For eight years, Luke Anderson relied on other people to help him get into and out of the office building where he worked as a structural engineer. Three steps separated the entrance from the curb, and Anderson needed someone to lower a metal ramp onto them to ascend or descend in his mobility device.
As Anderson noticed more and more people in wheelchairs—and pushing strollers and hauling deliveries—struggling to navigate the steps that abut most Main Street storefronts, his frustration mounted. “I recognized a real need to raise awareness about the problem and to get people to talk about it so we could all work to help the world become a more inclusive and barrier-free place,” says Anderson, who sustained a spinal cord injury in a mountain biking accident a few months out of university in 2002.
So Anderson turned his engineering skills on the problem. In 2011, he gathered a few volunteers and solicited donations of materials. Together, the crew built 13 customized portable ramps for businesses in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. The brightly coloured wooden structures were lightweight for easy toting and slight of profile for unobtrusive storage. The feedback was both immediate and overwhelmingly positive—the deceptive simplicity of the ramps’ design sparked a flurry of demand from other businesses.
With that, the StopGap Foundation was born. The non-profit organization’s work is twofold. StopGap helps groups looking to spearhead their own community ramp programs, offering training on how to build the structures at what Anderson calls “little to no cost.” The foundation also creates custom ramps for businesses keen to make their premises more accessible. The proceeds from the latter help fund the former, though Anderson stresses “we are on a constant hunt for donations.”
Today, there are more than 1,200 StopGap ramps in nearly 40 communities across Canada. For Anderson, who quit his day job in early 2015 to run the foundation full time, improving the accessibility of the typical Canadian streetscape is more than a feel-good project—it’s an economic imperative. “There is huge buying power from an aging demographic, from people with disabilities, from parents pushing strollers,” he explains. “We should try to take our blinders off and start to see our communities and the built environment a little bit differently.”