Take a walk along the shopping strip on Roncesvalles Ave., between Howard Park Ave. and Queen St. W. in Toronto, and you’ll notice 43 stores and restaurants with ramps brightly painted in blue, orange, green or red.
There are another 15 in Kensington Market, 13 in the Junction and 17 in Stouffville. More than 100 in all. And counting...
They’re the result of an initiative called StopGap, which provides ramps to businesses that have a step at the entrance, making it difficult for people in wheelchairs to enter unassisted.
The man who is turning these mountains into molehills is Luke Anderson, a 34-year-old Toronto man. The ramps are made by volunteers with materials donated by local hardware stores, and offered free. Feedback from residents and business owners has been excellent.
“They have let us know the ramps give the storefronts a warmer, more approachable feel,” says Anderson.
De La Mer, a Roncesvalles fish market that opened in May, is a good example. The shop’s step, at 16 centimetres, is higher than most. Manager Christian Dreher admits it was overlooked when they renovated the interior.
“We had the opportunity to put in a ramp and I don’t know why we didn’t,” he says. “It’s a massive step and it’s really restrictive.”
So he welcomed StopGap’s offer, made in the blitz of the street in September. He was able to bypass the bureaucracy of obtaining a building permit. Plus, Dreher notes cheerfully, “it was free.”
“We have a couple of disabled customers coming in now,” he says.
Anderson is a structural engineer who uses a wheelchair and had dealt with steps going in and out of his workplace at Blackwell Structural Engineers for five years. The idea came to him while commiserating with a colleague about those steps. (There’s a concrete ramp there now installed by the building owners.)
“We were thinking about how we could raise awareness to problems like that and how we could get the conversation started about this issue across the city,” he says.
The conversation is relevant to small business owners, who must make their establishments accessible by 2025.
“There are businesses out there that cannot afford to construct a permanent modification to their storefront,” Anderson says. “This is a very cheap, efficient solution that might be the answer to the mom and pop coffee shops.”
The project was given the thumbs-up by City Council and lauded by Councillor Adam Vaughan. The portability of the ramps means no permit is required. They are light, with a convenient rope handle on one side, so they can easily be brought in at night.
Clare Raman, of Kid Culture in the Junction, says she was pleased to get StopGap’s offer.
“It was something we were going to do, seeing as we’re a children’s store,” Raman says, referring to her customers with strollers. “We’ve had great reactions to it, everybody thanks us for it.”
Anderson wants no proprietary claim to the idea. The StopGap website(stopgapblog.blogspot.ca) 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.