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Ramps and other forms of disabled access are usually the most visible adaptation you can make to someone’s home. And yet in most cases their design is based on function rather than aesthetic. This section aims to improve the design of “facilitating access to and from the dwelling” funded by Disabled Facilities Grants in England.
However, design isn’t just a question of aesthetics. In 2013/14 the National Trading Standards Board introduced a Victim Impact Survey for all new victims of doorstep crime, to examine the nature of victims, the impact of such crime on victims, to identify contributory factors to victimisation, and to identify prevention opportunities. They found that 43% of victims had a handrail / grab rail, ramp to their door, or a key safe for use by carers. Alongside other evidence, this strongly suggests that some offenders may use these items as a means of identifying vulnerable residents.
There are three main ways of providing access to the home where steps limit accessibility:
- a ramp;
- a lift; or
- landscape modifications
Landscape modifications means the redesign and regrading of the path between street/garden and the front/rear/side home entrance to enable a continuous walkway (path) with an incline of 1:20. A properly designed landscape modification may not require handrails, can incorporate replanting and be designed to fit in with the façade of the home and reduce garden maintenance.
The provision of graded walkways has not been widely used in the UK home adaptations sector. This page provides an overview of the benefits of landscape modification and provides tips on designing best practice landscape modifications.
For all references and further information on landscape modification, please refer to the original published paper titled “Landscape modification as an alternative to ramps and lifts in the home” from the Australian Home Modification Clearinghouse website www.homemods.info. Download it here (opens a new window) (Opens in a new window).
Benefits of a landscape modification approach
A landscape modification offers a number of benefits over ramps and lifts. A landscape modification can be designed to blend with existing architecture. This maintains perceived house values and avoids obvious signs of vulnerability. Also, accessible design features can be applied, enabling a holistic approach to access from street to front door and throughout a garden.
A holistic consideration of the landscape in combination with the entrance of the home can achieve:
- Level entry access for all who live and visit the home.
- Improved accessibility of the garden.
- Improved functionality of the garden by reducing maintenance.
- Improved aesthetic of accessible pathway and entrance.
Where is landscape modification appropriate?
There will be cases where a re-landscaped, accessible front entrance solution is possible. The ability to modify the access through the garden is determined by the type of home (in particular the building’s relationship to the street). Other considerations include site features, including available land area, existing site, vegetation, topography, water drainage and run-off, existing services and soil conditions.
Is landscape modification more costly than other access options?
There is little research investigating the cost comparison between landscape modifications, ramps and lifts. In general, the steeper the land around the home the more complex and expensive a landscape modification would be. On flatter sites grading a tonne of topsoil is likely to cost much less than edging kerbs and handrails.
Designing a landscape modification
For a walkway to be considered accessible, the gradient (slope) must not be steeper than 1:20. A gradient steeper than 1:20 would be considered a ramp and require all associated ramped requirements such as handrails and kerbs.
Crossfall is the slope across a width of a pathway. Some crossfall is required for drainage purposes but too much will make navigating an incline difficult. Crossfall across a pathway should be no steeper than 1:40.
Rest platforms (landings) should be provided along an accessible route between street and front door. The number and size of landings will depend upon the length and design of a walkway.
The surface finish of a walkway is important and must be stable and non-slip with no stepping. This is important where concrete sections join on a pathway, and also in the correct laying of bricks and pavers. Abutting surfaces should have a maximum of 3mm height difference.
Thresholds and entrances require a level platform area to allow for rest, manoeuvrability for turning, accessing keys, placing bags and opening doors.
As a best practice in accessible design, a front entrance or front threshold will benefit from weather protection as well as enough level space to allow for manoeuvring or storage of a mobility aid.
Planting of the front garden
An accessible landscape can be low maintenance, requiring minimum care to maintain plant growth and weed management, that will not easily grow or creep onto walkways becoming an obstruction or hazard.
Modifying a front or back garden is an opportunity to improve plant types, replacing any toxic plants or weeds with low maintenance alternatives.
Inclusive garden design elements
Modifying the front garden landscape of a home gives the opportunity to improve levels of participation in the garden. This can be achieved through the incorporation of a number of design elements aimed at enabling an outdoor garden experience for all and might include:
- Raised and vertical gardens – providing gardening and horticultural access for those in a wheelchair if unable to kneel to floor level.
- Considered selection of sensory plants for the visually impaired.
General garden and utilities access
Consideration should be given to accessibility for lawnmowers and wheelie bins.
Poor illumination of a walkway will contribute to the likelihood of falls. Lighting that defines the pathway edges and reduces glare will improve safety and negotiability.
There is an untapped potential for graded walkways to provide accessible home entrances within the provision of home adaptations. This page outlines a range of important aspects of successful residential landscape modification.
Landscape modification has the potential to provide an accessible solution that:
- is fully accessible for people who use a wheelchair or mobility aid;
- can be designed to cater specifically for visually impaired people;
- is sensitive to the existing architecture of the home;
- maintains a garden aesthetic; and
- provides opportunities for improving a garden’s design and reducing ongoing maintenance.
In addition to these benefits, a landscape modification approach has none of the negative side effects of a ramp or lift installation, such as increasing vulnerability and being an eye-sore in the front garden. This further highlights potential for a landscape solution to be considered as an option when home adaptations are being carried out.
Before starting to design a ramp it is vital to know the difference in levels between the start point and floor level of the house. If you don’t have professional surveying equipment, the next best thing is a spirit level with a laser on a tripod, which you can get for about £25.
Set-up the tripod where you want the ramp to start and make sure it is level. Point the laser at the door where the ramp will end. You will need to measure:
A: The height of the level above the existing ground
B: The height of the laser light above the floor level at the doorway
C: The horizontal distance between the level and the doorway.
Try to measure C as close to horizontally as you can – measuring the length of a sloping path can give a different measurement – especially on a steep slope.
The difference in levels is A-B.
The existing gradient is 1 in (A-B)/C
Use this handy calculator to work out the difference in levels and existing gradient:
From the difference in levels, use this calculator to work out the length or ramp required based on your chosen gradient:
Regulations and guidance
For detailed information on the design of ramps and handrails see this handy guide from Charnwood Borough Council.
Level Access Thresholds
It can be tricky business to get the design of a level threshold of a property right to make sure it isn’t subject to water ingress or damp.
LABC have devised a quick step by step guide to installing effective level thresholds.
You can even download an easy to understand guide to installing thresholds on your build.