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Portable ramp

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Portable ramps are a common tool used by both power and manual wheelchair users. They help with such things as gaining access to vehicles or overcoming obstacles both inside and outside the home. They are versitile, come in several major styles, and all claim to offer many benefits. While many of the benefits appear obvious, the types of applications that portable ramps are used for in the real world by real users is not well documented. What types of users are buying and using portable ramps? What sorts of tasks are they being put to? Do they perform well in these tasks? Do they perform safely?

Major types and uses of portable ramps

Non folding ramps - These are sometimes called Single or ‘suitcase ramps’. They are the simplest type of ramp. They equipped with a side handle for portability and can be carried like a suitcase. These type of ramps often come in pairs that can be joined together to create a wider ramp surface. Single ramps generally range from 2-6 feet in length.
Single folding ramps - Single fold ramps have a hinge type mechanism that joins the two halves. This allows them to fold lengthwise creating a wider surface and collapsing to half the width for easier portability and storage. Single fold ramps are also typically 2-6 feet in length.
Multi fold ramps - Multi fold ramps are designed to fold in two or more places, as the name suggests. Multi fold ramps are usually hinged in three places: down the middle allowing it to fold in half lengthwise and once in the middle of each of the halves, allowing each half to fold in two. These are among the longest of portable ramps, often ranging from 5-12 feet in length.
Telescoping ramps - Telescoping ramps come as a single unit. The ramp surface is divided in the center so that one half can be collapsed by sliding it underneath the other. One half can often be locked at various positions allowing the ramp to be extended to various lengths so that it can be adjusted to a length appropriate for a variety of obstacles. The typical length for this type of ramp is about 4 feet (fully collapsed) and can be extended to several lengths between 4 to 8 feet. The trade off for the adjustable length is that these types of ramps tend to be heavier than ramps with a fixed length.
Track ramps - Track style ramps feature a ‘track’, like a path with raised sides, through which wheels roll when going up or down a ramp. Often, these ramps are sold in pairs, one track for the left side wheels and one for the right. They are also often telescoping, which allows them to be adjusted to fit the barrier. They usually range from around 3 feet up to 10 feet in length. Individual tracks make them lighter than a ramp with a full width platform. To be compatible with a track ramp, the wheels of a wheelchair must be in line (the distance between the left and right wheels must be the same in the front and the back) and casters must have enough vertical clearance to avoid getting caught up on the lip of the track.
Roll up ramps - YRollup style ramps, as the name suggests, can be rolled up. Compared to folding style ramps, this makes them more compact for portability and storage. Rollup ramps come in several styles. One style has a full width surface with side rails that attach to make it rigid. Often these are only about 5 feet long. Another, less compact but more sturdy style, allows links to be added and removed to adjust the length. These ramps can be track style or have a full platform and have the potential to be much longer and support a heavier load than other types of ramps.

The majority of portable ramps currently sold are made of high strength and light weitght aluminum. Of course, large ramps while still portable, can get heavy. Larger ramps often fold and are modular. Each piece, such as two halves of a ramp, can be un folded separately and connected together along the center to form a long and wide ramp surface. The modular folding ramps tend to be longer in length and are good for uses such as gaining access to vehicles, such as vans, or overcoming other obstacles of similar heights. The non folding and single fold ramps tend to be shorter and lighter. They are ideal for smaller obstacles such as steps and curbs. Telescoping ramps, in terms of length, tend to fall somewhere between single and multi folding ramps. The advantage of these types of ramps is that, because they are telescoping, are not a fixed length and can be adjusted to the correct length to overcome a given barrier.

When selecting a ramp, several factors should be considered. First, what will it's primary use be? This will help to determine how long the ramp should be. The height of the barrier and length of the ramp will determine the slope, or grade of the surface. Slope will increase when the barrier is taller and/or the ramp is shorter. The steeper the slope, the harder it will be to wheel up a ramp. Smaller ramps are ideal for common obstacles where their lighter weight and ease of setup are most important. For larger barriers like vehicles or high steps, a longer ramp is needed. Ease or portability may be less important in this case. Ease of setup and uncomplicated mechanics are important. For any ramp, how and were it will be stored when not in use is important to consider. A ramp should be chosen that is both appropriate for the types of obstacles it will be used with and that can be stowed safely and securely. When in use, the ramp should always be secure, it should never slide or feel unstable.

Portable Ramp Vendors

There are many online vendors where online ramps can be purchased. There are too many to list in one place. The easiest way to get an idea of everything that is available is to do a simple search, such as:

Highlights from Portable Ramp Usage Survey

Portable ramps are a common tool often utilized by wheeled mobility users to help with access to homes, vehicles and navigating other obstacles. Even so, very few studies have been conducted to determine the most common uses for portable ramps or to find out what kinds of issues are commonly encountered. The goal of this study was to find out directly from portable ramp users (specifically power wheelchair, manual wheelchair and scooter users) what those issues are and identify features that might benefit from better design. Members of the Catea Consumer Network, along with users from other organizations were invited to participate in an online survey to begin investigating these issues. During a one month period, 53 users responded about their experience with portable ramps. The results showed:

• Portable ramp owners are pleased with their ramps.
• A large percentage of ramp owners (44%) use their ramps only rarely.
• Portable ramps are noisy when being transported.
• Pinch points on folding ramps are a problem.
• Portable ramps do not always perform well in non-ideal conditions such as rainy or icy weather.
• Most portable ramps (52%) did not come with user’s manuals and don’t have visible warnings to warn of unsafe use.

One of the unexpected things that was discovered is that such a large percentage of users used their ramps rarely (less than once per week), even though they were pleased with the overall performance of their ramp. This seems to indicate that there is some need or needs that current portable ramps are unable to meet. Another surprise is that many ramps do not seem to provide owners’ manuals. This issue was noted in some of the earlier studies but the fact that such a high percentage of portable ramps still don’t seem to provide them was unexpected. Many users provided helpful and detailed comments on the survey which helped to emphasize the importance of some of the outstanding design issues. Portable ramps would benefit by better designs to eliminate simple issues such as pinching fingers in folding ramps and ramps that rattle in the car while being transported. The greatest improvements to safety could be found in developing portable ramps designs that allow them to connect more easily and securely to a wider range of obstacles and ones that provide better performance in bad weather.

Author: Young Mi Choi
Affiliation: CATEA at Georgia Tech
Web Site: