We got the quote back yesterday for what it would cost to put a wheelchair lift in the garage. The bottom-of-the-rung lift with installation but without tax, would run a hefty 8,000 dollars. This is because Washington state law classifies the lift (which would go up all of two feet) to be an elevator, and thus is has to have a special door at the top that locks when the lift is at the bottom of the steps. This means that we also would have to put a call button in to bring the lift to the top of the steps if it is at the bottom. While it sounds cool in theory, 8,000 dollars seems like a whole lot of money just so that we have the convenience of unloading out of the rain. I'm also a little worried about the idea that the garage would be the accessible entrance, because if there was a fire and the power was out Jer wouldn't be able to get the garage door open.
So we're back to our first idea, which was to put a ramp on the front of the house. We'd build it out of wood so that if we were to ever sell the house we could potentially take the ramp out easily. I went over to the new house (which is now registered to us and officially ours, by the way, though we won't be getting the keys for another couple of days to give the sellers a chance to move out) and measured the height of the stairs up to the porch. They are fifteen inches high, which would mean that to meet ADA standards for ramp length/height ratio the ramp would need to be fifteen feet long. Now it just so happens that the porch is extra wide, and the extra space between the side of the house and the sidewalk currently has a flowerbed with several large bushes in it. I think we might be able to pull those bushes out and put a ramp in that would go straight out from the house and link up with the sidewalk. While I didn't take an exact measurement of the length from the house to where the sidewalk links up with the driveway, I'm pretty sure it's longer than fifteen feet. I'll take some exact measurements once we have the keys to the house. I would have done that today, but right about the time I started measuring the length the skies opened up and rain came absolutely pouring down. Normally it just drizzles here, but this was some serious rain. At any rate, I had to abandon my measuring and sprint for the car.
I came home and hopped on the Internet, eager to look at the various attractive ways people had incorporated wheelchair ramps into their homes, and I found . . . zilch. Well, scratch that-- I found one picture in which someone had planted a row of geraniums in front of the ramp on a house painted in 70's orange and brown. And that was pretty much it.
I'm rather shocked, actually. No wonder people think of wheelchair ramps as such eyesores! Surely there's something you can do with a wooden ramp to pretty it up other than planting a row of measly little flowers. And for that matter, can't you construct them in a manner other than that whole plywood-and-2-by-4 thing?
So I sat down with my colored pencils and started doodling. I like the idea of softening up a ramp with vegetation, but there seems little point in putting together a big ugly ramp and then smacking some bushes at the bottom of it and calling it done-- it would drive me nuts every time I saw it. Then I thought about those walls and fences you see sometimes with planters built in on top of them, and voila! A wheelchair ramp was born.
I'm not an architect or an artist, so sorry about the ridiculous pictures, but hopefully you can get the basic idea. Our house already has a whole bunch of tall bushes that essentially hide the entrance from the street, so it would only be when you started walking up the sidewalk that you would see the ramp. Instead of just building a railing for the ramp, I'd build a wall with planting space on top of it. There'd be a wide planter at the top (and because it's wider, we could run the handrail for the ramp down one side and a handrail for the stairs down the other) and then a series of narrower planters as the wall stair-stepped down, with additional planting space at ground level.
I realized after I did the drawings that it would be best to have the top of the wall stair-step and have a series of planters rather than having the wall stay at one level, because if we did that it would be 40 inches high at the top (about hip high on me) and by the time you got down to the bottom it would be 55 inches high (or about armpit level). This would look silly. So imagine that the height of the wall steps down every couple of feet or so, and there's a planting space on each level area. The wall closest to the house would be narrow so that we have enough room for the ramp, which was the whole point of this exercise in the first place. The handrail would follow the angle of the ramp and would be mounted 36 inches high.
I could either have the planters separate from the wall itself so I could lift them out, or I could have them built in. I'm picturing something sort of like this, but stair-stepping like this. I'd put something low-growing and evergreen in the narrow planters that would be soft and wouldn't trail over the side too much-- I'm thinking maybe various varieties of creeping thyme. The large planter would have some shade-loving flowers of some sort in it. The bottom flower bed would have another low-growing plant that could stand some shade: maybe lithodora.
The walls of the ramp would be painted the same color as the siding on the house (currently white, though that will probably change), which would tie the ramp into everything a bit better. The sidewalk is pebbled concrete, but we don't want a concrete base to our ramp so it can be relatively easily removed, and I'm a little leery of painting the floor of the ramp, so we'd probably stain it some attractive color.
I'm not sure whether or not I'd want the wall to be solid or more like a railing with planter boxes on top-- it would kind of depend on what it would do to the appearance of the house.
I have no idea if this idea is at all feasible or practical (it's probably not, or someone would have done it by now), but it at least gives me a place to start thinking about some attractive options. Of course, I also have no idea how much building a ramp like that would cost, but hopefully it wouldn't be 8,000 dollars. That would have to be one super fancy ramp.
If anyone else has any ideas, for that matter-- or attractive front-door ramp remodels to look at, let me know!