Another rant about ramps for the ageless garden

While traveling this week, I recalled a story from an elderly friend of mine who uses a walker. He visited the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho store of the former retailer Coldwater Creek. The restrooms were located in the center of the store, on the second floor, and could be reached using a nearby spiral staircase. However, the elevator for handicapped access was at the far end of the store. His options:

  1. Walk from the middle to the end of the store on the first floor, take the elevator, walk back to the middle of the store on the second floor to use the restroom, then repeat to return to the first floor
  2. Haul himself up the spiral staircase using the folded walker as an additional support.

Guess which one he chose? Yup, he chose the staircase. It required substantially less physical effort.

What happens at the bottom of this ramp? Can you say "wheelchair stuck in mud"?

What happens at the bottom of this ramp? Can you say "wheelchair stuck in mud"?

When you are able-bodied, it’s easy to forget that it requires additional strength to move part of your body when it doesn’t move itself. Plan carefully when you install features outside your home to age in place successfully. Some disability guidelines, plus thinking about your own ergonomics, can help.

2015 is the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA can be more than requirements for curb cuts on sidewalks and van-friendly parking spaces near building entrances.

ADA design standards are not required for homeowners. However, they are a super-duper guide for aging in place exterior design. The more you know, the more you can ask your designer and contractors to get it right.

Ramp photo from Lowe's

Ramp photo from Lowe's

Here are some questions to consider when having a ramp installed:

  • Where should the ramp be located for easiest use and least effort?
  • How steep should the ramp be?
  • If the ramp is long, does it need level spaces to reduce physical effort and allow for rest?
  • Will the ramp’s width accommodate changing needs – cane or crutches, walker, self-propelled wheelchair, guided wheelchair?
  • What kind of surface is needed at the bottom of the ramp?
  • Would round rather than flat handrails be useful? What diameter works for you? What height?
  • Can alterations be made later if your needs change?

And think about how the ramp can be integrated into the design of the house, perhaps by using similar materials or paint colors. Ramps should never say, “A person with a disability lives here.”

Ready to add a ramp? Let me know your thoughts and ideas!