Choosing the proper wheelchair ramp

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Choosing the proper portable wheelchair ramp is not terribly difficult but there are a few issues the purchaser should consider in order to choose the portable ramp that will best fill their needs and the help of an experienced dealer will help the purchaser make the best decision.

Choosing a portable wheelchair ramp length

Although building codes do not apply to portable wheelchair ramps, building code guidelines for ramp length and slope are pretty good for most users and should be considered. The building code says there should be at least one foot of ramp for every inch of rise so in an application where the rise is 9", the ramp length should be at least 9 feet.

That said, most portable wheelchair ramp manufacturers recommend one foot of ramp for every 2" of rise if the wheelchair or scooter has a person on it and one foot of length for every 3" of rise if the wheelchair or scooter is without a user and the wheelchair ramp is only used for loading and unloading the equipment. This means that for a 9" rise a 4½ foot ramp would be sufficient for a mobility device with a user and a 3 foot ramp would be suitable for an empty mobility device.

Regardless of what the building code or ramp manufacturers say, the longer the ramp, the easier and safer it will be to negotiate. Although one foot of ramp for every inch of rise sounds like it will be a gentle slope, it can be quite challenging for a manual wheelchair user if it is fairly long. A ramp that is one foot long for every two inches of rise can be almost impossible for many manual wheelchair users regardless of length.

Wheelchair ramp lengths by ramp type

Threshold ramps 6" to 24"
Suitcase ramps 24" to 72"
Solid ramps 24" to 120"
Multi-fold ramps 60" to 144"
Track ramps 24" to 144"
Modular ramps 48" to unlimited (4 foot increments)

Choosing a portable wheelchair ramp weight capacity

Deciding on the proper weight capacity for a new wheelchair ramp is important to the user's safety. Exceeding the maximum weight capacity of a portable wheelchair ramp could lead to ramp failure and accidents.

To decide on the weight capacity needed for a portable wheelchair ramp all things that add weight to the user or their mobility device must be taken into account.

Manual wheelchair users don't have to worry too much as manual wheelchairs rarely weight more than 50 lbs and most ramps will handle at least 600 lbs so if the user weight is less than 550 lbs there won't be an issue.

Power wheelchairs and mobility scooters are where wheelchair ramp weight capacities can unexpectantly be exceeded. Power wheelchair manufacturers publish the weight of their products but rarely include the weight of the batteries and never include any accessories or seating that is added to the chair. A power wheelchair that weighs 300lbs will quite likely weigh 375 to 400 lbs once batteries are added. Seating can add as much as another 50 lbs if complex enough. Add power tilt or recline to a power wheelchair and you're looking at another 100 lbs to 150 lbs. So the 300 lbs wheelchair you buy can weigh 600 lbs or 700 lbs by the time it's delivered to you. the only real way to know what the weight of a power wheelchair or mobility scooter is is to have it weighed.

The user is another variable weight factor. While the user themselves may not fluctuate much in weight they rarely take into account their clothing, outer wear or any needed medical devices. Many people also use their mobility device for shopping and their purchases can add a fairly significant amount of weight to their mobility device.

The bottom line is, all things that may be expected to add weight to the mobility device and the person need to be taken into account. Even if added weight is not the norm the wheelchair ramps that are going to be used must be able to handle the maximum expected weight.

Wheelchair ramp maximum capacities by ramp type

Threshold ramps up to 850 lbs
Suitcase ramps up to 800 lbs
Solid ramps up to 850 lbs
Multi-fold ramps up to 800 lbs
Track ramps up to 2000 lbs
Modular ramps Up to 850 lbs

While these are the maximum capacities I've found for the different types, the capacity will vary between manufacturers. When purchasing a wheelchair ramp always check the capacity for the model chosen.

Choosing a portable wheelchair ramp style

Once we know the weight the ramp must be able to handle and the approximate length that will be required we can look at the style of ramp that will most suitable. One needs to know if portability is actually a requirement and if so how is the ramp going to be moved from place to place.

Threshold ramps are most commonly used for doorway thresholds as the name suggests but they can be used anywhere there is a low rise that needs to be climbed. Portability is not usually an issue as they are normally purchased for a specific location only but they can be moved around if needed.

Suitcase ramps are one of the most common portable wheelchair ramps because they are light in weight and can be easily set up, used, carried and transported. They take up little room when in storage but because their length is usually a maximum of 6' they are only suitable for fairly low rises. Most suitcase ramps have a maximum weight capacity or 600 lbs but there are a couple of models with an 800 lbs limit. They are pretty good for manual wheelchairs and smaller power wheelchairs but the bigger power wheelchairs can be too heavy for these ramps.

Multi-fold ramps are available for situations where the suitcase ramp isn't long enough but there is still a need for portability. The multi-fold ramps are available in lengths up to 12' long and have weight capacities between 600 lbs and 800 lbs. These ramps are more difficult to set up and use because they usually fold side to side and then fold lengthwise. Additionally the multi-fold ramps tend to be quite heavy to carry and work with because of their size.

Solid ramps Are the easiest to use because there is no folding or tricky alignment when setting them up. Because they don't fold their size can make them difficult to carry and transport in a vehicle. The shorter versions of the solid ramps can be used as threshold ramps.

Track ramps are very light depending on their length. They come in lengths up to 12 feet in length and although the Roll-a-ramp models will have weight capacities up to 2,000 lbs but most models will only carry up to 600 lbs maximum. The biggest problem with track ramps is getting them properly set up for use. They need to be parallel to each other and the same distance apart as the wheelbase width of the wheelchair or scooter.

Modular ramps are not really portable in the same way as other wheelchair ramps because they need to be assembled on site and they are usually much too long and heavy to move. Where they are appropriate is in locations where permanent wheelchair ramps can not be constructed or when there is a need for a ramp for a given period time in one location and then moved to another location such as a travelling show or circus. They are expensive but can be cost effective in that they can be sold if no longer needed as opposed to constructed ramps that are permanent. Modular ramps can be ordered with interim landings 90 degree and 180 degree turns if needed and usually include hand rails on both sides of the ramp.





Notice: Information on the MobilityBasics.ca web site is for informational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for the advice provided by physicians, therapists or other medical professionals. All information is general in nature and may not necessarily apply to everyone as individual needs may vary. For more information see our terms.

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