Wheelchair Ramp Specifications

Wheelchair ramp specifications are important to know whether you're purchasing a portable ramp or building an accessibility ramp for your home or business.  A ramp that is too steep, too narrow or slippery when it rains will be hazardous for anyone using the ramp and could end up causing injury or worse.  A few simple rules combined with some careful planning is all that's required to use or build a safe ramp that will allow safe access for everyone. 

wheelchair ramp specifications

The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA has set out guidelines for ramps to ensure minimum safety requirements are met.  They are a great reference for ensuring that the ramp you use is safe and provides requirements for everything from rise and run to proper width when using a handrail.  

A wheelchair ramp that conforms to these guidelines is going to help ensure that anyone using the ramp is doing so in the safest manner possible.

The wheelchair ramp specifications for a permanent ramp should include a plan of the point of entry or exit making sure that it's at a location with access to transportation.  In most cases an accessibility ramp is the only means of entry and exit from a home or business which means that making a sturdy, safe and legally compliant ramp is also very important.  The slope guidelines for portable ramps are similar and will vary depending on whether the mobility device is occupied or unoccupied. 

We'll go over the basic wheelchair ramp specifications below as well as provide some advice for your project if you decide to build a wheelchair ramp yourself.  If you are unsure about anything after reading the information below or you want to make sure that your ramp meets minimum code requirements we recommend contacting your local municipality building inspector. 

ADA Wheelchair Ramp Specifications

The minimum requirements set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act is a great place to start when purchasing a ramp or looking at specs to building a safe and functioning ramp for your home.  The ADA wheelchair ramp requirements are legally necessary for businesses and organizations including churches, schools and commercial buildings.  

If you are building a residential wheelchair ramp or using it to access your vehicle we recommend referring to these guidelines so you can be sure you are building a safe ramp.  All you will need to determine a safe ramp length is a tape measure and a handy ramp slope calculator that you will find a link to below. 

1.  Wheelchair Ramp Slope 

The two measurements needed to determine the wheelchair ramp slope are the rise or vertical distance between the ground and where the top of the ramp sits, and the run or length of the ramp.  The angle of the ramp is a critical component of constructing or installing a wheelchair ramp because a ramp that is too steep can be too difficult to use and could be dangerous.  

The ADA recommends using the lowest possible grade or slope that your situation will allow.  The wheelchair ramp slope recommended varies depending on where you will be using the ramp, whether the chair will be occupied or unoccupied and of course any specific requirements you may have.  

  • Commercial or permanent access ramps require a slope of 1:12
  • Occupied residential, vehicle or portable access ramps require a slope of 2:12
  • Unoccupied residential, vehicle or portable access ramps require a slope of 3:12 

If we use the recommendations above we can calculate the minimum length of ramp needed for a rise of 20 inches to be; 20 feet for commercial or permanent ramps, 10 feet for occupied residential or vehicle ramps and 7 feet for unoccupied ramps. 

The wheelchair ramp design you create can include a ramp of any length as long as it doesn't exceed 30 feet in length or 30 inches in height for any one section or run.  If your ramp needs to be longer than 30 feet you will need to factor in a level landing area that we will discuss below.  The landing area is a great place to change direction either with a 90 or 180 degree turn in the shape of an L or U depending on your available space. 

If you would like some help figuring out the minimum safe length for your ramp be sure to check out our wheelchair ramp slope calculator diagram. 

2.  Wheelchair Ramp Width

Adequate ramp width will ensure that anyone using the ramp is able to maneuver their wheelchair or mobility device safely.  These ADA guidelines are a minimum and recently in some states these guidelines have changed by increasing the minimum width so be sure to check with your local building codes. 

The minimum width and clearance should be at least 36 inches in most states.  If a rail is present the width of the rails needs to be no less than 42 inches to accommodate for the spacing of the rail and 1.5 inch spacing between the handrail and the edge of the ramp. 

wheelchair ramp width

It's a good idea to build a ramp wider and beyond the minimum especially if it received a lot of traffic.  It's common for wheelchairs to have additional accessories or extras that could cause a problem with accessibility.  If you suspect that the ramp may experience two way traffic or larger electric wheelchairs that is something else to keep in mind. 

3.  Wheelchair Ramp Landings

Landings are an important part of wheelchair ramp specifications because they allow users to enter and exit the ramp safely in addition to providing a resting place between runs.  A run is required to have a landing at the bottom and top and should meet the following requirements. 

  • The landing should be as wide as the widest ramp run adjacent to it.
  • The landing length should be a minimum of 60 inches.
  • If the ramp changes direction the landing should be at least 60 x 60 inches to allow for turning.
  • If a doorway is located adjacent to the landing, the door should have adequate clearance. 

4.  Wheelchair Ramp Railings and Barriers

Railings and barriers are an important part of understanding proper wheelchair ramp specifications.  The regulations put in place by the ADA ensure that anyone using a wheelchair has adequate means to scale the ramp with or without assistance.  If children will be be using the ramp (school, nursery), a second set of handrails should be used at a maximum height of 28 inches from the ramp surface with a minimum of 9 inches between upper and lower rails to prevent entrapment.

Handrails are necessary on both sides for any ramp that has a rise greater than 6 inches and a horizontal projection greater than 72 inches.  Railings are not required for curb ramps or adjacent to seating in assembly areas. 

wheelchair ramp railings

The space between the handrail and the wall or other hard surface needs to be a minimum of 1.5 inches.  The wheelchair ramp specifications and design should allow for railings on both sides of the ramp and continuous for the length of the run.  If they aren't continuous they should extend at least 12 inches beyond the top and bottom of the ramp run.  A gripping surface should also be used continuously on the top of the handrails and the rails should not rotate within their fittings. 

Any ramp landing requires edge protection if there is a drop off.  If a railing isn't feasible you should consider using a curb minimum 2 inches high, wall or other option that will prevent slipping off the ramp.  If the ramp is not covered from the elements you should consider a design that prevents water or snow from accumulating in your wheelchair ramp specifications.  An anti-slip surface or the use of sand grit is also recommended to reduce slipping. 

5.  Wheelchair Ramp Materials

The type of materials you use can be based on personal preference but you should keep in mind that you want to create a sturdy and long lasting ramp that will provide accessibility for many years.  A composite material or pressure treated lumber are both great options or you may even want to consider a prefabricated or modular ramp that's available in aluminum as well as many shapes and sizes. 

6.  Building Code for Wheelchair Ramps

Any ramp that is designed and constructed to be left in place is considered a permanent ramp.  A permanent ramp whether it's designed for residential or commercial use is subject to complying with local building codes.  It's important to always consult an expert when putting together your wheelchair ramp specifications before you start to build your ramp. 

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