Elder Care Solutions: Wheelchair Access Simplified

We can deny it as much as we want, but we’re all eventually going to grow old, and may find ourselves dealing with problems we had never imagined for ourselves in our youth. Several of my own family members are now experiencing mobility issues, including several who rely on wheelchairs* and the assistance of others to get around.

Of course, wheelchair users often face accessibility issues when it comes to residential structures. Whereas most public buildings are required by code to provide access, the same doesn’t hold true for private homes. Even if a home owner replaces steps with a ramp, visiting the homes of others is still difficult. What’s required is a temporary ramp that can fit most entry ways, and is also easily transported.


An eight foot long EZ-ACCESS TRIFOLD ramp at my own back entrance.

Recently, I went searching for such a product, and discovered a series of portable and modular ramps sold by the EZ-ACCESS division of Homecare Products, Inc. Made out of aluminum, their portable ramps range from simpler threshold ramps to larger, inclined access ramps. The larger of their portable ramps come in two styles: SUITCASE, which folds in half, length-wise, and can easily be carried by an attached handle, and TRIFOLD, which also folds length-wise, but then again along its width, effectively reducing its length by one-half.


The ramp was completely stable under foot when I first tried it out. Rated for 800 pounds capacity, it fully supports my own weight plus that of the person in the wheelchair, with no obvious flexing.

Lengths of the folding ramps range from five to ten feet, and the manufacturer provides a sizing chart giving degrees of inclination for various gradations of rise, for each product. A purchaser can use this chart to determine which product best suits their needs by comparing the inclinations against the specifications of their particular conveyance devices. Of course, a purchaser must also assess his or her own ability to physically move an assisted conveyance up and down the ramp at the intended inclination. As with most everything else, having two people do this is preferable to just one.

 

I acquired an eight foot TRIFOLD model because the eight foot length can accommodate typical residential entrances (for example, three to four eight-inch steps) for a helper-assisted (non-motorized) conveyance . Plus, the ability to fold down to a four foot length allows the ramp to fit inside the trunk of a typical compact car.


The first step in compacting the TRIFOLD is to fold lengthwise while keeping the ramp supported at one end. Another person helping is always a plus, but watch out for pinch points!

Though convenient in size, the folded eight-foot TRIFOLD is quite heavy, and requires a strong person to carry it around. Lifting it above your waist (for example, to stow it away in a car trunk) is arduous and should probably only be done by two reasonably fit persons.


The trickiest part is getting the TRIFOLD folded along its width. Beware the swinging half sections! It takes some practice, but once you get the sequence down, the process goes smoothly. Another pair of hands always helps, though.

If you have no help, but are handy with tools and are willing to do a little extra work, you can remove the hinges attaching the ramp lengthwise, which consist of machine bolts with nylon lock nuts. The product comes with two spring-pins that enable you to stabilize each detached half of the ramp when folded width-wise. You then effectively have two separate “suit cases”, each with its own handle, at one half the total weight each. When the ramp is transported as a whole unit, the two handles are joined together by a Velcro sleeve.


All packed up and ready to go, the ends of the TRIFOLD are held together by three strategically placed 3M Dual Lock strips.

Now, why would I write about a portable access ramp on a preservationist blog? There are two big reasons that go well beyond the simple utilitarian objective of making others in need aware of the existence of these products:

1) Access and Preservation. The first has to do with the aging-in-place and elder-care issues that should rightly be taken into account when planning the future life of a to-be-preserved residential structure. I fully believe that homes only last if they have dedicated owners and occupants who love living in them and don’t feel encumbered by their homes in their daily activities. That includes accommodating aging parents and family members recovering from injuries or illnesses. So accessibility is a key issue for which there must at least be a plan, if not an implemented solution.

2) Reversible Renovation. The other big reason is the notion of reversible renovations that preservationists often rely on in carrying out their work. Accessibility structures, such as wheelchair ramps, when constructed as permanent structures, are often felt to detract from the inherent beauty of most homes. On the other hand, a fundamentally temporary structure, even if allowed to remain in place a long time, doesn’t seem to carry the same stigma. Of course, one must always ensure that such permanent “non-permanent” usage is not at odds with local codes.

For example, if the steps to my front porch were sufficiently wide and railed on either side, I could position a ramp similar to the longer TRIFOLD or SUITCASE on one side of the porch stairs, and secure it to the porch deck with fasteners (there are two pre-drilled holes for doing just that on my ramp). I’d then have a readily usable access ramp, and persons not requiring it could simply avail themselves of the regular steps and railing on the other side of the porch. I could also achieve a more gradually inclined temporary solution using a modular ramp. As all of these ramps are constructed of heavy-gauge aluminum, exposure to the elements is not much of an issue.

Products such as these EZ-ACCESS temporary ramps are, in my opinion, an important tool in the arsenal of those planning aging-in-place / elder-care solutions, and can go along way in supporting the long-term preservation of homes with aged occupants. In the future, expect me to post much more on this topic as my own solutions evolve.

[*You might have noticed this article describes wheelchairs only and makes no mention of motorized scooters or similar devices. A potential issue with this ramp is that the guards on the edges are too low for a motorized, non-assisted device to traverse the ramp safely, as the motorized device could easily climb over them. The ramp is fine for moving an empty scooter (with no passenger) in or out of a home or motor vehicle (e.g., into the back of an SUV or mini-van), when a non-challenged person is standing beside the ramp and controlling the motorized device. On the other hand, were the edge guards about 4"-6" high, this ramp, appropriately inclined, would probably be safe for unassisted, motorized access.

For additional information on this topic, review the ADA Accessibility Guidelines. Also, performing a Google search on "ADA Guidelines Wheelchair Ramp" will return numerous manufacturers' pages claiming ADA compliance for their products.]

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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5 Responses to Elder Care Solutions: Wheelchair Access Simplified

  1. That’s a very nice find there John & some really great points made on Aging in Place and Preservation

  2. Why does this have tomorrow’s date for posting? Are you on GMT or something? And this is an important topic; one I’m sure my step-mom will face with my Dad. Somewhere in your detailed, technical explanation, your strong emotions about the topic come through. Now, can you bench press that thing?

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Alexandra. Yes, I just leave it in GMT format because there’s no one particular local time that’s meaningful to most readers (who are in many different time zones). Thanks regarding your comments on the importance of this topic, and yes, I can easily bench press the TRIFOLD with two fingers. Well, maybe three… :-P

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