Introduction: Portable Wheelchair Ramps

Picture of Portable Wheelchair Ramps

Quite frequently it is necessary to transport a set of portable ramps to allow my wheelchair to get into homes and shops.   In the past, I've tried to use store- bought manufactured ramps made of aluminum.  These store-bought ramps were very expensive and did not work well for my electric wheelchair as they were primarily designed for lighter manual wheelchairs.  The store-bought ramps were too narrow for the wheels on a power wheelchair, and the weight of the wheelchair caused them to dangerously bend.   As a result, my father built his own set of ramps that have worked very well for me and my heavy electric wheelchair, and are far cheaper and in my opinion more sturdy than the store-bought version.

Before you begin this Instructable, some precautions.  This ramp is not intended for use as a permanent ramp.  It is for use as a portable ramp for inclining one to a maximum of three steps in a situation where a more permanent ramp is not feasible.  When using this ramp, at least one abled body individual needs to be present to stabilize the ramp and guide the individual in the wheelchair up or down the ramp.  You must make sure the ramp is well secured or else the ramp could slip causing serious injury.  Use extreme precaution when using this ramp and ascend or decend the ramp slowly.  Use at your own risk.

1 - 2 Wood Beam joists depending upon length.  If using a single beam, beam must be at least twice the required length. (Typically available in standard lengths of 24', 28', 32', 36', 40', 44' and 48')
Metal sheet which will be cut into 4  pieces the width of the wood joist and approximately 6" in length.
2 Handles
18 screws
Drill gun
Tape measure
Triangle ruler
Marking pen or pencil

Step 1: Step 1: Calculating the Ramp Length

Picture of Step 1: Calculating the Ramp Length

"ADA recommends a 3:12 slope which means for every 3" of vertical rise you are required to have at least one foot of ramp (14.5 degrees incline) Measure the vertical rise from the ground to where the ramp will sit on the vehicle, stairs or threshold. Take that measurement (inches) and divide it by 3. This will determine the length of ramp needed for an unoccupied power chair."  Source:  This measurement is based on ramp for an unoccupied wheelchair.  For a ramp with the occupant in the wheelchair, a  2/12 slope is recommended. "ADA recommends a 2:12 slope which means every 2" of vertical rise requires one foot of ramp (9.5 degrees of incline)"  Source:

From a personal standpoint, ADA recommendations are usually based upon statistical averages.  The ramp should be long enough that the person in the wheelchair can comfortably ascend and descend the slope keeping in mind the degree of ascent the wheelchair is capable of and the braking ability of the particular wheelchair.  The incline should not be so steep as to make stopping on the slope impossible.

Step 2: Step 2: Cut the Wood Joist

Picture of Step 2: Cut the Wood Joist

Wood joist are very strong planks of wood designed for use as ceiling support beams in houses and are available at most home improvement and hardware stores.  Use precautions when handling these beams as they do tend to cause severe splinters.  Use gloves whenever handling these beams.

After determining the length required for the ramp, use a tape measure to mark this length on the beam.  These beams are typically very long, and as you should not use this ramp for ascending more than three stairs, in most circumstances a single beam cut in half is adequate for making the ramp.  Make sure the joist is secured before cutting. Use protective eye goggles and follow other safety measures when cutting wood with saw.  Cut the beam to desired length.

Use a Triangle ruler to mark a straight line to cut the board at a 90 degree angle from the length of the board. 

Step 3: Step 3: Cut the Landing

Picture of Step 3:  Cut the Landing

One end of the board is going to rest on the ground while the other end will rest upon the top of the step.  Cut the base of the end that will be resting upon the ground at an angle such that it may rest flatly upon the ground.   Cut out a notch on the end of the board that rest on the step.

Step 4: Step 4: Reducing the Edge of the Board.

Picture of Step 4: Reducing the Edge of the Board.

On the edge of the board that rest on the top step, there will be a short ledge which the wheelchair will have to ride over.  To reduce this ledge and reduce the chance of the board slipping, screw to this edge of the board with four screws a short piece of metal with a slight bend on each of the ramps as shown.  For the boards shown, a scrap piece of metal was used.  You may also use two rectangular pieces of metal approximately the width of the joist and about 6" in length.  This will allow the wheelchair to drive easily over this ledge and reduce the chance of the board slipping.

Optional: The lip of the ramp in some occasions may be too great for some wheelchairs to get over.  If this is the case, you will want to add a short piece of metal to this end of the ramp as well to make the ledge flatter for the wheels of the chair to get over.  For this, you will need a sheet of thin metal cut the width of the wood joist and approximately 6" in length.  After cutting the metal, drill through the metal and the joist to screw the metal to the end of the ramp.  (Note: be careful when carrying these ramps as the metal end may be sharp)

Step 5: Step 5: Carrying Handles

Picture of Step 5:  Carrying Handles

Wood joist are made of very rough pressed wood, and therefore they can be difficult to handle.  Carrying with your bare hands can cause splinters.  Attach a handle to the outside edge of each of the ramp boards.  For these ramps, two plastic handles were screwed into the side of the ramps.

Step 6: Step 6: Proper Use of the Ramp

Picture of Step 6: Proper Use of the Ramp

These ramps are not meant to be used as permanent ramps as they can slip.  To properly use these ramps, the boards should be carefully placed parallel to one another.  An attendant should stand at the end of the ramp to ensure the boards do not slip as the individual in the wheelchair ascends the ramp.  To go down or descend the ramp, the individual in a wheelchair should always descend the ramp backwards with an attendant to guide the chair from the rear. 

NEVER DRIVE DOWN RAMP FORWARDS.  Ramps should never be used to ascend or descend more than three stairs.

Step 7: Visit

Picture of Visit
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JasonA41 (author)2015-11-04

This is great. My father in law just had one of his feet amputated and getting into the house when we take him out from the retirement home to come for dinners is really hard on everyone because he doesn't like to be carried. Apart from building a full time ramp for the few times he comes for family gatherings this will work great. And best part is that I have 2 18ft laminated header beams from house build left over due to an error in over ordering. My ramp needs to be 16ft but the header beams I have are 3 1/2"x12".

JasonA41 (author)JasonA412015-11-04

Not sure what happened to my comment it got cut short! with the way the laminated beams are constructed a stop up both sides of the beams to keep the wheels from going off is all that will be needed and some metal ramp brackets to lay them on the top step. A quick angle cut on the other end to get them down flush on the ground to make getting on to the ramp easy and it's done! Thanks for the good idea.

DarkRubyMoon (author)JasonA412015-11-04

Awesome! Am so glad that my instructable gave you some ideas to help your father-in-law. Thank you for the comments!

fluentinsilence (author)2010-06-13

My cousin just had a spinal injury, losing all feeling below his navel, so this is a really choice idea. His parents have begun remodeling the house to accommodate him once he leaves the center where he is undergoing physical therapy. Thanks for this.

Have your cousin check out Also "disaboom" info on the web. Also the Christopher Reeve foundation. All really good resources for individuals with mobility related disabilities. Cheers.

You are most welcome! I am glad this helps!

It makes me very happy to hear that someone will be helped by this instructable. My best wishes to your cousin.

milesnorth (author)2014-08-27

Very nice example of making something work! Excellent idea, Thanks! Am off to build a set :-)

MadeOfGlass (author)2010-12-20

this is a great idea but current ADA standards are different so for every inch of Rise you need a Foot of ramp. this is mainly for businesses at the moment but they are talking about adjusting the standards for peoples homes as well. A ramp that is 1 to16 is the suggestion for manual wheelchair users and 1 to 12 for power chair users.

DarkRubyMoon (author)MadeOfGlass2010-12-21

Thanks! Great info! The most important thing when it comes to the rise of the ramp is the angle that the person in the wheelchair feels comfortable with ascending the ramp. The ADA guidelines are a good basic measure to go by for personal use when estimating how long you need to make the ramp. Thank you again for that info. The source for my ramp rise came from a website that might have used a standard that is no longer current.

eruger (author)DarkRubyMoon2014-06-08

My late wife found going down the scary part! But yes, it's very much about personal comfort and individual chair capabilities, how their weight is distributed, etc. e.g.: a 6-wheel chair may lose drive traction at the bottom, or 4-wheel chairs may flip. Ask the person in the chair!

eruger (author)2014-06-08

I would like to reinforce the author's statement about this not being permanent! OSB, even with paint, cannot take the weather. It's intended to be inside the weatherproof shell of a home. I have seen a lot of ramps built from OSB in the last few years, and each and every one becomes hazardous within a year or two! The above (very nice) ramp is intended to be in place only while in use!

trogabird (author)2010-06-17

The 3/12 slope is for empty chairs only. They recommend a 2/12 slope for someone in a chair. This should be explained.

DarkRubyMoon (author)trogabird2010-06-17

Thank You! I will add this notation in the instructable.

pie R []ed (author)2010-06-13

I had to use a electric wheel chair at school for all of last year. I originally didn't have van with a lift, so I had too use a improvised ramp to get the chair into the car. At the time i was just using a 3' by 5' piece of plywood. needles to say it didn't work that well and the chair fell on the foot of a family member who was helping me. luckily her foot was not broken, but she couldn't use it for a few days. I wish I had found these instructions sooner. I would like to thank you for this great ible. I hope that it will help many feet.

merijnvw (author)2010-06-10

congratiolations with your prize!

DarkRubyMoon (author)merijnvw2010-06-10

Thank You so much! I didn't know I won till I read your message! Thanks!

merijnvw (author)DarkRubyMoon2010-06-10

And thank you very much too for your patch! Didn't you receive the message from Instructable telling you about your price? I got one, it directed me to a page where I had to enter my address data. You can contact the moderator if you haven't received one. bye

DarkRubyMoon (author)merijnvw2010-06-11

After I read your message, I checked my junk mail folder and found the moderator's email. My Yahoo must of filtered it. Thanks!

robertblacksmith (author)2010-06-08

how would i do this different for use with a van?

If you wanted to convert your van to have permanent ramps you could use a sturdy door hinge and calculate the average distance of the needed ramp length. one side of the door hinge would be bolted to the floor of your van and the ramps would be bolted to the other side. the ramps would just lift up to a vertical position for travel. This would work best with a sliding side door.

i don't want to mount it permanently because we use more then one rig. something easy to pack around.

What about permanent brackets that attach to each of the cars and then you could use ramps that fit into the brackets. You could possible make the ramps telescopic to accommodate the different heights.

i don't want anything permanent on the van.telescopic sound interesting but out side my skill range. my main need it looks like is to make the ramps longer. the angle is to sharp and the front and back idler wheels hang up.i've seen some ramps online that fold in the middle.the hinge on the fold you pull up on the middle. i may try something like that next.

We actually used ramps exactly like these for a mini-van we had years ago. A couple of issues you should be aware of. This ramp is ideal for up to three steps, but the average entry height for a van is very close if not beyond this limit. My first concern is that the ramps could break. You should re-enforce the ramp if you are going to use it for this purpose as I would be concerned that the wood could not handle that much stress. Also, most vans have a large ledge at the entry of the door. We added a block of wood to the bottom of a ramp to rest on this ledge and also rest on the floor of the van. I'd recommend adding some sort of clip so these boards could not slip from where they are placed. A mini-van is much lower than a full sized van... your ramps would need to be very long, especially if the van is full sized. I had lots of issues with head room as I had to duck quite a bit to get through the door-way of the van... and I was not that tall. The ramps will add at least two inches of height as they will rest on the floor of the van effectively reducing head clearance by a minimum of two inches. While the ramps never slipped when I used them... I must admit... unlike using them on a level ground to get over one or two steps... to use them to get into a van is very scary. I was still quite tiny myself when I had to use them for getting in and out of the van, and I am a very good driver of my chair. I would not recommend if the person you need to get in and out of a van is an unskilled driver, has difficulty with steep inclines, or is very large. Ideally, if you plan to use these ramps to get a wheelchair in and out of a van, I would recommend you not do so with the person in the wheelchair. Sit the person in the car seat, then use the ramps to push the chair up into the van.

he gets in the van first and i and drive the chair into the van. i have a set of ramps,harbor freight, that worked fine for his scooter in a minivan but they're a royal pain with the much heavier chair into the full size van.the angle is steep and getting the ends of the ramps on to the van lip.not happy with the ramps at all.

With him out of the chair, these ramps should work fine. Based on my experience, they should be plenty strong for just a wheelchair to go up even with a heavy chair so long as the wheelchair has no occupant. My main concern was these ramps slipping with him on the ramp. This should work slightly better than most manufactured ramps for the purpose of getting the wheelchair in and out of a vehicle as I have tried the store bought version myself and found they where not really designed for a power chair. You will still have the same issue with the van lip, but it may be slightly less severe. In the picture attached, I show where an extra piece of wood should be placed for using this ramp for van use. It will still be difficult to drive the chair up the ramp. It is best to put the chair in manual and carefully push it up or back the chair up the ramp in reverse.

Another side note: Unlike steps on a building, when using ramps on something like a vehicle, the weight of the wheelchair pushes down on the suspension of the vehicle causing the vehicle to shift slightly. This increases the risk of the ramp slipping which could cause injury.

ted (author)2010-06-08

Nice ible...I made a similar ramp for a friend out of plywood,but I added to crosspieces that join the two ramps to each other about 15 cms (6") from each end and set at the exact distance for optimum use of the wheelchair.Several advantages: The whole ramp unit can hang on the backrest by one of the crosspieces,thus no assistant is needed if a passerby is willing to lift it off the back of the seat, lay it down and then rehang it after use. The crosspieces add extra surface area on both levels, less chance of slip during use.There can be no spreading apart of the ramps during use when pavement or step is not level or even. BTW used 17mm ply (3/4"') throughout glued and screwed. Hope this helps someone out there. Ted Ps. crosspieces were about 12cm wide and screwed to the underside of the ramp.

DarkRubyMoon (author)ted2010-06-08

Fantastic! You should post as an instuctable!

dimtick (author)2010-06-07

This is a great idea to use a wood joist and use the top and bottom chords as wheel guards. Couple comments: 1. Wood joists are not designed for this kind of loading. For a short length ramp what you have shown is fine. For longer length ramps you should add a web stiffener. Cut a piece of plywood that is the width between the top and bottom chords (boards on either side) and make it the full length of the ramp. Glue and screw this to the underside of the ramp. This will make it twice as strong especially in the middle where the bending load is greatest. 2. At the top, you should add some metal plates on the side boards to keep the wood from splitting where it was notched. 3. Make sure you seal the ends . OSB plywood and the low-grade lumber, which is used for the top and bottom chords, are very susceptible to water soaking into the end grain, which can cause the them to delaminate and fail.

DarkRubyMoon (author)dimtick2010-06-08

Great suggestions! Yes, without adding a stiffener, one should not use this sort of ramp for more than three stairs. It is ideally suited for getting up a single step. My wheelchair is quite heavy, though I myself do not weigh very much. A larger person in a heavy weight wheelchair might require additional supports as mentioned for the increased weight load. Unfortunately, I do not know precisely the weight limits of such a ramp, so caution is advised. Thanks for the fantastic suggestions!

candogoods (author)2010-05-27

Thanks!  Please keep the ideas coming. You don't know how these ideas are going to affect the wheelchair community.

DarkRubyMoon (author)candogoods2010-05-28

That is wonderful to hear!  I'm still working on some fantastic new post for inventions for the disabled even though the contest has ended.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and my family has had to find many unique ways to solve some difficult problems with simple solutions.

ckoehler1904 (author)2010-05-01

Well written and illustrated Instructable!  I will probably be using a modified version of  this to help my partner get in and out of our house in the near future.  Thanks much for helping him be able to stay in our home (and to visit friends) for as long as possible. It will make him very happy indeed....

You are most welcome!  It makes me very happy to hear that this instructable will help you and your partner.  There are many little tips and tricks me and my family have come up with for making our home wheelchair accessible that are not currently on any instructables.  If you ever have a question or need advice, please feel free to contact me.

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