Designing a beautiful outdoor space for the whole family to relax poses a bit of an architectural challenge when a person needs wheelchair access. It does not matter if you use vinyl, plastic, metal, wood or concrete to build a deck. You can make minor modifications to the deck design to provide easy wheelchair access.
According to the American Fence Association, universal design involves selecting the functions needed for the deck before planning design concepts. A wheelchair ramp with low rails can be added by removing a small portion of the deck railing anywhere on the deck. Use plywood or another building material to connect a walkway or a smooth dirt path to the deck with a gently sloping ramp. Some ramps, like the ramp at Mount Rushmore, include level landings so people with physical challenges can rest before ascending more stairs or ramps.
A design alternative to building a wood ramp for a wheelchair is to use dirt and paving to create a raised path up to the deck. When you increase the elevation of the dirt even with the deck, you might consider removing the steps, but some people with disabilities need steps. Most people, regardless of disability, can ascend a gently sloping path more easily than climbing stairs. Achieve the smoothest surface for the path with the finest in paving materials, and include a beautiful design with spray-on concrete, gravel or vinyl decking material. You might fall in love with the decking surface so much you want to apply the finish to more areas of the property, including driveways, porches and sidewalks.
To make the ramp or sloping entry truly wheelchair accessible, the deck designer also considers basic code measurements that make the ramp compliant. The homeowner may not need to meet these commercial codes, but they provide a good reference for designing your deck. According to the American Fence Association, the ramp landings should include a 5-foot turning radius at each landing, handrails between 36 and 42 inches in height and a slope of a 1:12 ratio or less. An alternative to designing a ramp or slope yourself is to purchase a deck kit or download free plans for wheelchair ramps from the Internet. A link is provided in the Resources section below for free ramp plans from WheelchairRamp.org.
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