Ramping up for Accessibility

The humble ramp, a utilitarian device classified as one of the six simple machines taught in elementary school science classes, has become a common exterior feature of many buildings. At private homes, ramps can provide convenient access for wheelchair-bound residents and others with mobility difficulties.

Certain design decisions can affect the appearance of ramps and the property at which they are situated. Conspicuous decisions include color, baluster style and post tops. For a long ramp, designers can choose a straight run, switchback arrangement, or wraparound layout in which the ramp hugs the building’s walls. In many cases, landscaping can be an important design element.

Ideal ramp specifications vary, depending on whether the wheelchair is pushed or powered; whether crutches, walkers or other aids will be used; and whether abilities are likely to change. The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines recommend that ramps have clear widths of at least 36 in. with no tilt and slopes not exceeding 1:12.

A small difference in slope can mean a significant change in the run, and therefore the length, of a ramp. The visual impact of a long ramp can be reduced by changes of direction at landings. ADAAG recommends that landings measure at least 5 ft. in each direction, or 5 ft. by 6.5 ft. for a smooth U-turn.