As ramp manufacturers, we see many well-intentioned attempts to create an acceptable slope to allow someone with mobility difficulties (whether in a mobility device or not) to bypass the stairs outside their home. And the reason we see it is because these people learn what we already know – these homemade wheelchair ramps are often impractical and even outright dangerous.
Whether a family member, local organization, Scout, or other community member built the ramp, if key safety elements are missing, the ramp can lack the support that would provide safe access to and from the home.
While residential ramps may not necessarily need to comply with the ADA guideline of one foot of ramping for every inch of elevation, there are still inclines far too steep for some users. Users self-ambulating in a manual wheelchair will have much difficulty on a ramp that is steeper than ADA, and even those in power wheelchairs should only have a slope within the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Understandably, someone would want to have the shortest ramp to maintain as much access to their property as possible, but this is a crucial safety element that is missing from almost every homemade ramp we see.
One of the most common homemade ramps we see involves putting a board or piece of wood down without any side rails at all. While this might be an acceptable “hack” to moving furniture, it is not acceptable for people with mobility devices or their caregivers. Handrails provide support and balance assistance and should not be skipped.
ADA guidelines require handrails for elevations above 6 inches. Again, while ADA guidelines do not govern residential properties, a ramp that goes over a few stairs should have handrails for safety. Just like you wouldn't trust a long stairwell without handrails, the same goes for your ramp.
If the ramp is too narrow, then it will be difficult to use without injuring one’s hands or scraping the wheels against tight turns.
ADA guidelines require a clearance between handrails of at least 36” like all of the ramps we offer. The overall width of most manual wheelchairs is around 25”. Add in hands on each side of the chair, and anything less than 36” starts to look very narrow, for even the most skilled users.
There is a lot of cringing in our office when we see plywood as the surface of a ramp. In addition to providing minimal structural support, sheets of plywood can also become very slick, especially in precipitation. It’s not uncommon to see grip tape and other measures piled on to provide some traction on these ramps.
Homemade ramps are often lacking any texture or spacing in the decking that would provide slip resistance. What good is a ramp if you slip on it?
Lack of Material and Structural Support
Just because someone has enough comfort around wood to assemble something that, by definition, is a ramp, doesn’t mean they know how to use the right materials and design the ramp with the structural support needed for safe travel. Homemade ramps often lack properly spaced legs, which causes sagging in the middle of sections or are constructed from lesser-quality materials that deteriorate quickly in the elements.
If you are interested in building a ramp for someone, take the time to speak with a professional ramp builder or research ramp safety online. If you are pressed for time, you don’t need to throw something together. Know that a safe, professionally-installed ramp can be at your home within a matter of days by calling National Ramp.