Monday, July 28, 2014

Ramps - Erindale Pond

Continuing the series on ramps, we will take a look at one of the urban ramps I have encountered multiple times. The one pictured above leads up from the Erindale pond in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The path around the pond is quality asphalt, reasonably level with only a few instances of lips where the building material transitions between concrete, paving stones or asphalt. The tricky part comes when you need to climb up from the shoreline to get back to your vehicle or where you came from.

Often a photo does not accurately represent the grade of a ramp and I fear that this photo is one of those, despite my best efforts. This ramp is reasonably steep for an urban setting but it is very long and without any level portions where a rest might be appropriate. Other techniques, such as allowing a wheel to back into the landscape tie at the side of the ramp, can work when a rest is needed, however, often there are no options like this and the only alternative is to turn your wheelchair sideways to lessen the effort needed to prevent rolling back down the ramp. The biggest problem with this sideways parking technique is the energy it takes to get straightened out and resume climbing.

I mention that this ramp is a reasonable grade for an urban setting. Far too often when new strip malls or other buildings have their parking lots paved the grade of the slope leading to either a concrete curb cut or the ramp leading into the building is ridiculously steep. For whatever reason, our home builder told us that they legally could not build my ramp in the garage because it would be a grade of 1:10, 1:12 being legal for a public building. This was our own private dwelling. The number of parking lots I see with ridiculously steep slopes before you actually reach the curb cut, sidewalk, or ramp to the building's front door are ridiculous. Situations like this display thoughtless guideline compliance without any common sense.

Thankfully, regardless of a slope's grade, devices such as hill climber brakes exist and can be used to grab your wheels so you cannot roll backwards. Those will be examined in the future.

We are thankful that these ramps exist, as opposed to simply being stairs, but improper implementation makes them less effective in building a barrier free community.

Source: Urban settings and do not be afraid to contact your city counselor if there are blatant problems with a local ramp, be it the condition of the building materials, the grade or transitions from level ground to the ramp or the ramp to the surface at the top.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ramps - Switchback

Through the winding tunnels under the University of Saskatchewan, which connect the buildings that vary in age, elevation and repair, a person will encounter many ramps of multiple different characteristics. Some are steep enough that I would not feel safe climbing or descending them independently in a manual or power wheelchair. Others are properly and reasonably gradual, with many ramps falling between those two extremes.

The ramp pictured above is one of the better ramps in the tunnel system underground. The switchback halfway up gives a person an opportunity to rest, regain strength for the next climb, and can be a place to wait for a clear path to the next plateau. This ramp would be one example of one that is too narrow for multiple people at once and when the masses are moving through here it can become intrusive to be the guy in a wheelchair blocking everyone else's way.

Unfortunately, depending on the time of day and year, some of the access points in these tunnels are often closed or locked which necessitates venturing outside to find a suitable detour. Often choosing to take the tunnels is a longer distance than going outside but it can save exposing oneself to the elements. When you hit one of these dead ends, only to have to go outside to find a detour, it results in much wasted time and energy in backtracking. Far from a perfect system when time between classes is short, transportation arrival and departure times have short windows, and when accessible washrooms are less frequent than they should be.

Thoughts: If attendance at a post secondary education institution is in your future minimize those first stressful days by having a good explore to determine the best routes for yourself. Don't be afraid to mention to the appropriate counselor the problem areas that need addressing. It may not be fixed by the time you have completed your stay but, hopefully, you will be making it better for the next person who needs proper access.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Slowing Things Down

My apologies that today's post did not get put up at the usual time and as expected. It is a work in progress and I'm happy that the reason it is not up is not due to illness or other problems but due to the fact that I was making a photo. The photo was an experiment that failed. Well, I suppose no experiment that teaches you something is a failure, but the results were not what I expected. Mainly it was due to the fact that garden flowers do not have the luminescence under UV light that I expected and that the moonrise calculator I used online was off by an hour because Saskatchewan and Mexico City are the only smart places in North America who do not participate in daylight savings time.

Summer is a great time for making photos, not as great for processing and writing posts because the winter will come too soon and too harsh to waste any opportunity to be outside enjoying the weather and photographing. The second reason that posting may slow down in this space is because I'm running very low on material ready to share. That doesn't mean I don't have ideas and photos brewing in the back of my mind but the images that are ready to go are growing fewer by the week. The third, and most significant, reason is that we are growing closer to the arrival of our baby which involves preparations and will involve a pleasant shifting of priorities in the next while.

I still welcome your visits, contributions and sharing my work with those you feel would benefit from, or appreciate, it. There may simply be occasional gaps in upcoming posts. By no means is this work complete or forgotten about. I may simply be even more aware and prudent about making the most of every opportunity available to me to create a new photo.

I expect to share this week's post with in the next two days and will try to have more work prepared ahead of time in case we have an early arrival of our family's addition.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ramps - My Van

After a fairly worry free ownership of a Dodge Grand Caravan, modified to have pneumatic suspension by Van Action, it was good to upgrade to a mass produced product that is the Braun Rampvan. Because they manufacture tens of thousands of these each year, with dealership and repair support in most major centers, it gave me much greater confidence in the ability to have a problem diagnosed and fixed quickly, should one arise. When the pneumatic suspension system on my Grand Caravan developed a leak finding it was incredibly difficult and when it was thought to be found and repaired it was not long before the problem resurfaced.

It was an excessive source of anxiety for me because that van could not be driven without that pneumatic suspension. It functioned by inflating the suspension every time the van was to be used. If the compressor that inflated the suspension were to fail it would be mere minutes before the van would be unsafe to drive. I was never stranded anywhere but with the compressor cutting in every 60 seconds my concerns over it having excessive wear or overheating and failing completely were not without merit. With a Braun Rampvan the rear suspension is compressed each time the user wants to enter or exit the van. If this system were to fail the ramp may be a bit steep but the vehicle would be perfectly drivable.

The ramp on these vans can vary in steepness from a grade of 1:7 to a grade of 1:9, when parked on a flat surface. This depends on the distance the floor is dropped and the style of ramp. In the case of mine, a Toyota Sienna, the floor had to be dropped 12 inches, which resulted in a slightly more gradual incline than in my friend Paul's Honda Odessy which has a 10 inch drop floor, but a different style ramp that is steeper for the first third, then more gradual for the top two thirds. One good push will get you over the steeper bottom half of his ramp then the rest of your climb is easy. The ramp on my van has only a slightly steeper bottom half and requires just a little more than one full push to get over that hump. You cannot always count on being able to, but when the opportunity to park next to a curb or sidewalk comes, take it. Your ramp will be virtually flat.

These differences between vehicles and ramps can be difficult to determine which will work the best based on your physical ability. An authorized dealer should be able to provide you with demonstration models to try. Other technology, such as hill climber brakes, are available to assist in the process. They will be covered in the future and I hope to complete compiling a video we recorded the raw footage for to demonstrate the difficulty of climbing each ramp on each van by two quadriplegics of slightly different levels of neurological function.

If there's one thing I have learned about vehicles it is that necessity truly is the mother of invention. When I had a ramp I needed to be able to climb my determination made it possible in a short amount of time. The same could be said for difficult transfers and many other physical things I needed to be able to accomplish independently. Determination and practice go a long way.

Other adaptations to the vehicle will be covered in future posts.

Source: Authorized adapted vehicle reseller and modifiers.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ramps - Our Deck

The time has come to begin my series on elevated access. By that I mean ramps and lifts that enable us to access those places not on ground level. I say that the time has come because until now I have focused on subjects whose consequences have the greatest impact upon quadriplegics. Ramps and lifts affect such a broad range of disabilities it would be difficult to list them all.

This ramp is the one in our backyard that allows me access down to our patio, flower boxes and lawn. Our deck supports are made of treated lumber but the surface materials are made from Trex composite material that does not require staining or care of any kind. That, combined with the aluminum railings, was undoubtedly more costly initially but over the life of the deck the savings in stain and labor to maintain it will easily pay for the additional cost. At some point I will discuss the invisible costs of living with a disability. Paying for labor to do something as simple as stain a deck is one example of those less visible costs.

Though it does not look very steep because of my choice of ultra-wide-angle lens, the ramp is the building code standard of 1:12, which I find a very easy climb, unless my push rims happen to be wet from watering flowers or chasing the dog with the hose. Times like those I am grateful for my hill-climbers which, when engaged, prevent me from rolling backwards. On occasion the flat landing halfway up the ramp has been a great benefit to either have a different view of our backyard or to be a place to turn around and chase the dog back down.

One final note for anyone looking to build or modify a home to be barrier free: Be aware of your space limitations on each side of the house. On one side we have crushed rock, which I cannot access nor cross. On the other side, by the patio as pictured above, is a sidewalk that leads to her front gate with the inconvenient exception that the air conditioner blocks my path. Had we known, or had our home builder being more mindful of the situation, we would have either relocated the air conditioner or had it installed higher up so that getting past my wheelchair, or with the lawnmower, would be possible.

Source: Custom-built by our home builder to suit the size we wanted and the space available.