How to Build Your Own Ramp

I’ve always been a fan of ramps. When I was younger and could walk more, I liked them for being easier for me than stairs because I could walk them gradually.

As a wheelchair user today, ramps are essential. I just can’t do stairs anymore, and my wheelchair requires the ease of ramped travel. So last year, when my family couldn’t find a ramp to rent for a vacation home rental, we were frustrated and flummoxed.

Ramps should be readily available

We didn’t think it should be so difficult to find a company that rents ramps and to have it be somewhat affordable. After many calls and dead ends, we found one about an hour from our vacation rental, but we were absolutely shocked at the expense. It just was not realistic for a week-long visit.

How we built our own ramp

Thankfully, we are resourceful people. My father (being a retired engineer) said, “No problem. I will build one myself!” This is a bit easier said than done, but it is possible if you have some tools, can buy some materials, and are willing to take the time to learn.

Step 1: Take some measurements

The first step was to get accurate measurements of the area we needed to ramp. A helpful person at the vacation home rental office visited the property and sent us measurements. We got the total height of the stairs, the length, and some measurements around the area to see where the ramp could fit. We were also able to get some photos with the help of a friend.

Step 2: Consult the expert guidance

The US Access Board has a handy guide about ramps and standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Generally, the guidance is to have 12 inches of slope for one inch of rise to make the ramp gradual enough for use. To accommodate the width of a wheelchair, it should be at least 36 inches wide. And if the ramp is longer than 30 feet, there should be a flat stopping point or turn to allow the person to rest. The standard also calls for a lip on the edge to prevent a wheel from slipping off the ramp and a handrail if the ramp is long.

While these are the ideal standards, many older buildings or constructions have steeper ramps or lack rest points. Often, I’m just happy to have anything!

Step 3: Examine the landscape

The other issue is that adding a temporary ramp means dealing with the reality of the landscape. For example, we lacked space at the vacation home rental and couldn’t make the ramp long enough. Since the ramp was for personal use at a temporary residence, we had to compromise by fitting in the space available and making it still manageable for use. In this case, the ramp was pretty steep, so both my husband and my father had to push/pull me in my wheelchair.

But it worked! My father built a beautiful ramp that enabled me to join them on vacation! The ramp was built from wood (plywood for the surface and wood strips for the edging). He even added adhesive sandpaper strips to help grip the surface.

Since it was steep, we always had 2 people (one to push and one to guide and pull) to go up and down the ramp. Additionally, we always had me go down backward so I wouldn’t tip forward out of my chair.

It doesn't have to be perfect!

Although it was work to build, we were all happy to have the ramp. I probably would not have been able to visit otherwise. If I had come without the ramp, someone could have been injured helping lift me up or down the stairs. It was truly remarkable to have the ramp (even though it may have been imperfect) at our disposal. Obviously, for a permanent, public use structure, this would not do or fit ADA compliance, but for temporary use, we couldn’t let perfect be the enemy of the good (and helpful).

Ramps have a place and use in many other situations. Although I live in a ground-floor, one-story condo, we purchased little metal ramps to help me get out to our patio over the sliding door framing. It was a similar process of measuring the space and trying to get a ramp that would provide a gradual enough grade for both sides of the doorway. After a simple online search, we found a vendor, ordered the metal ramps to fit our measurements, and have enjoyed easier access ever since.

Ramps are a wonderful invention! They are one of the first tools humans invented (as my physics geek husband notes: “Remember the 5 simple machines from high school physics”). I say, let’s use them more and enjoy the benefits of increased accessibility that they provide!

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