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:
- Keep the surface of the ramp clear of debris and ice. Make sure it is not a slipping hazard.
- 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.
- 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.