In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Included in the act were requirements for making public buildings accessible to people with physical limitations. The requirements address everything from curb heights and the width of doorways to acceptable types of carpet. Among these provisions is one regarding handicap ramps.
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According the ADA, a "ramp" is anything that has a slope greater than 1:20. The figure 1:20 is a ratio of inches high to inches long. In other words, a slope of 1:20 means that the slope rises a total of 1 inch over a 20-inch length. This is referred to as the "running slope."
Any part of a route that is used for handicap access and has a slope of 1:20 or greater is considered a ramp and must comply with ADA requirements.
Section 4.8.2 of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines is titled "Slope and Rise," and specifies both preferred and maximum allowable slopes for handicap ramps.
It states that, in new construction, no slope will be greater than 1:12; it won't rise more than 1 inch for every 12 inches of length. In addition, no single section of a ramp can rise more than 30 inches, regardless of its length.
Requirements are a bit different for existing buildings. Where space doesn't allow for compliance to the regulations above, ramps can have a slope between 1:10 and 1:12, rising no more than 6 inches total. A slope of 1:8 to 1:10 is allowed for total rises of no more than 3 inches. Slopes greater than 1:8 are prohibited.
In some instances, a single ramp isn't enough to cover a change in height. A community centre, for example, may have a doorway that's 36 inches off the ground. Regulations limit the rise of a single ramp to just 30 inches, so a situation like this requires that the ramp be built in sections. Each section can rise a total of 18 inches, and there must be a landing between the sections.
Landings are required at both the top and bottom of the ramp, and between each section of the ramp. A landing can't be less than 60 inches long and must be at least as wide as the ramp. If the ramp sections create a zigzag, the landing must be at least 60 inches square.
In addition to the running slope, ADA Accessibility Guidelines also dictate the allowable cross slope, or the pitch of the ramp. This is measured perpendicular to the travel direction of the ramp. It can't be more than 1:50. The purpose of the cross slope regulation is to ensure that the ramp is level.
In addition, ADA Accessibility Guidelines have requirements for the surface and edges of a handicap ramp and for the handrails, if needed. These compliance standards are found in Section 4.8 of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
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