When were wheelchair ramps invented? The modern-day wheelchair ramps were not designed by a particular person at one time but have evolved over the ages.
I love history, and wheelchairs are essential to me, so I wondered how wheelchair ramps came to be.
While I could only date ramp usage to the late 1900s, I further researched the topic and found out otherwise.
READ MORE: The Best Lightweight Wheelchair Ramp of 2022
- Ramp usage started in ancient Greek and Egyptian times.
- New York’s Grand Central Terminal was the first public space to use ramps.
- The ADA manages the standards wheelchair ramps should follow.
Ancient History of Wheelchair Ramps
When were wheelchair ramps invented? Wheelchair ramps date back to ancient times but were not initially designed to help disabled people.
Modern-day accessible ramps became standard after the ADA started operations in 1990.
So how far does the wheelchair ramp date? The ancient Egyptians had a ramp system to help them haul huge stone boulders from quarries. (1)
This discovery has hinted they also used an inclined plane to build the Egyptian pyramids. But there is no confirmed record since no blueprints have been found.
The ancient Greeks built the Diolkos, a paved ramp to allow ship access. They used the Diolkos to haul ships across the Isthmus of Corinth instead of making long routes to Athens. (2)
The ancient Greeks also built inclined stone planes in public spaces like worship places. These slopes would allow people with mobility issues to access the temples and enable disabled people on stretchers to pass. (3)
Galileo’s inclined plane experiment in the 1600s demonstrated the use of ramps as simple machines. But it took years for his dream to come true. (4)
How Was the Evolvement of Wheelchair Ramps?
Apart from utility purposes, ramps evolved to become a modern tool for accessibility. In the early 1900s, New York’s Grand Central Terminal designers used the ramp principle.
Reed & Stem, the architectural firm, strived to make the station accommodate all types of travelers, including the elderly and people with mobility disabilities, who could access the station through ramps.
In the 1930s, the 32nd American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt (famous wheelchair guy), advocated for accessibility but hid his condition. He would use a secret platform to access the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s presidential suite.
After the Second World War, people embraced physical disabilities since most veterans came home with mobility issues. Disability activists advocated for access of wheelchair users to public spaces in the 1960s.
The disability activists made progress in the 70s, making Congress pass the Rehabilitation Act. This Act aimed to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities.
But wheelchair ramps became standard across 20th-century buildings after 1990. These accessibility ramps would then provide accommodations to people with disabilities.
ADA Role on Wheelchair Ramps
The Americans with Disabilities Act came to be on July 26, 1990, after President George H. W. Bush passed the Act. The law required pre-existing and new buildings to have a wheelchair ramp. (5)
There have also been amendments to the Act, with the latest being in 2010.
With the U.S. Department of Justice enforcing the public accommodations title, public spaces and buildings must lay necessary measures to allow wheelchair users access.
The ADA has rolled out wheelchair ramp regulations to ensure uniform construction. Check out this YouTube video on ADA wheelchair-compliant ramps.
Wheelchair Ramp Regulations
The standard ramp pitch is 1:12, meaning the ramp length should be 12 inches long for every rising inch. The slope should be uniform from end to end, but slight variations can be based on the ramp construction material. (6)
The slope ratio for ramp should not exceed 1:48 to avoid disruptions when propelling mobility aids.
Longer pitches can cause fatigue to wheelchair users, hence the need for breaks.
2. Ramp Width
According to ADA regulations, the standard width of a wheelchair ramp is 36 inches wide.
The width offers reliable access to manual and electric wheelchairs, allowing people with mobility disabilities to access floors easily.
It is possible to have an extended ramp width in public spaces and buildings with significant amounts of people. Also, the width should be uniform throughout the ramp span.
A landing must be present to transition from the ramp to the ground and at the top deck. Standard landing sizes are 60″ by 60″, and the universal design allows for a 1:48 cross slope to prevent water accumulation. (6)
If there are existing handrails, they should not break at any point along the intermediate landings. They should extend 12 inches outwards at the point of termination or ground landing.
This feature offers extra safety to people with mobility disabilities using the wheelchair ramp. As the ADA regulations state, handrail options are crucial for ramps exceeding a vertical rise of six inches.
But the handrails should not interfere with the standard ramp width and should average 34″–38″ from the ramp surface. The grip surface should be free of abrasive elements and maintain a 1 ½ inch gap from the attached wall.
Who invented the wheelchair ramp?
It is unclear who invented the wheelchair ramp since this accessibility tool has been used for ages. The modern-day ramp came in the 1900s, but the ancient Greeks and Egyptians used inclined planes.
How has the ADA enforced accessibility?
The ADA has a set of regulations all wheelchair ramps must follow for wheelchair users’ safety. The Act states that public facilities offer accommodations for wheelchair users.
How many different types of ramps are there?
There are various types of modern-day ramps to meet your needs. They include threshold, vehicle, permanent, semi-permanent, and portable ramps.
If you were asking yourself, “when were wheelchair ramps invented?” then you probably like history.
Knowing the history behind the invention and evolution of wheelchair ramps can be beneficial. This architectural tool helps people with physical disabilities.
The ADA regulations ensure everyone can have accessibility with secure constructions. Spread this knowledge to someone else!
Did you find the history interesting? Don’t forget to share your thoughts with us in the comments section!
- 1. Rigby K. Building The Great Pyramid At Giza: Investigating Ramp Models [Internet]. 2016. Available from: https://www.brown.edu/academics/archaeology/sites/academics-archaeology/files/publication/document/Rigby2016.pdf
- 2. Pettegrew DK. The Diolkos of Corinth. American Journal of Archaeology. 2011;115:549–74.
- 3. Curry A. Ramps for disabled people trace back to ancient Greece [Internet]. www.science.org. 2021. Available from: https://www.science.org/content/article/ramps-disabled-people-trace-back-ancient-greece
- 4. Clifford C. Inclined Plane Experiment [Internet]. galileo.rice.edu. [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from: http://galileo.rice.edu/lib/student_work/experiment95/inclined_plane.html?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=in-text-link
- 5. ADA. Introduction to the ADA [Internet]. www.ada.gov. Available from: https://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm#:~:text=The%20Americans%20with%20Disabilities%20Act
- 6. ADA. U.S. Access Board – Chapter 4: Ramps and Curb Ramps [Internet]. www.access-board.gov. Available from: https://www.access-board.gov/ada/guides/chapter-4-ramps-and-curb-ramps/