ADA Specifications: Wheelchair Ramps

Accessibility for individuals with disabilities is incredibly important as employers, employees, patrons and visitors with physical limitations have the right to access key areas of public spaces, offices, schools, restaurants, and many other facilities. Here is some important information from the 2010 ADA Standards to help you learn more about the accessibility guidelines that were implemented in March 2012, and how they can apply to wheelchair ramps.

Please note that before making any changes to your facility, you should become familiar with any ADA guidelines that apply to your structure and make an informed decision about what accessibility system is right for your space.

ADA Overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created in 1990. It was established to recognize and protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities, enabling them to share in and contribute to the vitality of American life.

This means providing access to:

  • Jobs
  • Public accommodations
  • Government services
  • Public transportation
  • Telecommunications

The ADA’s regulations and issues are enforced by the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, and there are now standards in place for public facilities and grounds. Although the ADA requirements don’t extend to personal residences, they should definitely be taken into consideration when purchasing a modular ramp for home use.

If you want to construct a new facility, office or commercial space, then you will have to think about making it wheelchair accessible. Temporary structures intended to be used as public spaces, such as classrooms, stands, stages, etc, also have to be ADA compliant, and modular ramps are a great way to ensure compliancy in a safe yet cost-effective way. Your personal home is not required by law to be ADA compliant, especially if it’s an older building, however if you are a person with disabilities or mobility issues then maybe you’re considering a few cost-effective options to make your home more accessible.

Any additions made to existing commercial or public buildings must be constructed to be ADA accessible, which will most likely happen during the construction phase. If you are altering an existing space, especially if it’s a historical building, there are some rare circumstances where being partially ADA compliant is allowed. Wheelchair ramps are a cost-effective, low maintenance way to achieve ADA compliancy without doing fresh renovations to your existing space.

If a surface is raised or lowered, or shifts over time (such as a concrete sidewalk), then it’s important to make sure an individual in a wheelchair can pass over them with relative ease. Rises of .25” are ok; rises of .5” have to be beveled; and any rise over .5” must have some type of ramp to allow accessibility for individuals using wheeled mobility devices. These are instances where threshold ramps will be a simple, attractive solution because they are not very obtrusive and easy to handle.

Areas used for turning around must also be a consistently flat surface to accommodate individuals with mobility aids, meaning that even after they have rolled up a ramp they might need to turn their wheelchair to reach a door. Therefore, turning spaces must be at least 60” in diameter and have knee and toe clearance to prevent injury, which is especially important when some people may not have sensation in those areas.

In new buildings, for every 1” rise, there must be a ramp that is at least 12” long (a 1:12 ratio). This rule of thumb ensures that ramps aren’t too steep for disabled individuals in wheelchairs, especially if their strength is compromised. In older buildings where space is more limited, the ratio allowances is slightly different and can be as tight as 1:8 for a 3” rise. Although not ideal, even a steeper ramp is better than no ramp at all, and can have a huge impact on where a wheelchair user can access.

To accommodate the widest range of people, stairs and ramps are recommended to be used in tandem, as some disabled individuals who are not in a mobility device might require a more direct route than a long ramp, such as people with some heart diseases or limited stamina.

Additionally, for every rise of 30” (which would require at least a 30ft ramp per the 1:12 ratio), there has to be a landing/turning space of at least 60”DIA so that there is a level space to take a breather. That’s especially important for very long ramps that require several turns – wheelchair uses will have the space to take a break and turn their wheelchair to face the next section of ramp.

All doors, doorways and gates need to have maneuvering clearance so that individuals in a wheelchair have enough room to open and go through them, regardless of the type of door. It’s important to take that clearance into account when planning to install a ramp as it might help you decide if you need a landing or turning area. You can find the complete specifications for doorway clearances here on the United States Access Board website, where all ADA standards are posted.