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Ramps: Beyond the Slopewood switch back ramp bright flowering bush to left

Ramps – in theory they are easy to conceptualize. We generally think of them as simple structures designed to provide access at a certain height and slope. In reality, however, building a ramp requires careful and thoughtful consideration of federal standards, the needs and comfort of the user, and ongoing maintenance. The Michigan Assistive Technology Program (MATP) has received many inquires related to the construction and funding of ramps. In response, this article provides an overview of the standards for construction, highlights the various types of ramps with benefits and drawbacks to each, and provides some resources on ramp programs around the state and potential avenues for funding.

Basic Standards

The Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) dictate how ramps are designed for all public places. These guidelines provide basic guidance for constructing a ramp that is usable, safe and sturdy.

According to the ADAAG a ramp must have:

  • A minimum width of 36 inches.
  • Edge protection to keep anyone from slipping off.
  • Landings at top and bottom that are as wide as the ramp and at least 60 inches long.
  • Handrails on both sides of all ramps that rise steeper than 6 inches or have a horizontal projection of more than 72 inches.
  • Cross slopes of less than 1:50 and surfaces slip-resistant and stable

A Note on Slope

The minimum standard for the slope of a ramp is 1:12, meaning that for every inch of rise (height) a ramp should extend horizontally 12 inches. For example, if a doorway is 29 inches from the ground, the ramp would need to extend 348 inches (12 x 29) or 29 feet. However, a ramp with the 1:12 ratio may still be difficult and dangerous for people using manual chairs, and under certain conditions could even cause power wheelchairs to tip backward. For this reason, the ADA Guidelines recommend slopes of 1:16 to 1:20 to provide a gentler ascent/descent and ensure safety. Keep in mind that if the ramp is for your personal residence, you should design for your own comfort level or for the person or people who will be using the ramp.

Types of Ramps

Ramps can be built from a variety of materials and all have benefits and drawbacks. Before building, you may want to consider how the ramp will be used. Will the structure be temporary or permanent? Will the user be in a wheelchair, use a cane, or a walker? Will the ramp be exposed to the elements? With these questions in mind, let’s review some common types of ramps:

  • Concrete – A great choice for permanent ramps, holds up to the elements, less maintenance, ideal for all types of mobility devices, two track metal portable ramp on concrete stairscan brush anti-slip properties into the concrete before it dries, but expensive and not portable.
  • Wood –inexpensive and easily obtainable, allows for customization and design. Requires protection with a sealer or varnish to prevent warping and rotting. Wood must be placed close enough together to prevent uncomfortable bumps and tripping hazards but far enough apart to allow for water drainage. Handrails must be finished to prevent splinters. Wood ramps can be extremely slippery when wet and require non-slip properties to be added after construction.

    aluminum switch back ramp with railing

  • Galvanized Steel – Strong, but heavy and prone to rust and corrosion, using an open surface pattern allows for water to escape and avoids collection of dirt and debris.
  • Aluminum – Relatively lightweight, portable, resistant to rust, and can be bought commercially, ready made in pieces or as a folding unit. Weight capacity is limited and may not be appropriate for power chairs.

Ramp Programs and Funding Resources

Unfortunately, there are no national or statewide programs devoted to the construction or funding of ramps. Several communities, however, do have ramp programs for people with disabilities and older adults with limited incomes and resources.

  • The Capital Area Center for Independent Living in Lansing at times partners with The Lansing Habitat for Humanity to construct ramps at no cost. This program is limited dependent on funds available at the time. For more information contact Ellen Weaver at (517) 999-7510.
  • Home Repair Services in Grand Rapids offers ramps to residents of Kent County with limited incomes. Both homeowners and renters (in houses or apartments with 4 units or less) are eligible to apply. An application is required, as well as proof of income for all household members, proof of identification (driver’s license or state ID) federal tax returns, and the deed to the home (if a homeowner). Home Repair Services determines eligibility, and a small co-payment may apply. For more information contact Home Repair Services at (616) 241-2601
  • At United Cerebral Palsy of Metro Detroit the “Quick Ramps for Kids” program provides portable aluminum ramps to families with children under the age of 18, with Cerebral Palsy or other conditions causing paralysis. The process requires a signed application, doctor’s prescription or medical documentation, and a photo release (included in the application). For more information call (248) 557 -5070 or download and fax an application.

Funding often depends upon your location and circumstances (i.e. Veterans, people who are working, older adults, etc). Check out MATP’s funding strategy for more ideas of resources and links for funding ramps and other home improvements.

Finally, the Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund provides low-interest loans to individuals toward the purchase of assistive technology. Many people don’t realize that these loans can also be used for home modifications, such as ramps. For more information, visit the Michigan Loan Funds site through United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan or contact Michelle Seybert at 1-800-828-2714.

Do you have more questions about ramps? Are there other topics you would like to see featured in AT Connections? Let us know! Contact us through our webpage.

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