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The wheelchair ramp was not invented by one person. This accessibility tool has evolved into what it is today over time after years of disability activism.

Ramps as People Movers

Ramps have existed since ancient Greece. It was retooled as a way to move people in the 1900s during the design of New York’s Grand Central Station. It was known as the great stairless station. However, it was initially meant for people carrying luggage, women with strollers, and large crowds.

A Change in Sentiment

People with disabilities often went overlooked by society, but it wasn’t until the 40s and 50s that this sentiment began to change. After World War 2, many veterans returned with mobility-related injuries. These veterans experienced many day-to-day hardships from 6-inch sidewalk curbs to buildings that lacked accessibility.


Protesters took the streets in the 1950s and 60s and smashed sidewalks as a way to make them more wheelchair accessible. Disability activism was not limited to solely veterans, though they did play a major role. There were many others who protested for accessible spaces, especially within urban spaces.

The Rehabilitation Act / ADA

Disability activists lobbied Congress in the 70s and in 1973 the Rehabilitation Act was passed, protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, in 1990 that the wheelchair ramp became a staple in urban designs. Now, businesses and public spaces are required to provide accommodations for people with disabilities.

The Wheelchair Ramp Today

Today there are many variations to the wheelchair ramp. We now have portable ramps that can be easily moved from one place to another. There is the semi-permanent ramp that is designed to be durable for long-term use but can still be moved. Then there is the permanent ramp that can be made from wood, aluminum and of course concrete.


The wheelchair ramp cannot be credited to one single person. History has shown us that disability activists fought for the wheelchair ramp that we know today. The ramp was elevated from a simple inclined plane initially meant for transporting materials to a tool for accessibility. But, there still continues to be work to be done for accessibility in all public spaces. Accessibility is a right, not a privilege.

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