Having a metal wheelchair ramp fabricated to your specific needs can be tremendously useful, giving you or the wheelchair user(s) in your life easy access to difficult doorways and an alternative to being uncomfortably dragged up steps. However, fabricating a custom wheelchair ramp is a more complicated endeavour than simply making a metal triangle and calling it a day, and you should bear the following factors in mind when specifying the exact dimensions and characteristics of your new ramp:
Will the ramp be fixed or portable?
If you are designing a wheelchair ramp to be fitted permanently to a specific doorway or incline, your design options are generally limited only by the size of the space the ramp will be fitted in. However, designing a portable ramp for use in a variety of situations and locations can be more difficult, and you should ask yourself the following questions before fabrication work begins:
How long should the ramp be? Longer ramps are more difficult to transport and use in compact spaces, but provide a shallow incline that is much easier to navigate. Wheelchair users with impaired upper body strength or movement should generally opt for as long a ramp as is practical, especially if using motorised wheelchairs with limited electric motors.
How wide should the ramp be? Similar space restrictions apply when it comes to specifying width, and you should ensure that your ramp is wide enough to accommodate your chair while remaining narrow enough to transport. If you use different chairs when out and about, make sure the width of all of your chairs is accounted for.
Should the ramp fold when not in use? Having a folding ramp manufactured makes for easy storage and allows you to store your ramp in the back of most vehicles; however, it also makes a ramp more complicated (and therefore expensive) to construct and can undermine the ramp's maximum load-bearing strength.
What metal should the ramp be made from?
Metal fabricators can work with a number of different metals when constructing your ramp, and each comes with its own individual pros and cons:
- Steel: Inexpensive, durable and offered by practically every metal fabrication company, steel is also heavy and prone to rusting if left unprotected.
- Stainless steel: This form of steel is immune to rust, but is considerably more expensive.
- Aluminium: This metal is also immune to rust and is considerably lighter than steels. It is considerably more expensive, however, and retains less load-bearing strength.
Will you be using your ramp with mobility scooters?
You should also consider whether or not your ramp will be used with a mobility scooter and, if so, how frequently. These scooters are considerably heavier and bulkier than most wheelchairs, and their motors may not be able to cope with particularly sharp inclines, so your ramp should be capable of dealing with their weight as well. If a conventional ramp capable of bearing your scooter is too unwieldy, consider having channel ramps fabricated -- these ramps consist of two separate 'channels' designed for the left and right wheels of your scooter or wheelchair and take up considerably less space.