Pictures of ramps incorporated into stairs have been gaining some attention on architecture and design blogs. While some of these designs are indeed beautiful to look at, they tend to be inaccessible, not ADA compliant, and downright unsafe. The ramp pictured to the left is located in Vancouver, Canada, so it is not required to be ADA compliant. However, it’s useful to explore why the ramp does not comply with the ADA, as this highlights a few of the design’s flaws from an accessibility perspective.
One concern is the ramp’s slope. It is hard to tell from the picture, but it looks like it might be steeper than 1:12 (405.2) Similarly, it is hard to tell if any of the runs have a rise greater than 30 inches (405.6.) What does seem clear from the picture is that this ramp is in need of both handrails (405.8) and edge protection (405.9.)
The steep slope and lack of edge protection make this ramp potentially dangerous to people who use mobility devices. However, adding the necessary handrails and edge protection would end up defeating the whole purpose of this design, as the stairs would then become unusable. Additionally, the lack of color contrast between the ramp portions and the stairs could prove hazardous to people with low vision or people who are semi-ambulatory and prone to shuffling their feet while walking.
This ramp is a great illustration of why architects and designers need to understand the “why” of Universal Design rather than simply attempting to comply with the minimum accessibility requirements given by codes and standards. Perhaps this ramp could be altered in such a way so as to become ADA compliant, but even so it still wouldn’t qualify as Universally Designed. If Universal Design had been taken into consideration at the beginning of the design process then perhaps a better solution could have been developed. For instance, surface grading could have been used to eliminate the need for such steep ramps and numerous switchbacks.