With the purchase of a new chair, manual or power, often comes the purchase of new ramps for wheelchairs. Sure, there are some additional options such as using a walker or rail for the stairs and the chair for indoor use only? There is also the option of moving out of the private residence with steps to the entry-ways and into a more accessible residence. All other opportunities besides purchasing new ramps for wheelchairs still come with their own costs, time, and concerns.
For simplification, let’s only discuss one route that is adequately described in the following case study:
Ellis is a 64-year old male with post-stroke hemiplegia who recently purchased a power chair after realizing that is manual wheelchair was not efficient enough to get him around his home. 2 years ago, he was able to scale the 4-step entry into his home with a quad cane and a rail while using the manual chair for indoor use only. As his muscles have atrophied over the years, he can hardly stand on his own. His home has the space to accommodate for the chair, but now he has to get a ramp for his single entry-way. Ellis can’t afford the monthly payments for assistive living, and he can hardly afford a brand-new ramp from a medical equipment company. So, he has decided to recruit a few of his neighborhood friends to construct a homemade ramp for him.
So what are some items that Ellis’s friends need to consider before, during, and after ramps for wheelchairs installation? Such considerations should be made to prevent any hazardous situations from occurring later on to Ellis:
Accessibility measurement guidelines
As far as legal details are concerned, wheelchair ramps that are installed at a privately owned residence do not have to meet Australian Standard measurement guidelines. However, for safety reasons, it is recommended that such ramps follow the guidelines anyway. Refer to the following link for Australian Standard recommendations:
The most essential measurement to get right is the ramps for wheelchairs’ inclines. Too steep of an incline can result in stalling or tipping the chair which can result in serious injury to the user. The incline should also be considered for those who are walking up the ramp independently or with the assist of a walker.
Handrails and platforms
If the incline portions of any ramps for wheelchairs are longer than the stated guidelines, it is recommended to put flat platforms in between as well as platforms at the beginning and end of the ramp. For limited yard space, the platforms can be treated as switchback points in order to avoid placing the ramp in the street or over sidewalks. The platforms break up the ramp in order to provide the user rest breaks, which is particularly helpful for manual wheelchair and walker users. The handrails should be installed throughout the ramp as a guide for walkers, but also as a barrier for wheelchairs to prevent users from tumbling off of the ramp. Refer to the guidelines for the ramp width and where to place the rails. Installing rails within the recommended width will make the ramp too narrow for the user.
This highly depends on what kind of material is used for any ramps for wheelchairs. Many homemade ramps are made out of wood, which provide some traction when dry. However, in rainy or snowy climates, rubber or textured matting can be added to the ramp in order to provide traction while wet. Avoid high-gloss woods or smooth metals for the ramp flooring in order to prevent falls or slippage.
Consider the combination weight of the chair and the chair user. Inevitably, power chairs are going to be much heavier than manual wheelchairs, but the combination weight really depends on how heavy the individual is. If the user weighs over 250 lbs, that number generally classifies them in the obese category which means that their wheelchair is a bariatric chair (which is even heavier than a standard chair). If the user is of a bariatric size, then the ramp needs to be modified so that it doesn’t buckle while being used. Constructors could add more reinforcement to the ramp by shortening the inclines between platforms and using thicker beams to support the ramp (see Australian Standards for suggestions). Note, keep in mind that the width of the ramp may need to be extended as well.
Ramps for wheelchairs yard space
If the user is trying to scale more than 4 steps using a ramp, then they need the yard space to support it. With every step comes a hefty length of ramp that takes up space. As mentioned previously, the inclines can be in switchback form using the platforms. However, if the ramp switches back 3, 4, 6 times then the yard in front of the entry-way will need to be big enough for it.
Material life and maintenance
Metal ramps like stainless steel and aluminum are usually pretty low maintenance since the material is weather-resistant. If the ramp is to be constructed out of wood, then the user needs to schedules yearly maintenance for the ramp. Items to keep in mind include pest control (i.e. termites), mildew build-up, mold, etc. Wooden ramps in humid and wet climates should be frequently stained in order to prevent splinting and breakdown. Any metal portions of the ramp, including nail work, should be inspected for rust and breakdown as well.
The user and owner of the private residence needs to research the property foundation, which can usually be accessible via city records. If a wooden ramp is to be built over the yard (which it most likely will if there are a ton of stairs), then constructors need to know what kind of soil they are building over. For example, homes on clay foundations tend to sink with time which can happen to a ramp that is frequently used. If the ramp sinks, then it will misalign with the entry-way and compromise the integrity of the ramp.