Section 2.5


According to the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines

(ADAAG), a standard ramp should have a grade no steeper than 1:12. This means that for every one inch of rise (change in height), there should be 12 inches of run (change in length). This is sometimes referred to as an 8% grade or slope. Using this formula, a ramp going to a platform with two 8-inch steps (creates a total of 16 inches of rise) should be 16 feet long. A standard ramp is gradual enough for many people to climb safely, but each individual’s limits are different. Some people may not be able to manage a ramp this steep, while others can handle much steeper ramps. With experimentation, you will learn how steep a ramp you can negotiate alone. Always use a spotter when practicing on ramps and when climbing a steep ramp for the first time. You can practice on public ramps and you may also find using a ramp with a railing easier. Climb increasingly steeper ramps until you find one that causes your front caster wheels to lift off the ground. Experience the loss of stability, and visually remember the steepness of the slope that caused this to happen. Obtain assistance before climbing slopes this steep or steeper in the future.

Before learning the skills in this section, you should be able to propel a wheelchair forward and backward, and maintain a seated position when your balance is challenged. You will be able to perform more techniques and negotiate steeper slopes if you can pop a wheelie and move forward and backward in the wheelie position.

Going Up a Ramp

Put your anti-tip devices down in a functional position before ascending a ramp, because if the ramp is steep, your wheelchair may tip over backward. Sometimes anti-tip devices catch at the beginning of a ramp. If you must disengage the anti-tip devices, move slowly, lean forward, use an assistant, and be extra careful.

A backpack or other gear on the back of your wheelchair changes your center of gravity and will cause you to tip backward more easily. When you have a backpack on your wheelchair you will find that your chair may be less balanced going up ramps.

When you roll up a ramp, you have to re-grip the wheels quickly in between pushes or your wheelchair will roll backwards in between pushes. Devices called hill-climbers can be attached to prevent your wheelchair from rolling backwards between pushes as you travel up grades, hills or ramps. These are especially helpful if you are not strong enough to maintain your momentum between pushes going up the ramps you normally encounter.

Going up forward

Basic technique

  • Propel forward onto the ramp.
  • Lean forward to counteract the tendency of your wheelchair to tip backward.
  • Some people prefer propelling up the ramp with long strokes originating far back on the handrims. Other people can obtain more momentum and power with short, quick propulsion strokes. Experiment with both to see which technique works best for you.
  • If you start slowing down, try alternating hands on the handrims. Push first on one side and then on the other. This way one of your hands is always on your wheel preventing it from rolling backwards. This technique may not work on steeper ramps. (See Section 1.8 for more information about this propulsion technique.)
  • Turn your wheelchair sideways to the ramp slope and lean into the hill if you need to rest.

Using momentum

  • Gather as much speed as you can before you reach the base of the ramp so your momentum can help propel you up the ramp.
  • Propel quickly up the ramp until you start running out of strength.
  • Turn the chair sideways to the ramp slope and lean into the hill to rest.

Using handrails

  • If there is at least one handrail on the ramp, you can pull yourself up by pushing on one handrim and pulling on a handrail with the other hand.
  • If there are two handrails on the ramp and you can reach them both, you can use them to pull yourself up the ramp.

How a spotter can help

  • Walk behind the wheelchair user and place your hands close to the push handles or back support posts with the pull straps. Try not to influence the movement of the wheelchair.
  • Prevent the wheelchair from tipping over backward.

Going up backward

Some people, especially those who propel their wheelchairs with their feet, find it easier to travel up ramps backward. Before going up, make sure the ramp is wide enough for your wheelchair, and check for hazards such as uneven surfaces, obstacles, unprotected drop-offs, and oncoming traffic.

  • Just before the base of the ramp, turn your wheelchair around so your rear wheels are next to the base of the ramp.
  • Propel your wheelchair backward by pulling back on the handrims.
  • Lean backward into the hill.
  • If you also propel with your feet, walk them up the hill to push your wheelchair.
  • At the top, check behind you for oncoming traffic and obstacles before turning around and proceeding forward.