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Written By: Kelly Grogan

When renovating a building’s means of egress, the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the “2010 Standards” pose the challenge of integrating and designing a safe and convenient ramp into a layout that was not originally intended for the specified space requirements. Replacing a few stairs at an entry way with a handicap accessible ramp provides access to users of wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and strollers. Therefore, it is invaluable to be familiar with the ins and outs of the ADA Standards regarding clear width, slope, cross slope, rise, landings, doorways at landings, handrails, and edge protection.

The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) has driven significant safety improvements and increased access to transportation for people with disabilities in modern building and facility design. On September 15, 2010 the Department of Justice published revised regulations to this act, titled the “2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design”, or the “2010 Standards”. It includes guidelines for incorporating handicap accessible ramps into new building projects and major alterations.

When reading the 2010 Standards, it is important to understand the terms and their definitions before reviewing the quantitative requirements. The 2010 Standards define a ramp as “a walking surface that has a running slope steeper than 1:20”. The vertical height difference of a ramp is the rise, the horizontal length is the run, and the ratio of the two (rise:run) is the slope. The slope of a ramp must be relatively uniform with a maximum running slope (parallel to the direction of travel) of 1:12 and a maximum cross slope (perpendicular to the direction of travel) of 1:48. However, there is an exception in the 2010 Standards for existing buildings with space limitations that allows a running slope steeper than 1:12. The maximum running slope and rise for such a scenario are stated in Table 405.2 below.

Table 405.2 Maximum Ramp Slope and Rise for Existing Sites, Buildings, and Facilities

The 2010 Standards also mandate a minimum clear width of 36 inches measured perpendicular to the direction of travel. If handrails are necessary, the clear width spans between the leading edge of the handrails. It is important to note that there is no maximum clear width or distance between handrails that would require an intermediate railing between the sides of a ramp.

Ramps consist of one or more segments with a running slope, referred to as runs, and level areas that break up the grade, referred to as landings. Landings are required at the beginning and end of each run and are limited to a maximum slope of 1:48 which can be utilized for drainage to eliminate potential ponding of water. The maximum rise permitted for one run is 30 inches, but the 2010 Standards do not limit the number of runs as long as landing areas are utilized. The length of a landing area in the direction of travel must be a minimum of 60 inches and the width of a landing area perpendicular to the direction of travel must be greater than or equal to the clear width of the run. Note that when a ramp changes direction between runs, both the length and width of the landing area must meet the 60 inch minimum clearance.

Landing areas allow ample space to maneuver wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and strollers on a level surface and can act as a resting point for users. There are additional space requirements for doorways that overlap with landing areas, which are tailored to individual scenarios depending on the direction of approach (front, hinge side, or latch side) and direction of door swing (push or pull). Designers can reference Section 405.7.5 of the 2010 Standards to ensure that the door maneuvering clearances are met at any doorways adjacent to landings. When adequate space is available, it can be helpful to users if the landing area does not overlap with the outline of the door swing.

Handrails must be incorporated into the design of a ramp when it extends to a rise of 6 inches or greater, and they must conform to all of the requirements listed in Section 505 of the 2010 Standards. The 2010 Standards also include criteria for edge protection in the form of curbs, barriers, or extended surfaces along the sides of runs and along the perimeter of landings to prevent anything from slipping off of an edge. These criteria are explained in depth in Section 405.9 of the 2010 Standards.

The 2010 Standards include several exceptions and vary for specific scenarios, such as outdoor curb ramps, curved ramps and ramps in assembly areas, medical care facilities, or historic property. Therefore, it is always imperative to reference the code, 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, when designing a ramp for new buildings or renovations to existing buildings. It is also necessary to verify any standards and requirements stated in the applicable local building code, as they can be stricter and govern over the 2010 Standards. Finally, always try to consider the user in addition to meeting code limitations. For example, take into account the material being used and incorporate a slip resistant finish surface if necessary. The ultimate goal is to offer a safe and convenient path of travel for everyone.

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