As a reader and writer for Apt613, I see firsthand the city’s ever-growing arts, entertainment and foodie scene.
My ability to experience all Ottawa has to offer is limited only to my time and budget. But for a significant part of our community with mobility issues, one step literally stands between them and some of the best things about our city. Bridging that gap with a simple portable ramp is the goal of a local, grassroots group called StopGap Ottawa.
I recently got involved with StopGap as a volunteer. I was drawn to its simple solution to one of the most basic accessibility needs—and the impressive team making it all happen.
StopGap Ottawa is co-organized by three deeply committed residents who use wheelchairs and are intimately familiar with the city’s accessibility challenges. Chris Binkowski, Christina Johnson and Kenzie McCurdy devote hours to StopGap every week on top of already busy volunteer schedules and full-time jobs.
StopGap was initially created in Toronto in 2011. Since then over 1,000 ramps have been built nationwide. In most basic terms, Stopgap creates wooden, removable ramps for restaurants, bars and shops that have a two to nine-inch gap from street level to the entrance. In the StopGap Ottawa model, businesses pay $150 per ramp, which covers the cost of materials, plus a bare minimum of administrative costs.
Once StopGap receives 10-15 orders for ramps, the team organizes a community ramp building event. MakerSpace North donates its workshop space at City Centre, and the Ottawa Tool Library provides tools and expertise for the builds. The vibe of these ramp builds exemplify the spirit of StopGap. People from all backgrounds and abilities come together to build and paint ramps, and share a sense of pride and accomplishment when they see the finished ramps in their neighbourhoods.
The ramps created through StopGap Ottawa mean that people with mobility issues now have 50+ more options of places to eat, drink, shop and be part of Ottawa’s social scene. The distinctive, colourful ramps can be seen outside of businesses along the main streets of central neighbourhoods, from Wellington West to Vanier, and along Bank Street to from Centretown to the Glebe.
Post a photo with #StopGapOttawaCanFixThis and tag the business when you see a 1-step entrance in need of a ramp.
.#accessibility #community #inclusion #LetsWorkTogether #ramps #ottawa… https://t.co/RxsCLP18vj
— StopGap Ottawa (@StopgapOttawa) April 8, 2019
As impressive as this is, the real impact of StopGap goes well beyond these ramps. It is steadily building awareness of the barriers faced by people with disabilities and the small but important steps that can make our community more inclusive for people with a wide range of mobility challenges—whether they use wheelchairs, scooters, canes, walkers or strollers.
According to McCurdy, a secret to StopGap’s success is “stubbornness and persistence… It’s like a part-time job canvassing businesses, working with BIAs, organizing ramp builds, promoting StopGap, getting volunteers and sponsors for food and drink at the builds. And we’re still learning.”
But for Johnson, the ramps and the access they provide are worth the effort. “It’s about dignity and independence. It’s about giving people the tools to be included and belong. When you go to a business, you want to feel just as welcome as the next person who walks in the door.”
She also points out the benefits to businesses. “I would like to support more local small businesses, but unfortunately it’s not always an option. Most people vastly underestimate disposable income of people with disabilities.”
I would like to support more local small businesses, but unfortunately it’s not always an option.
Indeed the economic case is strong. It is estimated that by 2035, 40% of Ontario’s consumer base will be people with disabilities. Studies show that improving accessibility can create up to $9.6 billion in new retail spending and $1.6 billion in new tourism spending in the province in the coming years.
Recently, StopGap Ottawa issued a 24-hour accessibility challenge to city councillors. Several accepted the challenge and spent a day avoiding any place that has a step. They shared their experience on Twitter, commented on ways to alleviate the problem and contributed to a larger conversation about the persistence of barriers in our ableist world.
We might have a city councillor coming to our #CommunityRampBuild today – just sayin’! 😁 Looking forward to a discussion on improving accessibility in their area. Stay tuned! 🙂
— StopGap Ottawa (@StopgapOttawa) November 2, 2019
The StopGap team’s hard work is being recognized. On October 9th, Binkowski, Johnson and McCurdy received a Mayor’s City Builder Award for Civic Involvement. While they said the recognition is rewarding, the best scenario would be one where StopGap didn’t have to exist.
“The name StopGap was chosen because the ramps are meant to be a temporary fix. Ultimately, we’d love to have full accessibility built into municipal laws so that our ramps aren’t needed,” said Kenzie.
But for this to happen, more people need to become aware and take action.
My volunteer work with StopGap and my friendship with its co-organizers has given me a new appreciation of the barriers faced by people with mobility issues. They can’t visit some of my favourite cafes, shops and venues—even my home is inaccessible.
There are many ways to help break down these barriers. Take part in a community ramp build or other volunteer opportunities. If you know of a business that could use a ramp, tell the owner about StopGap. If you’re a business owner, reach out to StopGap to find out how it can help you make your business more welcoming to everyone in the community.