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Measuring gradient on a path with a clinometer

Ramps and steps

Guidance on outdoor ramp and step design, highlighting the principle details to consider in the new design or modification of ramps and steps.

The following notes are intended as a basic guide and not as detailed specifications. It is essential that any design meets current Building Regulations.


Any routes that include a gradient are potentially hazardous and exhausting to people with limited mobility. It is essential to consider slope together with distance as sometimes a slightly steeper gradient over a shorter length may be preferred to a very long ramp.

Gradient and length of slope must be considered together. At times, a slightly steeper gradient over a shorter distance may be more acceptable than a gentler one over a long distance.

Ramp length

A ramp at maximum gradient (1:20) should not exceed 10m.

A level resting platform, approximately 1.8m long, should be provided at least every 30m on sustained gradients of more than 1:20.


Protection of frequently used ramps by a roof overhang or overhead canopy is valuable. Heating cables can be incorporated to overcome the problem of ice.

Camber and drainage

1:100 - recommended maximum

Paths, steps and ramps should have a slight cross-fall to shed water.

However, cambers present difficulties for both wheelchair users and people with visual impairments. Therefore aim to minimize.


Regular maintenance is essential to ensure that ramps remain usable and safe. In particular the removal of debris and clearance of snow and ice in winter.


Steps are difficult for many people with disabilities and usually impossible for wheelchair users. However, for some people with limited mobility, steps can be preferable to ramps. Wherever possible provide a choice of steps and ramp.

Careful design of outdoor steps is important to ensure that they are as accessible as possible.

Avoid single steps as these are easily overlooked.

Avoid ramped steps and angled steps as these are difficult for most people to use.

Steps design details

Step riser: Maximum 150mm, avoid open risers.

Step tread: Minimum 280mm. (Walking frame users: riser max. 100mm; tread min. 550mm).

Resting platforms, or landings, of approximately 1.8m should be provided for each 1.2m flight of steps.

Visual contrast

Steps should contract visually with their background. Use paint or contrasting materials to highlight step nosings. Highlights should be at least 55mm deep and extend the full width of the step

Step series

Steps should be uniform within a series, with consistent risers and treads. Maximum rise per flight of steps: 1.2m.


Use textured surfaces on the approaches to the top and bottom of steps to provide warnings for people with visual impairments.

Approaches to ramps and steps

Clear minimum length of 1500mm at top of bottom of ramp.

Use textured surfaces on the approaches to ramps to provide warnings to people with visual impairments.


Handrails along ramps or steps provide welcome, often essential, support to people with limited mobility. The appropriate design solution will depend upon the location and on the ability of the users.

Handrails should be provided on both sides of ramps and steps. Low kerbs, minimum 40mm height, should be incorporated along the sides of ramps as wheel stops.

Handrails must be securely anchored and continuous throughout their run, to include any level resting places. Choose handrails that are easy and comfortable to grasp - a round or oval section is best. The ends should be rounded off or turned into the wall for safety. For entrance steps/ ramps extend the rail to the door.

Rail diameter: Range 45-50mm

Rail height: 850mm above step nosing or ramp surface, 1m above landing.

Clearance: Distance from adjacent wall minimum 45mm (wall surfaces should be non-abrasive). Where rails are recessed there should be 150mm clearance above and 75mm below the rail.

Rail length: Extension beyond the top and bottom of steps and ramps approximately 450 mm

Location of handrails

Provide handrails for steps, ramps, abrupt changes in level or where people with walking difficulties are likely to require extra support. Handrails should be provided on both sides for people limited to the use of one arm. The alternative is a central rail.

Double rails

Double handrails should be provided to assist semi-ambulant people and wheelchair users. Top rail height 1 and lower rail height 750 mm. Handrails should be easily discernable to assist people with visual impairments.


Select materials that enable a firm and comfortable grip. Metal can be uncomfortable, especially when cold or wet, and are better if nylon of plastic coated. Alternately a good quality, non-splintering hardwood can be used.


Handrails should be checked regularly to ensure that they are properly secured and that there is no splintering of cracking which can make them uncomfortable or even dangerous to use.

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