Opinion

Building a ramp is an uphill struggle

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lready you see them everywhere  – wheelchair ramps stretching out from front doors or switching back like mountain highways to fit in smaller yards. As seniors live longer and more cope in their homes wheelchair ramps will become as common as trampolines.

Driving past, a wooden ramp may look ordinary, not especially difficult or expensive to build. A check into building codes alters that conclusion. What a passerby sees is but the tip of the iceberg, you might say.

Several years ago I had reason to consider building a ramp  down from our two front steps. My first inquiries led me to the Volunteer Bureau where a retired qualified carpenter offered to donate his labour to build a ramp after scouting our situation, measuring the height of our porch, drafting plans, and costing out materials at the local building centre.

Building code regulations are detailed and specific, listing materials to be used, methods for building, and step-by-step measurements.

Immediately the dimensions and layout of our yard proved to be problematic. The general rule of thumb is 1” of rise  requires 12” of ramp. While it sounds like an awfully low slope, it is really quite difficult for most wheelchair users to negotiate even a 1 in 12 slope if the ramp is any length at all. Our steps came up 30 inches; our ramp had to be at least 30 feet long.

Thirty feet straight out from the porch would have obstructed our driveway and front yard making it impossible to drive in with a load of firewood or even the vacuum truck for chimney cleaning. Parking our own vehicle in front of the door would have ended, too. Even fetching a shovel from the shed would have meant circumnavigating the ramp. A bother and many extra steps.

To run the ramp off the left side of the porch would have required dismantling that wall of the porch, then switching the ramp back for the last half. This would prevent hauling firewood around to the other side of the basement, or even wheeling a barrow of raked leaves to the compost pile.

A ramp must be built with non-slip surface and maintained in a non-slip condition.

In our case, whether front or side, the ramp would be exactly where  our snow piles up, heaped by wind, shovel, machine, or from sliding off the roof. A canopy or heating coils built in under the platform surface are recommended, a convenience measure for sure, but still snowstorms could make the ramp inoperable for days.

Sturdy handrails are part of every design for the safety of both the handicapped and caregivers.

“In all cases ramps must be stable, firm, and slip-resistant supported by posts set on concrete pads dug 18” into the ground. Detectable warning surfaces and/or color contrasts between the ramp and level surface are recommended to indicate the impending incline or decline of a ramp to persons with low vision or blindness,” advises one website.

The change of direction can be either a 90 degree turn or a 180 degree turn but when the turn is 180 degrees, the landing will have to be twice as large as otherwise needed.

Landings must be, at minimum, the width of the ramp (minimum 36”) and 60” long  for a straight through landing. In cases where the landing provides a point for a change of direction the minimum size shall be 60” by 60”.

All permanent ramps must have a level surface at both the top and bottom of the ramp. This can be a landing constructed as part of the ramp or an existing patio or porch.

Ramps not only take up a lot of yard space; building one uses a lot of savings, often for a short lifespan. They are not moveable, and thus have no resale value.

 

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