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AODA: The one-step ramp conundrum

Image: www.stopgapblog.blogspot.com

You might have read a recent post from our esteemed author Andrew Lawson introducing you to a video from the StopGap one-step ramp project at www.stopgap.ca. One sponsor of the StopGap project is Home Depot and at this time, the group offers businesses in Ontario a one-step ramp for free.

Sounds great, right? During my several years on Ontario’s accessible built environment standards committee, we addressed the issue of one-step ramps and members raised valid reasons not to assume this is a fix in all situations. So what is the conundrum?

Consider some of the issues we discussed:

  • Depending on sidewalk width, these ramps may encroach on pedestrian movement
  • Specifically, for example, if a door to a business is flush with the street, a one-step ramp is more problematic, perhaps requiring a landing, which takes more room
  • Ramps are natural tripping hazards for people who are not paying attention
  • The ramps need appropriate maintenance in inclement weather so as not to be slipping hazards
  • If there are too many ramps, then using the sidewalk means people will have to manoeuvre to avoid numerous objects
  • Winter conditions require ramps to receive immediate maintenance or people may not be able to identify them or use them
  • Our public snow removal equipment is of no help in this situation; in fact, ramps might interfere with public snow removal

On the other hand, people welcome more street benches, garbage cans, bicycle parking areas, trees and floral displays, and encroachment on pedestrian pathways is often acceptable. All of these objects can also be hazards if you are not paying attention. I suspect that the low end of the ramp is likely to cause more problems protruding on the sidewalk because pedestrians are not likely to identify it as a hazard. I enjoy a good chat while strolling with a companion, but I think we all know the dangers of not paying attention to our environment.

If a ramp is properly marked with bright colours, we might learn to move around them. StopGap has followed the existing accessibility rules and although the organization says it is using bright colours to draw attention to the initiative, the colours are in fact necessary for identification.

The StopGap ramps demonstrate that the organization might not have considered the committee’s recommendations. When a ramp rises above-grade, we recommended edge protection so a mobility device user or other use does not slip off the side. (You can see this feature on accessibility ramps on new TTC buses.)

Personally, I am pleased with this one-step ramp initiative and see its merit, albeit with a minor alteration. I do hope that StopGap provides businesses that obtain a ramp with maintenance and inspection instructions. If you participate in the program, I welcome your feedback, to explain your experience of obtaining, installing and maintaining the ramp.

Businesses that use this type of ramp will need to:

  1. Keep the surface of the ramp clear of debris and ice. Make sure it is not a slipping hazard.
  2. If your local municipality clears the snow in front of your business, the snow removal equipment will likely bypass most of the snow accumulating from the wall to the end of the ramp. Businesses will then become responsible to clear the remaining snow and debris between each ramp.
  3. Make sure there is regular inspection of the ramp before it becomes an insurance liability.

For these reasons, I think the free one-step ramp might not be suitable for everyone. Furthermore, StopGap decides if you are a candidate. Most municipalities and regions require permission to place a ramp or any fixture on the public sidewalk. If this free ramp works for you, first receive permission from your local authority.

Nonetheless, I applaud the initiative with hope that awareness will encourage organizations to seek solutions if this one is not appropriate. If businesses realize an increase in profit or other benefits, they will find merit to pay for another type of ramp or perhaps place an awning over the ramp. Every situation requires thoughtful solutions.

One-step ramps are a terrific way to provide access to people with disabilities. These types of ramps are incredibly useful in temporary situations like an event. However, and maybe I am wrong, but I do not think all one-step businesses will gladly join the cause when it comes to winter maintenance and clearing part of the sidewalk that the snow removal equipment must avoid.

Case in point: a lovely city in northern Ontario that will remain nameless was competing to become an Olympic venue. In order to win the Olympics you have to prove you can also accommodate the Special Olympics. The town initiated a one-step ramp solution while trying to win the bid. I heard about this initiative and while visiting I asked my local friends, where are the ramps? I was told there is now an accessibility week where all businesses pull out those ramps for one week. Bless all of us with our kind thoughts, I am so happy people with disabilities in this town can go get their annual supplies that week. At least there is a town where businesses have a one-step ramp if needed (although rarely used).

This StopGap ramp project has me wanting to ask the mayor of the nameless town what is the issue about keeping those ramps outside. For everyone reading, if you have a one-step barrier entrance with door clearance, find out if you qualify for a free ramp. Just remember to receive appropriate permission if the ramp is on the sidewalk, and keep up the maintenance and inspection. As for using it year-round, that is completely up to you, but a ramp is most likely better than providing access to your goods and services by serving people at the door. Then, if necessary, prepare your budget for a more appropriate solution or replace the ramp as required.

Love the initiative! I would appreciate if organizations use the ramps wisely and often, if not permanently.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services
o/b 623921 Ont. Ltd.

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Suzanne Cohen Share

Accessibility consultant and author at Access (SCS) Consulting Services
Suzanne Cohen Share holds a master’s degree in Health Policy and Critical Disabilities, including disability law. Suzanne is a well-known cross-disability accessibility expert and consultant, a popular lecturer, trainer, researcher and author. She is the author of Accessibility Standards PolicyPro published by First Reference Inc. Suzanne is the proprietor of Access (SCS) Consulting Services. Read more
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8 thoughts on “AODA: The one-step ramp conundrum
  • Dear Jesse, I understand the frustration of waiting and wanting access now. This is why I prefer to advise for modifications to the one-step ramp to make it safe and used in applicable situations. It is also vital the maintenance aspect is discussed with the receiver. We are on the same page with exception that as it stands now, without modification and appropriate maintenance I cannot recommend usage for safety reasons. Again, thank you for your response but the ramp in present state is not just supposed to be an awareness program but one that actually works. Safety is always an issue, even if the user is saying they will take their chances. Businesses need to know the potential for liabilities and the user should also be aware of the safety issues. I’m sorry but I cannot condone more problems for the sake of expediency. In Ontario we have worked hard to come up with permanent solutions. I do admire the attempt to raise awareness but not at the cost of safety. Appropriate physical alterations, proper maintenance and not to install these at a door requiring aid to open are important issues as we move forward to make sure people with disabilities and seniors are getting a real solution and without a sign in front that says ‘use at your own risk’ and bang on the door if we don’t see or hear you. I hope you have a long stick to gain the receiver’s attention. All these issues must be addressed for a program of this nature to have real value. I hope recipient’s receive an appropriate owner’s manual and the builder makes the necessary changes.
    Cheers,
    Suzanne Cohen Share

  • Jesse the K says:

    I’m a frequent ramp user in my powerchair, and I’ve served on a number of municipality committees in my US city, regarding sidewalks, streets, parking and transit.

    I understand that temporary ramps are not The Answer. But I also witness daily that even 20 years after the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and substantial renovations (which trigger accessibility retrofit), many of the shopfronts in our central business district still have one step barriers.

    As I age I become more pragmatic: I would much rather get in to that shop now than attempt to file a lawsuit and wait another decade.

  • Ronny Wiskin says:

    Hi Everyone,

    As a problem solver and renovator working in Ontario, with a practice based solely on helping to create accessibility solutions. I have the fortunate opportunity of assisting home and business owners with solutions that are permanent very often.

    When consideration for using building code standards for public access (even within private dwellings) is used as a starting point for this topic. I can identify that no building standards apply to structures that are not permanently fixed to the building envelope.

    Therefore “The Conundrum” in my view is; if distinction between a permanent ramp and temporary ramp is made by whether or not the ramp structure tie’s into the building, and then it’s clear that the issue is not covered by any present building standards (that I’m aware of).

    Here’s my point of conundrum, if an individual/s ask me to advise on building a ramp, whether they intend on using it temporarily or permanently, I have responsibility to advise based on my knowledge or not advise at all. As a builder, my advice is – By replacing a permanent structure with a structure that moves you are removing its structural integrity and therefore alternate options to building should be required. I wouldn’t touch this with a 10’ 0” ramp! as code does not address the issue of temporary… and therefore puts the safety of its users into my own hands.

    This is why suitcase / temp ramps are a better option for the one step in my view as they are engineered for this particular use, with non slip surfaces and bumper rails built in.

    I hope this offends no one.

  • Our StopGap ramps are out to accomplish a few things:

    1. Raise awareness about the issue of lack of access availble to persons with disabilities in the built environment. The brightly coloured ramps incite conversation and in most cases the first spark of awareness that there even is a problem.

    2. They are a perfectly imperfect place to start. The temporary, deployable ramps are made of simple materials available in any community across Canada: plywood, glue, screws and paint with non-slip grit. They are a passable temporary solution at best and we are delighted when the ramps are critiqued as our intention is to get the public’s wheels spinning and create a desire for workable, safe and attractive inclusive design solutions before the AODA Built Environment Standard comes on line in 2025.

    3. Get people in the door. People who use assistive mobility devices, parents with strollers and delivery people can now access 60 more Ontario Businesses than they could before the StopGap Ramp Project began. Even if people have to ask for someone to hold the door or give them a hand to use the ramps (@ 1:6 slope) each request for assistance/participation is an opportunity to educate our communities and make business owners aware of the large and growing segment of the consumer population that require inclusively designed entries and amenities. This is a market that will be worth about $536 Billion in 2030 – something worth investing in.

    This article is fantastic in the way it acknowledges the need for better solutions to providing access in our communities and we appreciate the encouragement, support and critique of the StopGap Ramp Project – all of which are taken to heart and will be used as we move forward.

    Thanks for this opportunity to join the conversation that will transform our built environment so every person can access every place.

  • Hello Adrian Dennis,
    Thank you for the time you took to provide your important comments. I too am concerned with well intentioned quick fix ideas. If existing accessibility rules are followed then the slope of the ramp should be fine and lead to a platform. So I’m not as concerned about the slope.

    In our recommendations for the new standards we increased the platform size specifically so a person can open the door or access a building without help from others. We are very committed to the new numbers that are still not law. The one-step ramp requires these changes to work effectively. An important issue is once installed, all ramps need proper maintenance.

    Thank you for taking the time to add your perspective and experience on this topic.

  • Adrian Dennis says:

    I found this an interesting article and I am reluctant to make any negative comments about any postive attempts to assist accessibility for people with disabilities.
    However, these tempoaray stop-gap ramps have been around for a very long time and their problems well known. I have been involved in Inclusive Design for a great many years. As part of disability awareness training I had some of our architects try and enter buldings they designed with such ramps, whilst in a wheelchair. They all failed to get in. That was over twenty years ago and these ramps are still being considered acceptable.
    A single slope with no level top often means the wheelchair user cannot let go of the wheels to reach the door handles without rolling back. That is why such ramps are not allowed under regulations in many countires (UK and EU), apart from being too steep anyway. As one of the fortunate majority of physically disabled people who do not need a wheelchair (yet), I find such ramps quite a barrier to access, far worse than a step. Obviously they do assist wheelchair users who have someone to open the door and push them up the steep ramp but why should access for the disabled rely on a carer always being present.
    Although far better than nothing, there is a danger that those who do not understand the issues may see these as an answer. It seems to be yet another case of people ‘ticking the box’ for having done something for the disabled, then just carried on oblivious to whether this helps.
    Sadly often just tokenism.

  • Hi Andrew,
    I am not the builder but I assess the built environment. My understanding about an issue like a ramp is that public property requires building permits from your local municipality or region. A sidewalk is public property unless it is on private property. Private property requires permission from the landlord. If the ramp is not considered a major renovation project, or a new structure, and it is on private property, the owner can give permission. The example of the one step-ramp on private property only requires the landlord’s permission. Hope this is helpful and feel free to ask more,
    Suzanne

  • Hi Suzanne: I have a question you might know the answer to and save me and our readers some research time. If I decide to install a permanent ramp at my premises that encroaches the city sidewalk is there a likelihood that the city would deny me permission to build it? Also, what city department should I contact before setting out on this project? Look forward to your response.