One Step is All it takes
Just having even one step diminish’s quality of life for many.
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The curse of the one step
StopGap.ca’s founders hope to make Toronto more accessible with free ramps for shop owners
By Aaron Broverman
10 years, 12 weeks and 2 days.
As of writing this article, that’s how long it will take before Ontario is legally required to be fully accessible under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Meanwhile, this summer the TTC admitted that thanks to a $240 million shortfall, 17 subway stations will not be accessible by the 2025 deadline and neither of the three leading mayoral candidates have a clear plan on how to deal with that. Olivia Chow blames the deficit on the Scarborough extension. John Tory was vague on where the money will come from, beyond shaming the provincial government into contributing. And even though he was invited to the mayoral debate on disability issues, Doug Ford didn’t even show.
While the politicians and legislators continue to stall, Luke Anderson, a 36-year-old structural engineer with quadriplegia, has a one-step solution to one of Toronto’s biggest accessibility issues.
“As a wheelchair user, you sort of built this tough skin over time that protects you from being disappointed when you’re out with your buddies and you can’t join them in a pub or a store because of one stupid, freaking step,” he says, referring to the stair that often prevents him from entering Toronto’s shops.
So, inspired by 2011’s The Good Bike Project, in which brightly-colured bikes drew attention to a cyclist’s connection to their community, Anderson and his friend Michael Hopkins foundedStopGap.ca, a non-profit organization that provides any business with one step outside their entrance a small, brightly-coloured ramp free of charge. The aim is to not only draw attention to accessibility issues, thanks to the bright colour of the ramps, but render a once inaccessible location accessible to all.
“I had to do something about this issue because nobody else was doing anything about it,” he says. “No change was coming from City Hall and I’m not interested in waiting another ten years for something to maybe happen.”
As a journalist with cerebral palsy, I often lament “The Curse of the One Step” in conversations with my other friends with disabilities.
“At least if there’s ten steps it’s like, ‘Okay, I really do realize that I can’t get in there.’ The infrastructure of the building is that much harder to change and there are so many more logistics that go into making that building accessible,” says my friend and fellow mobility scooter user Saburah Murdoch.
“But when it’s just one step, it literally is a jack hammer and some concrete to change that. So, the fact that people aren’t doing that, and that’s literally what’s keeping me from getting to where I want to go, is insane.”
“What we’d like to do is through starting the conversation on accessibility, we’d like to influence those at City Hall who make decisions about bylaws and the building code,” continues Anderson.
This is because Toronto has an encroachment bylaw that states no business is allowed to have anything in front of its storefront sitting on city property without a permit and variance. Plus, the building code requires that any permanent ramp be built with a 1:12 slope, which means for every one inch of rise, you need 12 inches of run – making for an extremely long, heavy and costly ramp that many businesses with one step don’t need and can’t afford. At minimum, just the permit costs around $500, not including building costs and materials.
However, the portable and removable nature of the StopGap ramps (each with a rope for easy carrying) means that the business owner doesn’t need a permit or a variance. Though, these ramps come with their own catch.
“When we sign a business owner up, they have to understand that the ramp is to be used whenever it’s needed and not left out on the sidewalk. We don’t want someone tripping over the ramp and blaming StopGap for their injury,” says Anderson.
So if you’re someone who needs the ramp, you should see a sign in the window of the participating business stating the ramp is available upon request with either a cell phone number on the sign or a wireless doorbell nearby to get the shopkeeper’s attention.
With StopGap projects in neighbourhoods like The Danforth, The Annex and Kensington Market, the free ramps – built with donated materials from corporate sponsors like Rona, Home Hardware and The Home Depot – are a real hit with business owners.
“It definitely increased my customer traffic because I ran a children’s store, so most of my customers had strollers,” says Clare Raman former owner of the now defunct Kid Culture Boutique in The Junction.
This is what Anderson is noticing most – it’s not so much people with disabilities pressuring their favourite stores to get a StopGap ramp, but parents with strollers.
“From parents who don’t have to risk their child falling out of a stroller to delivery men with dollies, everyone loves these ramps,” he says.
You don’t have to be a business owner with just one step or even be based in Toronto to participate. If your business has more than one step, just send him a photo of your storefront with the appropriate measurements and Anderson’s team will build you a custom ramp for a fee through StopGap’s Request a Ramp Program. Plus, if you want to start your own Ramp Project in your hometown, the forms are available on the StopGap website.
Anderson knows he’s not going to solve all of Toronto’s accessibility woes with StopGap, but he hopes to at least get the conversation started until a more permanent solution can be found.
“These ramps aren’t permanent and they aren’t perfect. They are a temporary solution to a huge issue and what we’re hoping is that they act as a springboard to getting us to think about really great permanent solutions to the problem of accessibility.”