Everything You Need To Know About The Best Wheelchair Ramps
Article originally featured on Forbes.com
Steps are often the access points to our home, but for some, that access can be limited. When stairs pose a challenge, wheelchair ramps offer a solution to preserving physical health and maintaining independence. Here’s what you need to know when searching for the best wheelchair ramp for you.
Why Use a Wheelchair Ramp?
Commonly used in public buildings—hospitals, restaurants, businesses—and private homes, wheelchair ramps help those in wheelchairs or other mobility assistance devices access buildings.
Benefits of Using a Wheelchair Ramp
“A wheelchair ramp is great for those who would like to go around the home independently,” says Raymond Dacillo, director of operations for C-Care Health Services, a home care provider and healthcare staffing agency in Toronto, Canada. Wheelchair ramps are both convenient and durable, and they minimize the need for a caretaker to transport an individual and give more freedom to the person in the wheelchair.
Plus, wheelchair ramps “add a safety factor to minimize any trips while walking up steps,” says Dacillo. “Ramps are safer for walkers as well, and for caregivers pushing the wheelchairs.”
What to Consider When Looking for a Wheelchair Ramp
“Like people, no two ramps are exactly alike,” says Nina Creech, senior vice president of operations at People Working Cooperatively’s Whole Home Innovation Center, an accessibility modification service in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here’s what to consider when looking for a wheelchair ramp.
There’s a variety of different types of wheelchair ramps. The most popular include:
Threshold ramps, which are lightweight, portable ramps about 1 to 6 inches high, are commonly used to help people through doorways that are higher than the walking surface. They also help with navigating curbs and other raised landings.
Folding ramps, which are portable ramps that fold up and can be used on the go easily.
Suitcase ramps, which have a built-in handle for portability and are designed to be used in entryways with stairs. They “fold up and can be carried in a fashion like their namesake,” says Creech. Suitcase ramps are 2 to 6 feet long.
Modular ramps, which are typically used in private residences and are made in sections that can be broken down and reassembled elsewhere. Often made of aluminum, they’re larger and more lightweight than other ramp styles.
Permanent ramps, which are usually made out of concrete or wood and built on-site. These ramps require a building permit and can’t be adjusted once they’re installed.
Wooden ramps, which are usually made out of various types of lumber wood and built on-site at the individual's home. Servants at Work (SAWs) is a provider of these specialized wooden ramps and they build these ramps with the support of donors and volunteers.
Your Home’s Point of Entry
“For lots of people, it’s their front door,” says Creech. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it makes more sense to use a back door or install your ramp in the garage. Think carefully about which location makes the most sense, especially if you’re having a permanent ramp installed.
Permanent or Portable?
Both can work well, depending on your area and needs, says Carisa Rasmussen, founder and owner of Accessible Homes in Minnesota.
“If you live in a neighborhood that’s governed by an association, it might be difficult to get permission to have a permanent ramp installed in the front of your house,” says Rasmussen. In that case, a temporary metal ramp may be a better option..
Portable ramps are smaller ramps that are easy to transport—you can carry one with you in your vehicle or fold it up and store it in your garage. “They would typically be used in situations where a person needs to get into a public building without an accessible entrance,” adds Rasmussen. “Or, if you’re hosting Christmas dinner and a person using a chair needs to get into your house.” Portable ramps aren’t intended for long-term, constant use, and they’re generally cheaper than permanent ramps.
Many people who use wheelchairs have a permanent ramp installed at home and a portable ramp to use when they travel.
Size and Length
For every inch of height change, there should be at least 12 inches of ramp run, says Rasmussen. “So if you take your measuring tape and you have 10 inches up to the door, you’d want a ramp that’s 120 inches long.”
Following this rule of thumb helps ensure that the ramp isn’t too steep for someone to safely maneuver up and down. Size might vary depending on your circumstances, “but don’t skimp on length and jeopardize safety,” says Rasmussen.
It’s also important to consider width. The American Disability Association (ADA) guidelines require ramps to be at least 36 inches wide.
Rasmussen also recommends considering your climate. For example, if it’s an area with frequent snowfall, make sure you have sufficient room to use snow removal equipment on the ramp.
Different wheelchair ramps offer different weight capacities. Consider your own weight or the weight of the person using the wheelchair, and the weight of the wheelchair to determine the weight capacity you need for your ramp.
If you’re having a wheelchair ramp built and installed, prices vary based on size, materials, structure and labor. Wheelchair ramps typically cost between $100 and $250 per square foot, says Dacillo.
Want to buy a ready-made wheelchair ramp? See how various wheelchair ramp styles and sizes stack up in terms of price.
Servants at Work (SAWs) is also a provider of wooden ramps for low-income, permanently disabled individuals. Recipients who receive their life changing ramp never pay a dime to regain their mobility freedom. If you are interested in exploring ramp options with SAWs, please visit their website or read about how their latest ramp recipient became a milestone event that not only changed the life of one mobility user but the lives of many more mobility users.
Where to Buy a Wheelchair Ramp
You can buy a wheelchair ramp at a medical supply store or from home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. You can also hire a builder to install one customized for you.
How to Pay for a Wheelchair Ramp
Wheelchair ramps can be expensive, and the need for one can arise suddenly. To pay for a wheelchair ramp, Rasmussen suggests tapping into help from various organizations. Habitat for Humanity, for example, often offers assistance in building wheelchair ramps. This ramp builder directory recommended by Rasmussen provides resources from organizations that help cover the costs of wheelchair ramps. (She doesn’t have financial ties to the free directory.) If you hire a local contractor who specializes in accessibility, they can also help point you in the right direction, adds Rasmussen.
You can also rent a wheelchair ramp from various manufacturers and retailers, which typically costs about $10 per linear foot, says Creech. “Renting a ramp is a great way to see what works for everyone before making a final decision,” she adds.
Original Medicare Part A and Part B do not cover wheelchair ramps. However, durable medical equipment (DME), such as walkers and wheelchairs, are covered.
Medicaid benefits vary from state to state, but in many cases, it will provide coverage. In New York, for example, homeowners who are Medicaid recipients are eligible for grants to help with accessibility modifications, including wheelchair ramps.
Veterans covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can also take advantage of grants that help modify homes for independent, accessible living.