Wheelchair Ramps vs. Lifts: Which Is Right for You?

The concept of modifying your home for accessibility with the wheelchair can seem like a daunting project. Most homes are constructed with stairs or steps that are just not practical or even traversable by a wheelchair. The installation of either wheelchair ramps or a wheelchair lift does come with a unique set of issues for both and understanding your needs and property/home can help decide which alternative is right for you.

Wheelchair Ramps vs. Lifts: Which Is Right for You?


Differences Between Ramps and Lifts

Wheelchair Ramps vs. Lifts: Which Is Right for You?

Wheelchair ramps and wheelchair lifts (sometimes known as vertical platform lifts or VPL) are very different, but each has unique pros and cons. For example, a wheelchair ramp requires 12 inches of horizontal run for every 1 inch of rise, so you can imagine that it will potentially require a large amount of space whereas a vertical platform lift has a significantly smaller footprint, approximately 5’ x 5’. Wheelchair ramps also require footings to be dug according to your local building codes and a wheelchair lift requires a concrete platform for proper installation. While a ramp needs to be longer if the rise is higher, a vertical platform lift can be custom-designed for your particular need since they are mechanical. More than likely the town or city you live in will require a permit for the installation of either a wheelchair ramp or VPL. Check with your local building inspector or zoning department to determine any local specifications that need to be met. As someone who uses a wheelchair to get around, I have both ramps and vertical platform lifts in my home and property. I happen to be fortunate enough to have a large enough property to incorporate both for every day entrance/exit of my home as well as the potential emergency egress at any given moment.


Pros and Cons of Ramps and Lifts

Wheelchair Ramps vs. Lifts: Which Is Right for You?

Before deciding on whether to install a wheelchair ramp or a wheelchair lift, you should have a home visit by a physical therapist to evaluate your home and property. While a wheelchair ramp is a pretty straightforward design, wheelchair lifts come in a multitude of designs that are specifically tailor-made to overcome specific rises and even steps/stairs. One difference between a wheelchair ramp and a vertical platform lift is that a ramp can be a do-it-yourself project, whereas a wheelchair lift or VPL should be professionally installed. This is particularly true since the need for electrical work (done properly and legal) should be done by a licensed electrician. When adding a wheelchair ramp or lift to your home and property you should always consider the possibility that when you go to resell your home any potential buyer may see a permanently installed ramp as a negative. You could always disassemble your vertical platform lift and take it with you or sell it privately. Another thing to consider is that wheelchair lifts require commercial power (some do have battery backup) so consideration needs to be given about what to do during power outages. A wheelchair ramp does not require any sort of power so it can be used during a blackout. Some varieties of wheelchair lifts include:

  • Uncovered or exposed platform lifts: These are uncovered, as the name suggests, and are exposed to the elements.
  • Covered or enclosed platform lifts: This style of wheelchair lift or VPL has an enclosure built around it to shelter the unit and user from inclement weather. These can be significantly more money to install and may require a permit from your town or city.
  • Stair lift: Instead of traveling in an up-and-down or vertical method, these lifts may traverse outdoor stairs or steps. They travel horizontally as well as vertically in order to traverse stairs or steps around the yard or even in the house.
     

The best way to determine what type of accessibility equipment is right for you and your home is to listen to a qualified physical therapist. Not only are they familiar with the types of wheelchair ramps or wheelchair lifts that are available; they will understand your limitations and recommend the safest option for you.


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