Wheelchair Accessibility For an Entryway: Ramps and Vertical Lifts

People with small mobility issues can usually manage one or two steps at an entryway. Those who use canes and walkers, for example, quickly become good at navigating small steps. Someone in a wheelchair, however, will most likely be unable to go up or down a single step without help. Even slightly elevated thresholds can make getting around in a wheelchair difficult.

For this reason, some homes now have wheelchair ramps in addition to stairs at the front door. This is an ideal solution for a very small set of steps. Most small ramps typically start out from $90 to $120, which makes them an affordable option. One-piece ramps are handy if they're going to be left in place most of the time, as are small threshold ramps that start at about $50 each. Suitcase ramps and multi-fold ramps are great choices for portability and can be used to move scooters and wheelchairs in and out of a van as well as over steps. They fold for storage, with some models sporting handles for easy toting.

You can determine the width of the ramp you'll need by checking the wheelchair or scooter width to be sure it's a safe fit. Ramp length is also an important consideration. If the ramp is too short then the angle may be too steep and dangerous, particularly for someone able to move his or her chair independently. A good way to make sure you get a ramp that's long enough is to measure the height of your steps in inches and divide that number in half to get the length of the ramp in feet. This ensures that there's 1 foot of ramp for every 2 inches of height. If your steps are 12 inches high, you'll need a ramp that's 6 feet long. A set of steps that rises 2 feet in the air, or 24 inches, will require a ramp that's at least 12 feet long, and so on.

That means homes with very many steps in front may need a long, modular ramp to keep the angle safe. Modular ramps can be built in almost any length with as many turns as needed. These are considered permanent, though they can be disassembled if they're no longer needed, or in the case of a move. The price of a modular ramp is higher, but the ramp offers more stability and can even be built with level platforms that break up the incline for easier navigation. Handrails can make people feel more secure as opposed to small ramps with no protection on the sides.

Some entrances are simply too elevated for portable or modular ramps, and call for a vertical platform lift. These lifts operate like elevators, and most models allow for simple, secure attachment without the need for special construction to make room for them. A small model that costs around $3,500 will rise up to 53 inches, but more expensive vertical lifts are available that can go as high as 12 feet. A vertical lift is the best accessibility solution for a tall set of stairs in front of a home. It's also a great choice for someone who wants to stay independent but may not feel secure on a ramp.

While cost is always a factor in deciding which option is best, the most important thing is to find the product that's right for your situation. And with so many different types of ramps and vertical lifts available today, you'll be able to find the perfect solution no matter how small your budget.

Brad Brubaker is a technical writer specializing in mobility devices for seniors and the disabled. For more information about wheelchair ramps and vertical platform lifts, visit Universal Accessibility (

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