Access North is a part of The Ramp Project, which provides ramps for people with disabilities on a sliding fee scale. Many times this project makes the difference between an individual coming home or living in an institution. The ramps are modular, made of wood, require no footings, and can be temporary or more permanent. Ramps are installed by a project supervisor and community volunteers, this makes them cost effective (about a third of what it costs to have a typical contractor build one).
Pictures of ramps incorporated into stairs have been gaining some attention on architecture and design blogs. While some of these designs are indeed beautiful to look at, they tend to be inaccessible, not ADA compliant, and downright unsafe. The ramp pictured to the left is located in Vancouver, Canada, so it is not required to be ADA compliant. However, it’s useful to explore why the ramp does not comply with the ADA, as this highlights a few of the design’s flaws from an accessibility perspective.
One concern is the ramp’s slope. It is hard to tell from the picture, but it looks like it might be steeper than 1:12 (405.2) Similarly, it is hard to tell if any of the runs have a rise greater than 30 inches (405.6.) What does seem clear from the picture is that this ramp is in need of both handrails (405.8) and edge protection (405.9.)
The steep slope and lack of edge protection make this ramp potentially dangerous to people who use mobility devices. However, adding the necessary handrails and edge protection would end up defeating the whole purpose of this design, as the stairs would then become unusable. Additionally, the lack of color contrast between the ramp portions and the stairs could prove hazardous to people with low vision or people who are semi-ambulatory and prone to shuffling their feet while walking.
This ramp is a great illustration of why architects and designers need to understand the “why” of Universal Design rather than simply attempting to comply with the minimum accessibility requirements given by codes and standards. Perhaps this ramp could be altered in such a way so as to become ADA compliant, but even so it still wouldn’t qualify as Universally Designed. If Universal Design had been taken into consideration at the beginning of the design process then perhaps a better solution could have been developed. For instance, surface grading could have been used to eliminate the need for such steep ramps and numerous switchbacks.
On April 3rd, officials in New York City unveiled the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” which is scheduled to replaces all existing cabs in the Big Apple. The “Taxis of Tomorrow” does contain some accessibility features geared towards helping people with vision or hearing impairments, including braille writing identifying the name of the cab’s driver and a hearing loop system and driver and passenger intercom system. Unfortunately, the standard model does not come with a built in ramp for people using mobility devices like wheelchairs.
The “Taxis of Tomorrow” can be converted into an accessible van, with the addition of a ramp that unfolds from the back of the vehicle. By some estimates, the ramp might add up to $12,000 to the price of each taxi.
Currently, only 233 of the more than 13,000 taxis in New York City are accessible. That’s fewer than 2 percent. Late last year a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for violating the ADA. Judge George Daniels ruled that the commission could only provide taxi medallions for wheelchair-accessible vehicles until it establishes a plan to provide access people who use mobility devices. Since then the commission has since been granted a stay pending an appeal scheduled for April 19th.
Groups like “Taxis for All” are protesting the new taxi design, pointing out that vehicles with built-in accessibility options already exist (like the MV-1 van) and that true equality requires that all taxis be fully accessible, rather than requiring people with disabilities to contact taxis dispatches rather than being able to hail any cab from the street.