Accessibility…ASAP!

By Julian Gordon, AmrampOver 54 million Americans—roughly 19 percent of our country’s population—have some sort of disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And with that number growing every day with seniors, veterans and individuals recovering from surgery, managers and developers of multifamily residential communities are searching for ways to safely accommodate and appeal to…

By Julian Gordon, AmrampOver 54 million Americans—roughly 19 percent of our country’s population—have some sort of disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And with that number growing every day with seniors, veterans and individuals recovering from surgery, managers and developers of multifamily residential communities are searching for ways to safely accommodate and appeal to disabled residents. These projects often need to be turned around as quickly as possible to avoid violation of the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning traditional wood or concrete ramps must be substituted in favor of modular steel ramps that can be installed within days without permits.A Quick TurnaroundWhen a real estate developer was ready to begin showing a several hundred unit townhouse development to potential residents, he failed to consider how disabled individuals could enter and exit these units. With the clock ticking down until his first open house, the developer contacted our local franchisees to install a ramp over an exterior staircase to ensure people of any ability level could access the new units. Without a quick turnaround time, the developer would have not only had to reschedule the open house for weeks while they secured the necessary building permits, architects and contractors to build a wood or concrete ramp. What Needs to be ConsideredFor managers and developers finding themselves in a similar situation or trying to prevent a like episode from occurring, here are a few important questions to consider when deciding what kind of ramp to install:How much will it cost? Steel is always the lowest in cost, in terms of both materials and labor. Wood can be the lowest if labor is donated or handled by an employee, but is the highest in cost if done by a contractor.What does maintenance involve? Just like porch rails and fences, steel will rust if it is not touched up occasionally, but wood requires even more maintenance. It should be treated with a wood sealer several times per year (once in early spring and once in late fall).What material is the safest? Wood, concrete and aluminum are all solid surfaces that allow moisture to accumulate and create potential slip and fall situations. Wood rots and can become quite dangerous as it deteriorates, but steel has a gripping texture that makes it non-skid. Steel also has an open pattern ramp surface, which allows moisture to pass through and retards hazardous ice film.Is renting a ramp an option? Ramps should be rented if they are needed for six months or less. This way, when the resident requiring the ramp moves out of the building, the ramp can be easily removed and returned to the rental company or transported to a different property for similar short-term usage. What material is the most durable? Again, wood rots while steel and concrete last for ages in virtually any climate. And in terms of strength, steel is the way to go—it is three times harder than aluminum and two-thirds stronger, meaning you will need much less steel to produce an equally sized aluminum structure. Is there a specific design to which ramps should adhere? Carpenters and general handymen have limited knowledge about what makes a safe and ADA-compliant ramp, so it is best to use the services of a local industry expert to ensure compliance as well as safety. Also, managers should be sure ramps do not to encroach on shared walkways or city sidewalks.How does appearance differ? Wood ramps can be painted or stained to blend in seamlessly with existing decks, stairs or building exteriors. Steel can look like wrought iron and concrete can match a walkway, but aluminum is shiny and commercial in appearance and not very suitable for residential applications.Can a ramp be moved or changed after it is installed? Steel and aluminum ramps are portable and can be lengthened or shortened as necessary. This is not an option with wood or concrete ramps, as these materials are far more permanent.What is the possible resale value of a ramp? There is a market for used steel and aluminum ramps after they are no longer needed. They can either be sold to another management company for use at a different property or the materials can be sold for scrap.How soon can ramps be installed? Steel and aluminum ramps can be delivered from pre-manufactured stock in days—perfect when the need for a ramp is immediate and integral—but the construction of wood and/or concrete ramps depends on contractors’ responsiveness and skill. Depending on their schedules and levels of expertise, this process can take weeks or even months to complete.Is property excavation necessary? Concrete frost footings are required for wood and concrete is subject to settling. Steel and aluminum ramps, however, are designed with adjustable support structures and can be easily realigned, so excavation is generally not needed for ramps made with these materials.Are building permits necessary? Wood and concrete ramps are permanent modifications to a home and thus require permits to erect. Steel and aluminum modular ramps are classified as reusable, durable medical equipment (DME) and do not require permits because of this distinction.Are ramps portable? Aluminum and steel ramps have handles for portability and due to the strength and stiffness of steel, thinner structures are possible. Although steel and aluminum ramp sections weigh about the same, aluminum is bulkier and has more braces due to its lower material strength.As the demand for accessible housing increases, meeting the requirements is getting much easier and much more affordable with the advent of different materials, services and providers. Instead of installing a cumbersome wooden ramp that may only be used for a short while, multifamily managers and developers have a less permanent option in portable, modular steel ramps. With these solutions available almost immediately, it doesn’t make sense for any building to be inaccessible.Julian Gordon is the president and founder of Amramp. He can be reached at 800-649-5215 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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