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Wheelchair access to a raised bed.

Hey folks,


I’ve been asked to help build (and design) a series of raised garden beds for a Veteran’s garden this weekend.  They have a limited budget and this is intended to be simple 2X construction.  They’ve asked that the gardens be wheelchair friendly.  I don’t have a ton of experience with ADA design and I’ve hit a bit of a snag with some conflicting requirements.  I’m wondering if anyone on here is wheelchair savvy or can provide some guidance (or knows someone who can). I need to build three of these on Saturday so I don’t have much time. 


The basic problem is balancing height, leg access and the depth of the bed. I’ve done a crude drawing to help illustrate this.

The original thought was that we would not attempt to accommodate tucking the gardener’s legs fully under the bed but I’ve has some (non-wheelchair) individuals say that we’d like to accommodate this.


I looked up the ADA requirements for sinks (seems as applicable as I can find) combined with gardening recommendations for how deep the bed should be and I get:


The maximum height of the garden (sink) should be 34” so people can reach into it.

The minimum height under the garden (sink) should be 27” so you can get your legs under it. 

The minimum depth of the soil should be about 11 inches. 


You can see how these three don’t add up. 


As I see it I have three compromises I can make:


1. Reduce the depth of the soil. I’m reluctant to do this as everything I’ve read online says the plants will die if the soil isn’t at least 11”

2. Ignore the ADA max height recommendation and lift the bed high enough so you can get your wheelchair under it.

3. Ignore the ADA min height under the sink so you can reach into the garden but you won’t be able to pull your wheelchair fully under it.


Of course I’d love to build a prototype and do a bit of research but I simply don’t have any time to do that.


Does anyone have a strong, learned and informed opinion on this matter?

Thank you so very much!



  • ButtercupdaysButtercupdays Posts: 4,461

    The veg trugs you can buy partly get over this by being V shaped, so you can get a bit nearer in and there is greater depth in the middle. Makes cutting out more complicated though!

  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 8,191

    I have no experience designing around wheelchairs and wheelchair accessibility - but I have used raised beds before.

    My own experience is that raised beds dry out much quicker than normal soil and anything like the structure in your picture would:

    a) Dry out very quickly and require either constant watering or an irrigation system.

    b) Anybody watering the 'bed' with their legs underneath the staging would get wet legs because excess water needs to be able to drain out of the bottom.

    What does the client want to grow in the beds? Shrubs, most perennials and some veg would all require  more than 11" of soil to grow in. 

    11" would probably restrict them to salad crops, herbs, and smaller perennials and annuals.

    My own raised beds were made from hefty, pressure treated pine 'sleepers' (8' x 8" x 8") placed directly on the ground and built 2 sleepers high.


    They were probably low enough to be accessible from a wheel chair and narrow enough that the middle could be reached from either side without over stretching. (Might need to be narrower for a chair user).

    They were also a nice height to double up as a makeshift seat for any companion in the garden

    The main advantage with these beds was that they took lots of soil and compost so they didn't dry out too quickly and they also received some watering by capillary action from the ground. The sleepers can be cut to any length to make interesting shapes / fit the space.

    I was able to grow a full range of veg in these and they would also have been suitable for most perennials and small shrubs.

    I hope you can find something that works - good luck with the project - sounds like a good cause!

    Last edited: 04 May 2017 11:19:30

    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • Blue OnionBlue Onion Posts: 2,963

    I'd suggest you'd want something they can get their entire legs under.  I can't image trying to work side-on to a garden with limited mobility.  Is there a water source near by?  Maybe build it to accommodate a soaker hose once planted?  That would take care of the watering issue.  Or even the type that has the PVC pipe with holes running down the center, so someone can just use a hosepipe to fill the upward end of the pipe and flood the PVC to water?  Use it for shallow rooted plants like salad greens, radishes, kale, etc?  

    Could you do a variety of beds?  One raised bed like the picture from Topbird, but with seats built in next to it a bit like a picnic table?  That way those that can take a few steps can get out of their chair and sit on the bench to work?  Or have someone assist them to the bench?

    Some lower raised beds with come cement tiles around them for those in wheelchairs that prefer to work from the ground?  We have a group in our town that has crews of intellectually disabled young to middle age adults who provide landscaping care for the public spaces, and I've seen a few of them scoot right out of their chair and work on the ground, using their arms to move along a small area to work.  Some smooth cement tiles that keep them dry and are comfortable to sit on might meet their preference.

    Try a variety of beds, then the veterans can choose their preference depending on their ability.. and you'll have data for next time around.  Better than having one style that suits very few or doesn't allow the plants to thrive.  

    Utah, USA.
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