How To Make Your Backyard More Accessible

An older adult using a wheelchair to water the garden in their backyard.

Backyard accessibility involves creating an environment where everyone can move around safely and comfortably, whether using a wheelchair, a walker, or just their own two feet.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly one in four American adults has some form of disability. That's a lot of people who might benefit from accessible backyard spaces. Moreover, for many people with disabilities, the backyard is a place to enjoy the fresh air and spend time with loved ones. 

However, making a backyard accessible can be a challenge. From decks and patios to pools and gardens, many obstacles can make it difficult for people with disabilities to enjoy their outdoor space.

The key to making a backyard more accessible is to find the right services and products to address the specific challenges of each individual. Many companies specialize in accessibility products, from ramps to pool lifts to adaptive garden tools. These custom-built structures and products can make a huge difference in the lives of people with disabilities, giving them the independence and freedom to enjoy their backyard space.

Build a Ramp

Accessing the backyard can be challenging for people who use wheelchairs or have limited mobility. In addition to steps, many yards also have uneven terrain, making them difficult or even impossible to navigate. However, by adding a ramp, it's possible to make your backyard more accessible.

Ramps can be made from different materials, such as wood, metal, or concrete, and can be either temporary or permanent. To ensure safety, the ramp must be properly sloped and have suitable handrails.

There are a few things to keep in mind when building an accessible ramp:

  • Make sure the slope is not too steep. The ideal slope is 1:12, which means that for every one inch of height, the ramp should be 12 inches long.

  • Handrails are necessary on both sides of ramps with a rise greater than six inches.

  • The minimum clear width for a ramp is 36 inches (measured between handrails where provided).

While these are just a few guidelines, it's essential to consult a professional to ensure that the ramp meets all Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for your loved one.

Though building a wheelchair ramp can seem like a big undertaking, there are several ways to do so:

  • Prefabricated sections: These are ready-made pieces that can be put together to create a ramp. You can find these at most home improvement stores.

  • Lumber: Build the ramp from scratch using lumber. This option gives you more control over the design and allows you to customize the ramp to fit your needs. Home improvement stores typically have everything you need for this project.

  • Premade ramps: These can be purchased from companies specializing in accessibility products or your local home improvement store.

If you're unsure where to start, many online resources can help you find the right ramp for your needs. 

Once you've decided on a ramp design, it's time to build it:

  1. Determine the location of the ramp. Ensure there's enough space for the ramp and that it doesn't interfere with any doors or windows.

  2. Measure the height of the door, porch, or patio and how far back the ramp will extend. This will give you an idea of how long the ramp needs to be.

  3. Sketch the ramp to scale. This will help you visualize the project and ensure everything is proportionate.

  4. Cut the lumber to size. Use pressure-treated wood, as it will stand up better to the elements.

  5. Assemble the frame of the ramp using brackets, screws, and nails. Cover the frame with plywood or OSB (oriented strand board) and secure it with screws.

  6. Finish the surface of the ramp with decking material, such as composite decking. This will make the ramp less slippery and more comfortable to walk on.

  7. Install handrails on both sides of the ramp.

With a basic outline of the steps involved, you're ready to start building your ramp.

Create an Accessible Patio or Deck

It's crucial to keep accessibility in mind when designing your patio or deck. This means making sure there's enough space for wheelchairs to maneuver and that there are no obstacles that could trip someone up.

When planning the layout of your patio or deck, consider the following:

  • The minimum width for a wheelchair to turn around is five feet.

  • There should be a clear path from the house to the patio or deck, and all doors leading to the outdoor space should be at least 36 inches wide.

  • The patio or deck should be level, with no more than a one-inch difference between any two points.

If your patio or deck is elevated, make sure there are handrails to help people get up and down.

When retrofitting a deck or patio, there are a few things you can do to make it more accessible:

  • Create a level surface by adding or removing material as needed. Be sure to compact the soil before adding any paving stones or decking material.

  • Install ramps or lifts to bridge any gaps.

  • Reinforce any loose boards or railings.

  • Add handrails to any stairs.

When choosing materials for your patio or deck, opt for nonslip surfaces and those that require little maintenance. Composite decking is a good option as it doesn't splinter or rot in the same way wood does. Concrete is also a good choice as it can be textured to provide a nonslip surface.

Include a Pool With a Lift or Ramp

Adding a pool to your backyard can provide endless hours of fun, but it's essential to ensure it's accessible for everyone. For example, if you or a loved one have a mobility impairment, you may find getting in and out of a traditional pool challenging. This is where a pool lift or ramp comes in handy.

A pool lift is a motorized chair that lowers and raises people in and out of the pool. A ramp is a sloped surface that allows people to wheel themselves into the pool. Depending on your needs, pool lifts and ramps can be installed permanently or temporarily. They can also be used in conjunction with a pool house, providing a place to change and store equipment out of the way.

When choosing a pool lift or ramp, consider the following:

  • Pool height: This will determine the ramp's length or the lift's height.

  • Pool type: If you have an in-ground pool, you'll need a different type of lift than if you have an above-ground pool. Your pool's shape and size will also affect your choice.

  • Weight capacity of the lift or ramp. This is especially important if you're carrying multiple people or equipment.

  • Ease of use: Some lifts and ramps are more accessible and easy to operate than others.

After installation, it's important to understand pool safety guidelines, particularly if you have kids and pets. This includes knowing how to operate the lift or ramp and keeping children and pets away from the equipment.

Provide Gardening Areas at Different Levels

If you enjoy gardening, you can do a few things to make it more accessible. This includes creating raised garden beds, installing planters, and using trellises. Raised beds can be built at different heights to accommodate people of all ages and abilities. Planters can be placed at different levels, and trellises can be used to support climbing plants.

In addition, use paths and walkways to create a safe and easy way to move around your garden. Use nonslip materials and ensure the path is wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Consider the Height of Your Outdoor Furniture

One of the most important things to consider when making your backyard accessible is the height of your furniture. This includes chairs, tables, and countertops. The surface of an accessible table should not exceed 34 inches above the floor. Additionally, there should be a minimum distance of 27 inches between the floor and the underside of the table.

When choosing furniture, it's also important to consider the width of the seat and whether or not the piece has arms. The seat should be wide enough to accommodate easy transfers, and arms can provide support when you’re sitting down or getting up.

It's also a good idea to have various seating options available. This way, everyone can find a comfortable spot to relax.

Avoid Obstructions in the Yard

Another thing to consider when making your backyard accessible is the layout of the space. There should be a clear path from the house to the pool, garden, or other areas of the yard. Moreover, the path should be free of obstacles such as steps, large rocks, and steep slopes. If there are any elevation changes, they should be gradual and easy to navigate.

You can create clear paths by using pavers, gravel, or grass. Be sure to choose a material that is durable and easy to maintain. In addition, it's important to keep the yard free of clutter. This includes toys, tools, and garden equipment. One way to achieve this is by using storage and garden sheds. Ultimately, a tidy and well-organized backyard ensures everyone's safety and accessibility.

Be Prepared To Make Adjustments

Making your backyard accessible doesn't have to be a one-time event. It's essential to be prepared to make adjustments as needed. This might include changing the height of furniture, adding new paths or walkways, or installing additional safety features.

Other potential adjustments include:

  • Improving the lighting in the backyard.

  • Making sure all outdoor areas are well-maintained.

  • Adding signs to help people find their way around.

It's important to be flexible in your approach. What works for one person might not work for another. By being adaptable and making changes as needed, you can create an enjoyable and safe backyard experience for everyone.


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