Spotlight on Ramps

Ramps. If you are thinking about accessibility you can’t avoid ramps. Now ramps are part of a bigger part of accessibility, step free access, which is a whole topic itself. This week though, we will just be looking at ramps.

So who are ramps for? Most obviously ramps are used by people in wheelchairs – whether self propelled, pushed, or electric – and mobility scooters in order to navigate steps and rises. They are also useful for people with mobility issues or impairments that make steps difficult, painful or impossible to navigate.

In the UK, and throughout Europe steps are common in the entrance ways to many buildings, even newer builds, making millions of buildings inaccessible to disabled people. This effectively physically bars people from homes, businesses public services and attractions, and venues. It’s also not uncommon to find steps and raised levels inside buildings, again, restricting what disabled people with mobility impairments can access.

It’s therefore vital to create step free access and ramps are one way of achieving this. Ramps may be used when physically removing steps or levelling floors is not possible. They can come in a few different forms. In some case are amp may be created by using concrete or tarmac over an existing entryway in order to create a small ramp. This is usually most effective on small or shallow steps.

interior ramp
Photograph of a long sweeping spiral ramp inside the Museo Soumaya, Mexico. Photograph by Daniel Case. This is a great example of step free access and a ramp that was part of the original design of the building. 

For sets of steps where a greater height needs to be overcome then a specially built ramp may be more suitable. A business or building owner may choose to specially pave a ramped entrance to a building as part of the original design or as modifications to the outer of the building. There are also numerous companies who can build metal or wooden framework ramps that are affixed to the building and ground as a permanent structure. These offer a great deal of stability for those using it and, offer a greater range of aesthetics which can be in keeping with the building and avoid stigmatising those who need to use them. Often buildings may offer a ramps as the only form of access to their building whilst others may offer a ramp in addition to steps.

When costs, lease agreements or building restrictions means that a permanent or built in ramp isn’t suitable temporary structures might be a good option. Again there are companies which can build and install ramps out of metal or wood. These ramps can be fixed securely to the ground without being destructive to the original property. In some instances, especially if you are on a lower budget, you may be able to build your own from readily available materials, though care should be taken to make sure the structure is load bearing.

short ramp
photograph showing a short metal movable ramp in the entrance to a shop. The ramp covers the step into the shop at a height of approximately six inches. The ramp is designed to be kept inside overnight and placed out again each morning. 

In some cases any sort of fixed ramp may not be suitable, generally due to the space available. In these cases removable ramps may be an option. They can be put out at the start of business and taken in again of an evening or, in cases where this is not practical you can have them on hand for use when a disabled visitor needs it. If you are using a removable ramp you must make sure it is sturdy and in good working order, and is on a surface where it won’t skid or move around. If you are not able to leave it in position then you need to make sure it is easily available for disabled customers – remember an access accommodation which isn’t accessible, isn’t an access accommodation at all. This may mean clear signage which describes how to access as well as any tools to assist this such as speaker phones or door bells.

… if I am having mobility issues which mean I will struggle with steps, that means I am *also* struggling with fatigue. If the ramp is further away or longer to travel than the stairs, that’s not actually any help. – Jessie H

Whatever style of ramp you choose you should make sure it is fit for purpose. There are clear guidelines available that describe the recommended gradient (and how to calculate this) or how steep your ramp should be. A ramp that is too steep may be difficult or impossible for some people to get up, especially those in self-propelled chairs, and dangerous to descend down. The greater the height of steps, the longer your ramp will need to be which can be challenging in some places. The solution to this is usually to have a longer ramp which turns back on itself before reaching the top of the rise.

insufficient ramp
A permanent ramp made out of poured concrete with brick edging and a wooden hand rail. The gradient of the ramp increases sharply about two feet away from the door. The door has a small concrete lip that is not covered by the ramp. This may prove to be a barrier to people with some mobility issues once they get to the top of the ramp and they may not be able to access the building.

There are some pitfalls to be aware of in addition to how steep the ramp is.

It needs to be wide enough for all types of mobility aid to get up. It should also be free of obstruction on the ramp, on any landings and at the top and bottom of the ramp with enough room to turn on to the ramp. There should be some sort of non-slip surface on it, whether a textured concrete, metal treads or textured rubber flooring. They shouldn’t be skid hazards. It’s generally advisable, especially on longer or higher ramps to have a lip on either side and some sort of hand rail. Remember ramps aren’t just for those in chairs but for any who struggle with steps and some of those people may benefit from an extra hand hold.

I’ve discovered a lot of ramps with no guard rails and tight turns using my scooter. I’ve been in tears, panicked and shamed feeling. – Kirstin R

Also be wary of where you are locating your ramp. While the length of a ramp may be unavoidable due to the height of the rise, ramps that are positioned so that people have to walk “the long way round” may cause additional difficulties for some people and leave them facing a difficult choice between a long walk to use a ramp or risking the steps.

…there is a hilarious one at one of the northern M1 service stations that’s ultra steep and rolls you at high speed into parked cars. – Emma R

Ramps aren’t the be all and end all of accessibility, but they are a good start. As with all accomodations it takes a little bit of thinking to make sure your ramp is fit for purpose – after all a ramp that doesn’t make your building more accessible isn’t really an accessibility aid at all!

Take a look around your building and venue and see if it’s up too scratch in terms of access. Are there places which could benefit from a ramp. If you already have a ramp, is it doing it’s job?

Ramps are a great investment in your work to becoming more accessible and I hope you can take away something new from this post.

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