TIPS ON LIVING WISELY: Ramps and Doorways

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    Debbie Hartzler OTR/L, CAPS

    As walkers and wheelchairs become more common in your home, entrance into and mobility around the house can become more difficult. Below are some tips to improving your accessibility concerning stairs and doorways.

    Stair Access

    Managing the stairs into the home from the front or garage entry can be challenging for those with mobility problems. A few considerations for those who are more mobile:

    • Add handrails or a grab bar at the entry.
    • Two handrails are favored for improved upper body support and for those who have limited energy.
    • In some instances, stairs can be shortened and elongated to accommodate a walker.

    For individuals who have more limitations in their mobility, ramps and lifts may be the best answer. ADA standards were developed for commercial applications, but they can be, and generally are, utilized in residential applications. 

    The ADA standard for ramps is a 1:12 ratio, meaning for every 1-inch of rise, you will need 12-inches of ramp. For example, those who have 25 inches of rise from the ramp termination location to their front door will need 300 inches (25 feet) of ramp, with exceptions for pre-existing structures.

    In addition, there should typically be a 60-inch x 60-inch platform at the top of the ramp by the door to provide a flat surface for the person to rest on while opening and closing the door. The ramp should also have a clear width of at least 36-inches between handrails. If the ramp changes direction, a 60-inch x 60-inch clear width turning platform is required. 

    Finally, the rise of any ramp run section cannot exceed 30-inches without the use of a 60-inch landing platform…think of it as a good place to rest as you ascend or descend the ramp.  

    Portable ramps may be a solution for some, but with the slope ratio in mind, once a ramp gets beyond 6-feet in length, the weight of the device becomes cumbersome. To give you some perspective, a 6-foot portable ramp weighs roughly 40 pounds. As the length increases, so does the weight.

    As the height from the ground increases, getting a ramp to fit in the yard or garage becomes more difficult. Two additional considerations are:

    • A vertical platform lift that accommodates a wheelchair and can run up to 20 feet in height.
    • An outdoor stair lift for those with good sitting balance.

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    Doorway Access

    Most exterior doors are 32 to 36 inches in width, which accommodates most mobility devices. Interior doorways vary from 24 to 32 inches. The size of the doors is generally predicated on the year the home was built. The older the home, the narrower the doors.

    The challenge with all doors is that the width of the actual opening is less than the width of the door. In other words, when a door is open, the door itself blocks part of the opening, creating a smaller space to traverse.

    A door width of 32 inches (which generally creates a 30-inch opening) is recommended for most wheelchairs and walkers. Best practice requires measuring the width of the mobility device at its widest point to ensure the proper opening. For doorways that require a 90-degree turn (i.e. from a hallway into a side bedroom door) a 36-inch door is recommended for ease of turning.

    Door widening can be a costly proposition as there are often obstacles in the wall to overcome. Electrical, HVAC and other structural limitations can hinder the ability to widen the doorway and may need to be moved. There is also the cost of filling the hole in the floor in the area where the doorframe used to be, reframing the door, patching the wall and painting. In some instances, expandable door hinges can be used as an alternative. These replace the current hinges and allow the door to open completely, at times gaining as much as two inches of space.

    Getting in and out of the home is generally the first hurdle to overcome and the most necessary when looking to age in place. Unfortunately, statistics indicate that less than five percent of homes in the United States are accessible for moderate mobility difficulties, and less than one percent of homes are accessible for wheelchair users.

    At LifeWise Renovations®, we specialize in helping people remodel their homes in order to age at home well. If you have any home modification projects in mind, contact us to schedule an appointment.