How a small, simple ramp can make all the difference

The difference between accessible and inaccessible can be this simple. (Photo from StopGap Facebook, used by permission.)

The difference between accessible and inaccessible can be this simple. (Photo from StopGap’s Facebook page, used by permission.)

For those lucky enough to be able-bodied, little things – like a few inches between a door and the sidewalk – don’t even merit notice. It’s a different story for those who use wheelchairs or similar wheeled mobility. Accessibility is also a concern for building owners and businesses.

So it’s great when more solutions come along to ease some of those issues.

Case in point, Carleton University just hosted an international accessibility summit here in Ottawa. One of the speakers was Luke Anderson, a professional structural engineer based in Toronto. Anderson grapples with these issues all the time after crashing on a 25-foot mountain bike jump back in 2002 and ending up in a wheelchair himself.

Speaking with Alan Neal on CBC Ottawa’s All In a Day, Anderson describes wanting a faster, easier, less expensive and more portable solution to the bumps that make wheelchair use so challenging. His solution: lightweight plywood ramps that store owners (for example) can leave in place or whip out at a moment’s notice.

And it’s worth noting that you don’t have to use a wheelchair to be bothered by these barriers. Those who push a baby stroller or deliver goods on a dolly run into the same problems too.

This 2013 write-up in the Toronto Star gives a sense of the potential:

Anderson wants no proprietary claim to the idea. The StopGap website ( describes how to make the steps for community projects.

It’s starting to spread across Canada, partially thanks to Marilyn Engel, with the Home Depot at St. Clair Ave. and Keele St., which has provided materials and constructed ramps. Each Home Depot has a community fund, so Engel added StopGap to the company website. So far 15 associates in stores across Canada have taken up the initiative, she says.

“I thought it was the coolest idea,” she says.

Anderson recently heard from an accessibility advocate in the Philippines who was inspired after visiting the website.

“It extends way beyond the city limits and goes across the country and around the world,” Anderson says.

Yeah, this is one of those inspiring stories about individuals who would rather light a candle than curse the darkness. (There’s even a children’s book to go along with it all, written by a grade 6 class.)

Some might argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took care of all this in the U.S. Except that attaining full accessibility for everything new and old is a huge, on-going task.

One might also argue that plywood ramps are way too Mickey-mouse for what should be built-in as solid and permanent. Fair enough.

But consider the urban myth from the space race about different approaches to problem solving. You may have heard it: needing a way to write in outer space, the U.S. supposedly spent buckets of money developing a special ball point pen. Meanwhile the poorer (and hence more practical) USSR made their cosmonauts use pencils.

OK, it’s worth noting that story is labeled “false” by the rumor-checking site (The background presented there on how the pen that works in zero gravity came about is still quite interesting.)

Even if the pencil story is just that – a story –  it reflects something we’re all aware of: solutions don’t always have to be super hard or out-of-reach. If creative initiatives, even temporary fixes, makes better outcomes happen sooner, I say go for it!

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1 Comment on “How a small, simple ramp can make all the difference”

  1. Kent Gregson says:

    When I was conducting on the local R.R. we had an access door on one car with a plywood ramp. When we opened up that door everybody used it. The ramp is better, safer access for all and given the choice the favorite way off boarding and disembarking on the train. It also did not single out those who need the ramp.

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