Picture of a YouTube video about ramps

Ramps play a crucial role in allowing people with mobility challenges to navigate their surroundings easily. Whether it’s entering a house, a public building, or even a group home, ramps provide a safe and convenient means of access. We will explore the definition of ramps, their purpose, and the various materials used in their construction. Additionally, we will delve into the challenges faced in implementing ramps in different types of buildings and highlight examples of successful ramp designs. This post is based on a podcast that I did with Ron Wickman, an architect who specializes in barrier-free design. The podcast video is above for those who prefer to watch the content.

What is a Ramp?

A ramp is a sloping pathway that allows for an inclined transition between two different levels. Most commonly, ramps are used to bridge the gap between an elevated entrance and the ground, ensuring that individuals with mobility limitations can easily enter a building. Ramps are particularly essential for wheelchair users, as they eliminate the need to navigate stairs or steps.

The Purpose of Ramps

The primary purpose of ramps is to provide accessible entryways for individuals with disabilities. Ramps enable people using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids to enter buildings independently and with ease. They serve as an alternative to stairs, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, can access public spaces without barriers.

Materials Used for Ramps

Ramps can be constructed using various materials, each with its own benefits and considerations. The most common materials used for ramps include wood and concrete. Wooden ramps are often seen in residential settings, where temporary or makeshift accessibility solutions are needed. These ramps are relatively affordable and easy to construct. However, they may not meet building code requirements and are not as durable as other options. They require regular maintenance, especially in harsh weather conditions. Concrete ramps, on the other hand, are considered the most durable and long-lasting option. They can be built with a rough textured surface, providing better traction and safety. Concrete ramps are commonly used for elevation changes of two feet or less, as they are cost-effective and require minimal upkeep. However, constructing longer concrete ramps can become more expensive and may result in significant landscaping modifications.

Challenges Faced in Implementing Ramps

Despite the importance of ramps in promoting accessibility, there are several challenges associated with their implementation. One significant challenge is the limited space available in many residential areas. As neighborhoods become more densely populated, front yards are getting smaller, making it difficult to accommodate long, straight ramps. Moreover, building codes often require ramps to have intermediate landings after a certain distance, further reducing available space. Another challenge is the lack of awareness and understanding regarding accessibility requirements. Many ramps built by homeowners or handymen do not meet building code regulations and may not provide a safe and reliable means of access. This highlights the importance of consulting professionals, such as architects or accessibility strategists, to ensure that ramps are built correctly.

Successful Ramp Designs

While there are challenges in implementing ramps, many successful ramp designs showcase the possibilities of integrating accessibility into the architectural aesthetic. These designs prioritize functionality while maintaining the visual appeal of the building. Here are a few examples: 1. Sloping Sidewalks: Some houses embrace the concept of universal design by incorporating sloping sidewalks that lead to the front door. These sidewalks eliminate the need for separate ramps and seamlessly blend with the overall landscape. The accessibility features are discreet, allowing individuals with disabilities to enter the building without drawing attention to their needs. 2. Switchback Ramps: Switchback ramps are an excellent solution for buildings with limited space. These ramps feature a 90 or 180-degree turn, allowing for a gradual slope and reducing the overall length of the ramp. By carefully integrating the switchback ramp design with the landscape, it becomes an attractive and functional addition to the building. 3. Mechanical Porch Lifts: In situations where space is limited or building modifications are not possible, mechanical porch lifts offer an alternative to traditional ramps. These lifts can be installed beside the front steps and provide vertical access to the entrance. While they may not be as visually appealing as ramps, they offer convenience and can be easily concealed with landscaping.


Ramps play a vital role in creating accessible environments for individuals with disabilities. They provide a safe, convenient, and independent means of entry into buildings. While challenges exist in implementing ramps, successful designs showcase how accessibility and aesthetics can go hand in hand. By incorporating ramps into architectural plans and consulting professionals experienced in accessibility design, we can create inclusive spaces that benefit everyone. Whether it’s a residential home, a public building, or a group home, ramps are an essential aspect of promoting accessibility and ensuring equal opportunities for all.