Types of Disability Ramps

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Disability ramps have long been a subject of interest for those who utilize wheelchairs and for businesses and workplaces interested in providing a readily accessible environment.  Today, the topic attracts more attention than ever thanks to a growing recognition of need and the provisions of the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates accessible public accommodations.

The ADA establishes a standardized definition of a “ramp” and lays out specific guidelines that must be met in order for a public accommodation to be compliant with the legislation.  These guidelines cover everything from the degree of slope, appropriate width, requirements for landings, and when handrails are necessary.

While necessarily strict, the ADA rules do leave enough room for multiple options when making a wheelchair ramp decision and many different varieties are readily available.

In addition to the ADA-compliant models, there are other disability ramps designed for personal, vehicular and home use.

Sorting through these options can be difficult for the un-initiated.  Understanding the natures of the different types of disability ramps can provide some much-needed clarity and direction for many who are considering a ramp purchase for personal or public accommodation use.

Permanent Ramps

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Permanent disability ramps are frequently encountered in new structures, built after the implementation of the ADA, although some older structures may have pre-existing varieties or ramps that were added long after construction in order to guaranteed compliance.  These immovable ramps are usually made of concrete.  Permanent ramps are clearly the most expensive options but they offer unrivaled durability.

Construction of a quality permanent ramp usually involves calling in a professional contractor with specific experience in creating wheelchair ramps.  These are not a “do it yourself” project and even slight errors in planning or construction can create an expensive ramp that may not meet ADA standards.

Modular Ramps

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Modular wheelchair ramps provide an opportunity for ADA compliance at more affordable price points than permanent, structural ramps.  These ramps are sectional and can be arranged to meet the specific needs of the site.  They’re flexibility is unparalleled.  The platforms, landings, leveling systems, supports and rails can be used to meet ADA standards in virtually any situation.  While some modular ramps are basically permanent in nature, others (particularly some aluminum models) can be altered or moved.

Modular ramps are often used in residential settings.  Many homeowners and landlords simply can’t afford the installation of a permanent concrete option.  Modular ramps provide a high-quality alternative at a lower cost.

Portable Ramps

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The ADA and the increasing consciousness of the public with respect to disability issues are slowly but surely creating a more accessible world for everyone.  However, there are many times when one can’t count on unfettered access to their destinations.  Portable disability ramps are the solution.  These compact options, which are often collapsible or foldable, allow wheelchair users an invaluable option when other ramps are unavailable.  These mobility ramps are vary dramatically in price and durability.  There are portable options for all budgets and anticipated use levels.

Portable ramps usually fall into one of three categories.  Folding ramps are made of metal and are hinged so that they fold up for easier storage.  Telescoping versions, also usually made of aluminum, are constructed of multiple segments that “slide” into one another for efficient storage.  Roll-up disability ramps follow the lead of old roll top desks.  They’re made from a series of connected aluminum or strong plastic strips and can literally be rolled into a cylinder when not in use.  These ramps provide tremendous flexibility and are often very lightweight relative to other options.

Portable Platform Ramps

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These disability ramps are larger and heavier than other portable options but fall short of qualifying as modular options.  They’re generally longer than portable ramps and don’t always collapse or fold up.  These heavy ramps are often rented for special occasions when something sturdier and more far-reaching than a portable ramp is in order, but where it may not be reasonable to install a modular or permanent model.

One may often encounter these portable platforms when a building is undergoing construction or renovation that temporarily renders the permanent or modular accessibility ramps unavailable.  They usually aren’t considered permanent solutions, as they don’t offer the flexibility of modular options and are impractical for use as an everyday portable ramp.

Threshold Ramps

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Threshold ramps can be either portable or permanent.  They allow a wheelchair to safely and easily navigate entries and other uneven surfaces while providing adequate traction.  These small ramps often allow those maintaining public accommodations to meet legal obligations at a minimal cost.  Threshold ramps can be made from a variety of materials, although aluminum and heavy-duty plastic materials are the most popular options.  They can be used indoors or outdoors.

Vehicle Ramps

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Vehicle ramps could be considered a sub-set of portable ramps.  They’re designed specifically to allow convenient entrance and exits from cars, vans or trucks.  They come in many different designs, based on the vehicle and the chair or scooter with which they’ll be used.  Many people are familiar with the van ramps, which provide access to larger mobility vehicles.  These are usually built from aluminum and may be extended and retracted from the van electronically.

It is worth noting that there is a distinction between the term “vehicle ramp” and “wheelchair lift”.  Many mobility vans and other vehicles utilize hydraulically powered lifts in place of ramps.

Track Ramps

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Track ramps can come in a variety of sizes and may fall under some of the previously mentioned categories.  They differ from other ramps in that they feature grooves, or tracks, designed to safely align the wheelchair.  One can install track ramps over or alongside stairways and are often used to overcome curbs and similar barriers to accessibility.

[note color=”#c5eefb”] Whether you’re concerned with abiding by existing federal regulations or are interested in providing yourself or a loved one with maximum levels of accessibility, it’s important to understand the wide range of disability ramps on the market.
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