How to Assess Home Entryways for Improved Accessibility
Being able to enter and exit a home quickly and safely is not only a matter
of everyday efficiency and independence. In case of an emergency, such as a
natural disaster or a medical problem, it can be crucial.
Fortunately, steps don’t have to be barriers to consumers who use wheelchairs,
scooters or walkers. Vertical porch lifts, ramps and even customized steps can
make home entryways more safely accessible.
Solution 1: Vertical Porch Lifts
A vertical porch lift can potentially carry and raise a consumer, his/her
mobility vehicle, and a caregiver or attendant, depending on the weight of each
and the weight capacity of the lift. Typically, the footprint of a vertical
lift is smaller than that of a ramp, assuming that the height to be cleared
is about 6" or higher; in other words, a porch lift can rise to greater
heights in much less space than a ramp requires. Therefore, vertical porch lifts
can be the better solution in tighter spaces or if uneven terrain makes it impossible
to build a safe ramp.
Their smaller footprints can make vertical porch lifts much less conspicuous
than ramps, and lifts can be less expensive than longer ramps, as well. While
porch lifts have traditionally been most often used for a home’s back
or side entrances, in many cases they can be used alongside the steps leading
to a home’s front door, thus preserving the original method of entry.
Incidentally, today’s typical vertical porch lifts consume relatively
small amounts of energy — one manufacturer likened a porch lift’s
power usage to the power you’d use when turning on a TV — so the
ongoing impact on the consumer’s wallet should be minimal.
Solution 2: Ramps
Ramps vary in length, depending on the height of the threshold or the stairway
that needs to be overcome. So-called threshold ramps can range in height from
less than an inch to several inches high to overcome doorway thresholds. Shorter
portable ramps, including “suitcase” styles that fold and can be
carried via handles, are available in lengths ranging from 2' to 8' and can
offer accessibility over a step or a shorter series of steps.
Steps of greater heights require longer ramps, for which slope is a critical
element. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements say the maximum
slope in new-building construction should not exceed 1:12 — that’s
12 inches of ramp length for every one inch of rise. ADA rules also say 30"
is the maximum rise that a ramp can traverse, and that builders should use the
least possible slope when creating ramps.
The reason for those rules: Steeper slopes can be difficult for wheelchairs
and scooters to travel without tipping, and can be difficult or impossible
for self-propellers to navigate, according to the Minnesota Ramp Project, a
joint venture by the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL) and the
Minnesota Division of Rehabilitation Services. Consumers who ambulate using
walkers or rollators may also have strength, stamina or balance difficulties
if the slope is too great.
The Minnesota Ramp Project led to the ongoing Home Wheelchair Ramp Project,
which educates consumers and healthcare professionals about safe and accessible
home entryways. The site includes video excerpts on such topics as ramp design
and safety, including what can happen when ramps are built with plywood and
other less durable materials. Check out the “Design Considerations”
clip on the Videos page: The footage of wellintended but poorly built ramps
speaks powerfully to the importance of working with accessibility professionals
to install safe, durable ramps.
Solution 3: Long-Tread, Low-Riser Steps
MCIL acknowledges that cramped or steep environments are not always conducive
to ramp installation. If the consumer ambulates with crutches, a walker or similar
equipment, MCIL suggests considering long-tread, low-riser steps. These steps
— obviously, not an option for wheelchairs or scooters — have plenty
of length to safely accommodate crutches or a walker, and the height of the
steps is calculated to fit each consumer’s unique walking ability, balance
“When a ramp is impractical, the long-tread, low-riser steps provide
a safer alternative than carrying an occupied wheelchair on regular steps,”
MCIL says. “The long-tread, low-riser steps are most appropriately used
by people who have some walking ability, but find regular steps difficult.
For the steps to be safe and easy to use, it is very important to determine
the correct height of the riser — the vertical drop between the level
treads for the person who will be using the stairs.”
MCIL recommends that step height be consistent to facilitate safe ambulation,
and that a physical therapist or other healthcare professional help determine
the appropriate riser height for each consumer’s needs. Once again, while
consumers or their families may think this kind of work could be done by themselves
or a general contractor, it’s best to get the input of a clinician who
can personally assess the client’s needs and walking abilities.
- The Home Wheelchair Ramp Project educates consumers and healthcare professionals
on making home entryways safely accessible. Fulllength videos and manuals
can be purchased through the Web site, which also includes video excerpts
on ramp design and safety. Go to wheelchairramp.org/VideoPage.html
- ADA Accessibility Guidelines spell out ramp requirements, including slope,
ramp widths (36" minimum) landings, handrails and surfaces. Visit access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm#4.8
This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Mobility Management.