Ramps and Paths for Wheelchair Access

Adding ramps and paths that allow wheelchair users to access a garden is getting more common. Wheelchair access for private gardens can be tricky particularly if there are steep gradients on the plot, but the body of knowledge on accessibility is growing all the time and there are plenty of sources of help

Ramps and paths are the most common way of making a garden accessible. If there are extreme gradients then it’s not impossible to make terraces and put in powered lifts to allow wheelchair users to move between them. But as this would be a major engineering job that would cost a great deal of money, smooth and gentle ramps and paths are the more likely solution for most private gardens.

Recommended Gradients

It’s important to know the limits of the gradients and types of material that will allow wheelchairs to travel easily. The Sensory Trust, a non-profit organisation that provides information about accessibility, have a very useful website that gives suggestions about ramps and paths as well as many other aspects of making life easier for everyone.

They suggest a minimum width for paths of 0.9m but note that this will not allow anyone to walk alongside the wheelchair so 1.2m is better. Gradients of 1:12 are the maximum suggested by British Standards but the Sensory Trust suggest this is too steep for many wheelchair users and that 1:15 or even 1:20 is more manageable. If you do have to have steep gradients try and keep them as short as possible.

Turns and Camber

The usual way of coping with different levels in a garden is to make zigzag paths going back and forth across the gradient, rising as they go. There is a subtle addition to the nature of gradients at the corners and that is the camber. If there’s room, the best thing to do is to bring each section of the ramp to a level at each turn, provide a level turning spot and then go on to the next ramp.

But not many private gardens will have the extra space required for this so it’s far more likely that the turn will have to be on a tilt so that it can fit the space available. This is known as a cambered turn and the camber is the gradient from the centre of the curve out to the edge. This presents real difficulties for wheelchairs which can tip over while trying to make the turn. The recommended maximum camber is 1:50 but 1:100 will be much easier and safer.

Path Surfaces for Wheelchair Users

Hard path surfaces are obviously best for wheelchairs and most garden centres or DIY stores will have a suitable supply. In public parks and nature reserve hoggin or cinder are popular. But that is because the distances involved are far greater and these surfaces are cheaper to lay. In a domestic garden ordinary paving should be fine.

Don’t pick anything that will be slippery when wet though and make sure the sub-base is properly excavated and laid so that the surface doesn’t rut or paving stones slip and tip. This is far more serious when there are wheelchair users to consider.

Raising the Level of the Soil

One other aspect of wheelchair access, and it’s one that needs to be thought about at the design stage, is making the beds accessible too. This depends on whether there are wheelchair users who are also gardeners.

If that is the case then it’s worth considering raised beds throughout the garden. Raising the level of the beds makes it much easier for wheelchair users to get at each plot.