How to go downhill in a wheelchair (Slope & Ramp safety)

Wheelchair users will need to know how to traverse downhill slopes or declines when they spend any amount of time in a wheelchair. This can be wheelchair ramps, declines inroads, and more in everyday travels. There are methods that can help you navigate these downhill slopes safely and easier when you apply them.

How to maneuver a manual wheelchair downhill or a ramp

Wheelchair users can use a method called slalom that puts the wheelchair user’s hands on the hand-rim and allows the rim to slowly slide through their palm resulting in slowing the wheelchair down because of the friction the palm has on the hand-rim. Wheelchair gloves can be beneficial while using this method or when a manual wheelchair is being used overall.

These are general safety tips when maneuvering a wheelchair downhill or on a wheelchair ramp or other slopes that are not flat surfaces.

  • Always try to keep the decent controlled by pointing the wheelchair forward. You do not want to make turns while descending.
  • Maintain a controlled slow speed. It is harder to stop down a slope. Regaining the control of decent is harder once speed gets too quick.
  • To control the wheelchair you should use the slalom method of keeping your hands on the push-rim to provide continuous pressure controlling the speed of the descent. Do not let go and grab the push-rim when speeding up. Always have your hands on the rim to provide continuous and steady pressure.
  • The wheelchair user can lean back to reduce the chance of falling forward during the downhill descent.

Across side slope method

This method has the wheelchair user move across a slight side slope without turning downhill completely. You move slightly across-slope and repeat that heading in the opposite direction until you get down.

  • During this method of descent be sure to stay away from the edges of the slope. If not and wheels get stuck or fall from the edge can cause tipping.
  • When you are on the cross slope move you should push harder on the wheel that is downhill.
  • Leaning uphill can be beneficial in order to eliminate uphill-wheel traction. It also helps to reduce lateral tip-overs because the uphill wheel having not had enough weight on the wheel.
  • When turning downhill it may be beneficial to lean forward to help ease the turn.

How to push a wheelchair downhill?

Unlike self-propelling yourself downhill there is a method for pushing a wheelchair down a slope as well. The following guide explains the method most used by caregivers and family members when pushing someone in a wheelchair down a hill, slope, or wheelchair ramp.

  • Be sure there are no obstacles in the way before making the move downslope.
  • The slope should be manageable. If the slope is too steep for you we suggest finding help.
  • Going down backward allows you to brace the weight of the wheelchair and the person in the chair against your leg muscles. This gives you much more leverage and control over the downhill motion.
  • When starting the descent try and keep yourself steady and straight downhill. Move slowly using your leg muscles as leverage until you reach the bottom.
  • If the manual wheelchair has hand brakes you can also utilize them as an extra way to slow the wheelchair during the descent. A lot of manual wheelchairs will have a brake system in place that can be used

Degree of wheelchair ramp slopes

Commercial Code Standards

The ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act has guidelines that show specific ratios that accessibility ramps measurements should adhere to.

This is in place to help with accessibility and the safety aspect of using ramps while using a wheelchair or other mobility aid. a ramp with the wrong slopes can be dangerous and in fact, increase falling.

ADA ramps that are in compliment have a rise-over-run ratio of 1:12. This means that for every inch of the rise there will be a foot of the ramp.

Residential Ramps

When speaking on residential ramps they are not required to follow ADA commercial code standards. Regardless of the downhill or uphill slope, it is suggested that the standard slope be no more than a 2:12 ratio. This equates to one foot of the ramp to every 2 inches of rising vertically.

Portable ADA accessibility ramps

Portable ramps that are deemed ADFA accessibility ramps are 8 feet or less. These types of ramps can be purchased at many different types of mobility stores both at brick and motor and online stores.

Ramp lengths and angles per step

3 steps

While these are numbers may change depending on the height of steps we know that the average height of a step is about 7.5 inches high. If you have three steps we know that we have a height of 22 inches. For every one foot of the ramp, we know that the ADA requires one inch of rising.

2 steps

A 2:12 slope is recommended for wheelchair and scooter users on a 2 step ramp. Because of this, you should have 2″ of rising vertically that needs at least 1″ (12″ of ramp)

Final thoughts on going downhill on a wheelchair

Moving a wheelchair downhill is a skill that should be learned. Whether it’s going down a wheelchair ramp, or downhill because of topography in the land knowing how to navigate a slope is key to your safety and well-being while using a wheelchair.

Using the methods above can help you safely get downhill while in a wheelchair. Ramps are also another mobility tool that you will have to learn to navigate going up and down to get your wheelchair to locations you need to get to.

Related questions

What safety features can I add to my wheelchair so I do not tip backward? Anti-tippers are a great addon that you can add to almost any manual and even electric wheelchairs. They are positioned at the back of the wheelchair and help

How do you stop a wheelchair? Using brake levers and parking brakes can help you slow down or stay stopped. These levers can be found on the sides of both Wheels. Pull theming down will stop the wheel.

0/5 (0 Reviews)
About ASmith

Adam Smith is the main researcher and contributor at Mobility Medical Supply. Adam has many years of research in public data, and software security. With Mobility issues within Adam's family, he decided to dedicate in-depth guides on mobility products to anyone looking to improve movement and gain independence.