Ramps: A Primer

Whether it's justice, medical care, education or housing, access is everything. If you own it, or have a right to it - regardless of what it is - it's not much good if you can't get to it.

That's why ramps are a critical part of life for people with mobility challenges: They literally mean access to the mainstream of life. From the humble (like access to public restrooms) to the routine (like getting through one's own front door or office) to the social (like attending concerts and enjoying museums), ramps mean the difference between living life and watching while others live it.

It's easy to lose sight of the complementary significance of ramps to wheelchairs. The power of the most sophisticated power wheelchair is trumped by a simple set of stairs or an especially high curb. Just as a De Lorean without a highway is more than a little beside the point, mobility technology, from scooters to all-terrain power chairs, is largely frustrated without ramps.

In honor of that accessibility workhorse, the ramp, we offer this week a ramp primer.

Ramps have evolved from heavy, often permanent installations to portable devices made from lightweight but strong materials that one person can move and deploy. Ramps have proliferated in both variety and design and offer your clients an exceptional range of choices.

Ramps typically fall into four categories, interior, exterior, permanent and portable. Obviously a threshold consideration is whether your client needs or wants a permanent or temporary ramp. In either case, outdoor ramps should resist rusting, peeling and fading. Nonslip surfaces, well-designed leg supports and handrails are essential.

Ramps' angle of elevation should be matched to users' capabilities -- too steep and it becomes unpleasant or impossible to use for a manual-chair user; not steep enough and the ramp is longer (and perhaps more expensive) than necessary. According to mobility-advisor.com, a good ratio is an inch of elevation for each 12 inches of ramp.

Generally speaking, vans are best accessed using multi-fold, telescopic and roll-up ramps. For curbs and short steps, suitcase and roll-up ramps are usually best. Here's a more detailed overview of portable ramps.

Modular Ramps: These can be permanent or semi-permanent and are used for access to specific locations, such as the front porch of a house.

Threshold Ramps: Ideal for uneven or rough surfaces, such as entranceways and passages between rooms with different elevations, these can be permanent or portable.

Folding, Portable Ramps: Portability is the strength here. Their aluminum construction uses single or multiple hinges that allow the ramp to be folded for easy storage and carrying.

Telescoping Wheelchair Access Ramps: Adaptable for different elevations, these ramps are designed as two sections, one sliding into the other, and can be extended or shortened depending on the situation.

Van Access Ramps: Specifically designed to give users back or side access to vans, these aluminum, non-skid ramps can be manually or electronically deployed and retracted.

This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of HME Business.

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