When my grandfather was nearing the end of his life, he had to use a wheelchair most of the time. The nursing home he was living in was equipped with ramps, but when it came time for visits home, we had to find a safe entry and exit pathway into our home. These trips were infrequent, so we needed a portable option that could be easily and quickly installed, and then stowed away when not in use. Investing in a larger permanent ramp system was not an option, but we still had to ensure that the ramp chosen was safe.
What we learned was that while there are hundreds of portable ramps on the market, there are distinct characteristics that make a portable ramp safe. The following list of questions reflects our experience and the things you should ask as you consider a portable wheelchair ramp.
- How does the ramp rest on a stair or entryway edge
- What keeps the ramp from sliding
- What are the limitations in use
How the ramp sits on a stair or landing is a crucial safety factor. If the ramp is not flush with the transition area this can cause an unlevel or wobbly ramp. A wobbly ramp is a dangerous situation for any mobility device and a trip hazard for anyone walking on the ramp.
Since portable ramps are intended for use on a variety of landing surfaces, being aware of how the ramp sits while in use is especially important. For example, a ramp may not rest as securely on your vehicle’s floorboard as it might on your front porch or an interior threshold. Now, this does not necessarily mean the ramp itself is not safe. The ramp may not be suited for use on that particular landing surface, or may require a lip extension to stabilize the ramp onto the transition area.
A portable ramp could be safe and sturdy in build, but if the surface area you are attempting to transition into is uneven, you will have a dangerous situation on your hands. Make sure the landing surface area where the ramp will rest is completely level before installing a ramp. If necessary, repair warped wooden steps, pour concrete into broken concrete areas, or replace all uneven surfaces before the ramp can be used safely.
Portable ramps typically have a curved or angled extension on the top edge of the ramp. This extension rests on top of the threshold, vehicle step, or landing and carries the weight of the ramp when in use. This lip extension can measure anywhere from 2 to 9 inches and is designed not only to act as a support for the top of the ramp but also to create a smooth transition point for the wheelchair. For example, Handi-Ramp® Aluminum Portable Wheelchair Ramps are designed with a three-inch lip that not only creates a solid point of support but also allows for a seamless transition on and off the ramp. Built with superior durability and craftsmanship, this aluminum wheelchair ramp also folds in half for convenience and portability.
What keeps the ramp from sliding off its top landing is an important consideration. There are a few different factors including the weight of the ramp, the strength and dimensions of the transition lip, and any special features meant to increase friction where the ramp rests on a surface. For example, some ramps have holes drilled at the top and bottom where bolts or screws can be used to secure the ramp to the surfaces they’re resting upon. (Using this feature doesn’t make much sense if you’re going to be moving the ramp regularly.)
Some portable ramps have rubber feet at either end that can provide traction and keep the ramp from slipping down when weight is applied. Other ramps offer a lip extension that, for example, can extend over the bumper of a car, affixing the portable ramp securely to the back of a van or SUV.
Related to what keeps a ramp from sliding are the features that keep a wheelchair or scooter from sliding off the side of a ramp. According to Senior Safety Advice, “all ramps should have safety edges (also called “curbs” or containment edges). The safety edges line the sides of the ramp to keep a wheelchair from running off the incline.” We offer Handi-Ramp’s® Portable Access Ramps with and without Handrails, one of the largest portable ramps on the market, our ramps have this curb feature and can be custom-designed to accommodate the length you require.
An additional convenience factor of portable ramps are those that can be folded for easy storage but depending on its design can also pose safety hazards. PVI and EZ Access portable ramps fold both lengthwise and in-half. The center seam of these types of folding ramps could create a centerline hazard for people, tots, or pets when walking. Indeed, I’ve seen hinges that raise above the ramp surface which are a trip and fall hazard. Handi-Ramp aluminum folding ramps fold horizontally. This makes them seamless and there’s no visible hinge upon which you can trip. Another consideration to take into account is that the PVI and EZ Access portable ramps have a grit tread material along the slope of the ramps. Ours is made of an embossed aluminum with traction dots making them perfect for use in all types of weather conditions. Grit tread material is not ideal for inclement weather use. While 90% of portable ramp use most likely won’t be in snow or icy weather, they might be! If this is a consideration, then our folding ramp is a safer solution.
A portable ramp will often be used in a variety of settings, and it’s important to understand the ramp’s limitations of use. For example, a ramp shorter in length should not be used for a higher vertical rise as the steepness of the incline poses a dangerous risk of injury. All ramps have stated weight carrying capacities, so the weight and size of the mobility device must be accounted for in addition to the person or persons using the ramp.
Reference the user’s manual for your mobility device to see what, if any, incline limitations there are before purchasing a portable ramp. For example, most motorized scooters have an incline limitation to operate properly, in addition to weight capacity. To avoid injury or frustration of not having the proper slope for your device take this step prior to making your purchase.
Also be sure to read the user’s manual for guidelines of ramp use. This will assist in the assembly, general information, and insight on the proper ramp placement. If you have any further questions or need clarification speak directly with the manufacturer for assistance.
When selecting a ramp you also need to make sure the portable ramp being considered is sized appropriately for the area in which it is to be used. For example, a ramp that extends out from a porch into the grass of your front yard is not going to be safe. Handi-Ramp’s team of experts will help you to select a properly sized ramp for your unique situation.
With the right research and assistance from professionals, fortunately, my family was able to find the perfect portable ramp for my grandfather’s trips home. Not only did our portable ramp make these special trips a little easier and more comfortable, but it also allowed our family to enjoy these precious final moments without worry of transporting him safely. Thank you, Hand-Ramp.
Handi-Ramp® offers a wide range of portable ramps to meet all accessibility needs. If you aren’t able to find exactly what your situation requires Handi Ramp’s expert team with over 50 years of experience also custom designs ramp’s to meet your specific needs. Contact us at (800) 876-7267 or visit our website at www.handiramp.com/portables or for Threshold Ramps & Low Ramps for Doors & Sliding Doors visit www.handiramp.com/thresholdramps.