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Ramp building

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A wheelchair ramp is an inclined plane designed to allow a person to with disabilities to move between levels, usually installed in addition to or instead of stairs.[1] Wheelchair ramps can be portable, semi-permanent or permanent.


When and where will you need a ramp?

Common areas where ramps are needed include[2]:

1. Steps leading to front or back entry doors

2. Steps from your garage into your home

3. Doors with raised thresholds or lips, such as exterior doors

4. The threshold between the floor and the shower in your bathroom

5. Vehicle thresholds, like vans or SUVs

Types of Ramps

Portable ramps are easily moved from one place to another as needed. These are often used to enter and exit vehicles or to traverse non-ADA compliant surfaces. The most popular type of portable ramp is the folding suitcase ramp. They are light, fold quickly for moving or storage, and come in multiple lengths[3].

Semi-permanent ramps are designed to be durable enough for long time use but can easily be moved if necessary. They can be used both inside and outside. Some examples are threshold ramps that can help you navigate small obstacles (usually less than 3 inches) and shower ramps that allow easy access to walk-in showers. Be sure to install a ramp on each side of the threshold.

Permanent wheelchair ramps are expensive can not be easily moved from their position. These are usually used to access the front and back doors of a house. There are three main types of exterior wheelchair ramps:

1. Custom wooden ramps built with the same principles as outdoor decking. A wood ramp can be customized to match home style or an existing deck or porch. While wooden ramps are cheaper, they usually require the expertise of a skilled professional. There are also several volunteer organizations that provide local ramp building services.

2. Aluminum modular ramps that can be ordered in sections and put together to meet the height and length requirements. Modules can be purchased in a variety of styles in order to suit your needs. Aluminum ramps are more expensive but tend to last longer and individual modules can be used again if the wheelchair user moves. Usually require someone with construction experience to assemble[4].

3. Concrete is the mother of all permanent ramps, however they can be quite costly. To help lower costs, a concrete ramp is not solid concrete. The walls and base are formed and then filled in with dirt or other filler. Once the filler has been compacted solidly, a cement cap is added to form the ramp surface[5].

Constructing a Wheelchair Ramp

Building a wheelchair ramp is a multi-step process. If building a ramp in a public place, there are certain specific requirements that the ramp must meet. These specifications, as well as city-specific building codes, must be followed in order to obtain a building permit.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all ramps in new construction have a maximum slope of 1:12[6]. This ratio refers to the rise versus the run of the ramp. For every inch of vertical rise, the ramp must be 12 inches long. A ramp built to allow access to a 2 foot (24 inch) tall porch must be 24 feet long. The maximum rise for any run shall be 30 inches. A level landing is required at the top and bottom of each ramp and each run. The landings need to be a minimum of 60 x 60 inches[7]. The ADA also requires that there be a minimum of 36 inches of clear space across the ramp. Handrails are also required to be installed. The handrails must be mounted between 34 and 38 above the ramp surface and shall have 1 ½ inches of space between the handrail and the wall[8]. Any ramp taller than six inches shall have curbs, walls, kick plates or curbs to prevent people from slipping off the ramp. The curbs have to be at least 2 inches tall[9].

Construction Planning

Visit your local building department to determine what you can and cannot do. New construction usually needs to comply with ADA guidelines but the city may grant a variance if you are retrofitting an older structure. When visiting the building department offices, bring a building plan and photographs of your site[10]. A building plan for a handicapped accessible ramp depends on the home, the space available, the terrain around the home, and the materials necessary for building, and the specifications for a proper ramp[11]. Call 811 to check for underground utilities on your site as you don’t want to dig up electrical wires, power lines or water mains, and include this in your building plans.

Wheelchair Ramp Layout

Determine the height of the entry door that the ramp will provide access to. The ramp will want to begin at a walkway or driveway and end at the current landing for the access door. Be sure to measure this height with a laser level from where you plan to start the ramp in order to account for uneven terrain[12]. Once you have obtained this height you can determine the length of the ramp’s run. Remember that a 5 foot landing is needed at the beginning and end of the ramp and for every 30 inches of rise between the starting and ending points of the ramp. With this information you can start laying out the shape of the ramp. Be sure to avoid any obstacles such as frees, flowerbeds and underground utilities.

There is a great online resource that helps you plan your ramp construction. It can be found at

After creating a detailed construction plan, submit them to the local planning office to obtain the necessary permits, building and inspection schedules. While waiting for permit approval, create a budget and materials list. A detailed list will make budgeting and shopping easier as well as preventing you from running out of materials in the middle of construction[13].

A list of essential tools and materials for building a wooden ramp is provided below[14]. Building a wooden wheelchair ramp uses the same basic construction techniques that are used for building a deck.


  • Gloves
  • Safety Glasses
  • Handsaw
  • Ratchet and Sockets
  • Chalk Line
  • Mason's Cord
  • Combination Square or Framing Square
  • Line Level
  • 4' Level
  • Post Hole Digger
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Chisel
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver
  • Drill / Driver With Bits
  • Circular Saw
  • Plumb Bob


  • 2 x 6 Treated Lumber
  • 4 x 4 Treated Lumber
  • 2 x 4 Treated Lumber
  • Composite Deck Board (Item #163807 or Item #166004)
  • J-bolts
  • Stand-Off Post Anchors
  • Joist Hangers
  • 1/2" x 6" Carriage Bolts
  • 1/2" x 7" Carriage Bolts
  • 3/8" x 4" Lag Screws
  • 16d Nails
  • 2 1/2" Galvanized Deck Screws
  • 2" Galvanized Deck Screws
  • Cement Mix
  • Sonotubes (optional)


A step by step guide to constructing a wooden wheelchair ramp can be found at

There are also other great website with do-it-yourself tips and guidelines. Please visit these websites for more information:










8. “ADA Standards for Accessible Design (28 CFR Part 36)”