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It may be necessary to make some adjustments in and around the home if your relative uses a wheelchair or a scooter.

Your loved one may benefit from having a permanent ramp installed outside for access purposes, but this is not always practical and will depend on the property and their needs.

This page contains information on:

1. Using a wheelchair around the home
2. Access in and out of the home
3. Permanent ramps
4. Portable ramps
5. Powered wheelchair storage
6. Mobility scooter storage

Using a wheelchair around the home

If someone needs a wheelchair on a permanent basis then it may be necessary to consider adaptations to the home to improve access into rooms. 

Inside the property, any level changes will cause an obstruction. If it is a small door sill, this can normally be resolved with a portable ramp that fits over the sill and allows the wheelchair to manoeuvre over the top. Alternatively, it may be possible to remove the sill and level the entrance.

Short rubber ramps are available to help wheelchair users negotiate small steps, but generally larger steps inside the property will restrict access. In this situation, it may be appropriate to consult with an occupational therapist who will be able to advise on potential property modifications.

Doors and door frames can also be awkward for wheelchair users, especially if they have to be approached at an angle. A suitable width is usually 800mm, but the wider the door width, the easier the access will be and 900-1,000mm would be considered ideal. It's sometimes possible to reduce the size of the door frame itself if you only need to make a minor alteration. 

If the need for widening is more significant, you could replace the door with a larger frame or even install two doors. Some people prefer sliding doors for ease of use.

Lifts

If your relative’s home has two or more floors, a lift adaptation may be an option. Stairlifts are generally not suitable for a person using a wheelchair, but a wheelchair lift or platform lift could be the best option. The space requirements for a lift are usually significant, taking up space on each floor, so, again, it would be worth consulting an occupational therapist to see if this option is viable.

Downstairs bathroom

If you relative is still living in a house with two or more floors, having a properly equipped downstairs bathroom, unless a lift can be installed, that can accommodate a wheelchair will be very important. This may involve making significant adjustments to the existing set-up or even installing a new bathroom. 

You may need to fit a shower as an alternative to a bath and ensure that there is also safe access to the toilet from a wheelchair. All bathroom facilities will need to be accessible from a seated position and, if there are other people who are also going to use the bathroom, you should ensure that it accommodates everyone’s needs.

It may also be useful to fit certain telecare products, such as flood detectors or fall monitors, to support your relative’s safety in the bathroom. You can also read more about bathroom adaptations in Which? product reviews for staying independent at home.

Access in and out of the home

If there are steps into the property, then it may be necessary to consider a ramp. There are important considerations to bear in mind:

  • Whether the ramp should be permanent or portable: the best option will depend on your relative's requirements and also on the owner of the property, because landlords have to give permission for installation.
  • The height of the steps. This will have an impact the length and gradient (steepness) of the ramp. Gradient can be calculated by dividing the height of the ramp by the length of the ramp. It is recommended that a ramp should be at least 1:12 gradient for a person self-propelling (for example, for every foot of height, the ramp should be 12ft in length).
  • A steeper gradient could be considered if the person has assistance and there isn't the space to accommodate a longer ramp. Bear in mind though that it could be a hazard for both walking and assisted wheelchair use if it is too steep. A recommended gradient would be 1:8.

Whatever ramp you opt for, always ensure the ramp has a non-slip surface and, if commissioning a self-build ramp, ensure it has upturned edges to prevent wheelchair users from inadvertently rolling over the sides.

Permanent ramps

Permanent ramps are usually installed if the property is regularly used by a person or persons using a wheelchair or scooter. This may be a necessary adaptation to make to your relative’s home, but if they only visit your own home occasionally, a portable ramp may be a better option for your property.

  • Permanent ramps can be made from timber or concrete. In addition there are a significant number of modular ramps available on the market that can provide suitable options for access.
  • A permanent ramp should have a level platform at the top so that the wheelchair can safely stop while the door is being opened. 
  • A handrail can also provide additional safety for people walking to the door, but usually the best option is to consider retaining steps at the side of the ramp to provide alternative access.

When considering installing a ramp, be aware that permanent ramps can be expensive and may take up a lot of space, as they will need to meet the recommended gradient requirements. Planning permission may be necessary depending on the property, so make sure you research the subject before you make any decisions.

If your relative requires a permanent solution but a ramp is not suitable (for example, if space is an issue and the height of the steps means that the length of the ramp becomes impractical), an outdoor wheelchair lift could be a better option.

Portable ramps

If a permanent ramp is not suitable or necessary, there is a wide range of portable alternatives to consider. These are made of lighter materials and are usually less expensive than permanent options. 

  • Suitcase ramps are designed to be easier to carry.
  • Roll-up ramps may be a good option if storage space is an issue.
  • Broad ramps, threshold ramps and oversill ramps are also available.

When choosing a portable ramp, consider the type of wheelchair and/or mobility scooter your relative will be using and where the ramp will be used. Will they need a ramp that allows them in and out of a vehicle, or will it only be used for home access? 

Also, check the weight that the ramp can safely handle, because some powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters can be very heavy.

Portable modular ramps and handrails are also available, providing a wide range of access options for different types of buildings and entrances.

Powered wheelchair storage

Powered wheelchairs need to be charged regularly, and usually the best time to do this is overnight. Most powered-wheelchair batteries can take up to 10 hours to charge and doing so overnight will mean the wheelchair is ready for use during the day.

The wheelchair should be stored in a cool, dry and well-ventilated area while it is charging. Make sure you have decided on a suitable place before acquiring the wheelchair. Bear in mind that it could be a safety hazard to keep it in the bedroom during the night.

Make sure you read the manual that comes with the powered wheelchair thoroughly before you use, store and charge it, taking note of any additional recommendations and precautions.

Mobility scooter storage

It’s unlikely that your relative will ever need to bring their electric scooter inside the home, but it may be necessary to store it in a lobby area or hallway. Safety regulations around access may need to be taken into account in a communal building, so make sure to check before making a purchase. You’ll also need to think about charging the scooter, so ensure there is an electric socket in the area you are planning to store it in.

If your relative wishes to store the scooter in their garage or shed (these are the most common storage solutions), make sure there is an electric point at an accessible height for easy charging. It should be simple for your relative to get into and out of the shed or garage, so check there is a clear and safe route for them, as well as adequate lighting.

If it’s not possible for your loved one to store their scooter in or around the home or garden, another option is to use a specially designed scooter storage unit with an electric supply.

Read more about buying and using a mobility scooter in Which? product reviews for staying independent at home.

More information

  • Financing home alterations: our guide contains advice and information on how to go about financing alterations to the home.  
  • Mobility aids: find out about the different varieties of mobility aids that are available.
  • Travelling by car: read about travelling by car with wheelchairs and scooters.

Page last reviewed: November 2016
Next review due: April 2019