or wheelchair is moved unoccupied up or down a ramp, ADA recommends a 3:12 gradient (14.5 degrees incline). So 3" of vertical rise requires at least a 1' (12") minimum ramp length For wheelchair ramps on residential premises, where the scooter or wheelchair is occupied as it goes up or down a ramp, ADA recommends a 2:12 gradient (9.5 degrees incline). So 2" of vertical rise requires at least a 1' (12") minimum ramp length
Example A 22" rise will require a minimum ramp length of 22' (22 divided by 1). A 22" rise will require a minimum ramp length of 8' (22 divided by 3). A 22" rise will require a minimum ramp length of 11' (22 divided by 2).

In order to find right length ramp that for your particular needs, perform the following:

  1. First measure the vertical distance from the ground up to the highest point where the ramp will need to rest on such as the top step.
  2. Now, simply multiple the rise measurement taken in step 1 by the appropriate ratio. If for example, we require a ramp to take an unoccupied powered chair, we would use ADA’s guidelines as reference and we would use the 3:12 ratio. If the vertical rise taken in step 1 was 18″, we would require a ramp with a minimum length of 6′ (18 divided 3).

Width

Ramps come in a range of different widths, choosing the right width will depend on the following factors:

  • The width of your mobility aid. The ramp should be wide enough to safely accommodate your mobility aid (wheelchair, mobility scooter, powered wheelchair, rollator). If it’s too narrow, you could risk falling off it. Larger mobility scooters and powered chairs will require a wider ramp. As a general rule, aim for a ramp that has a minimum width of at least 36″ as recommended by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Always however measure the width of your mobility aid to ensure it’s the right fit.
  • The size of the doorway. The ramp should also be able to fit comfortably through a doorway so it’s important to consider the door dimensions where it will need to go. Door widths can range anywhere from 24″ to 42″ so check that it will fit. If you plan on using a ramp with a vehicle, check the door dimensions as these can vary greatly depending on the make and type of vehicle.

Materials

Wheelchair ramps can be constructed from a range of materials, the most common ones include rubber, aluminum and fibreglass.

The main differences between these materials include:

  • Rubber is a good option if you’re looking for a lightweight ramp that is portable and that can be used throughout the home or taken with you when you go out. One of the added benefits of a rubber ramp, is it can be trimmed down to size and it can also be paired with other rubber ramps. You will normally find smaller threshold ramp constructed from rubber. A rubber ramp is normally the cheapest option although they usually have a reduced weight capacity.
  • Fiberglass ramps are lightweight, durable and good value for money. They are more visually appealing than metals ramps and they also don’t absorb heat which means it won’t get hot in warmer weather unlike aluminum or steel ones.
  • Aluminum is lightweight but extremely durable. Opting for an aluminum ramp is perfect if you’re looking for a sturdier option that can bear more weight. It is ideal for heavier powered scooters and wheelchair users. While an aluminum ramp will often be more expensive, it does have the added benefit that it will not rust so it can be used externally in all weathers and will require minimal maintenance.

Weight Capacity

It’s vital to always check the weight capacity of the ramp that you intend on purchasing to see if it’s suitable for your particular needs. Exceeding a ramp’s advertised weight capacity, could prove potentially dangerous as it may give away. 

Most ramps on the market can support weights up to 600 lbs. While this may be sufficient for most manual wheelchair users, this may not be the case for anyone that uses heavier mobility aids such as a powered wheelchair or scooter which can weigh in-excess of 500 lbs.

Choosing an appropriate ramp for your weight capacity is a relatively straightforward process. Simply combine the user’s weight with the total weight of the mobility aid, if the user also requires the help of a caregiver, don’t forget to combine their weight as well. Add these together and this should be the weight capacity that the ramp will need to support.

References

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Jackie

Jackie

Jackie is a passionate advocate for keeping people with all types of mobility problems active. After suffering complications after a knee replacement she knew that she wanted to remain as active as before her numerous operations. Her passion is to advise others on how to be able to lead a fulfilling and independent life no matter what disability they may have.

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