In an effort to undo decades of building design and urban planning that’s made spaces inaccessible to those with mobility challenges, 62-year old Rita Ebel is spending part of her golden years building wheelchair ramps out of colorful Lego bricks in an effort to improve the small German town she calls home in several different ways.
After a car accident Ebel has relied on a wheelchair for the past 25 years, but it was only after a friend of hers lamented about having to be carried down the steps by four people after a leaving a shop that she was inspired to do her part to improve the accessibility of Hanau, the German town she calls home. She’s no carpenter, but a medical journal featuring a photo of an electric wheelchair traversing a ramp made from plastic Lego bricks was proof she didn’t need to be.
Working with her husband for two or three hours every day, Ebel uses tubs and tubs of Lego bricks to assemble the ramps, and to date the pair have created 12 sets of ramps that have been installed in stores and shops in and around the town. To ensure they survive the survive the wear and tear from wheelchair wheels, and the elements, the Lego bricks are glued together as the ramps are assembled, which is a technique professional Lego builders also rely on to ensure that larger sculptures don’t fall apart.
Building the ramps from materials like plywood would theoretically be considerably cheaper as Lego has slowly positioned itself to be more of a premium toy, but since it’s a building material designed for even kids to master, it means anyone can easily (and safely) help build more ramps for the town. All of the Legos Ebel uses are also donated to her cause, so the only costs are the endless tubes of glue needed to permanently hold everything together.
Experienced Lego builders will potentially wince at the cacophony of colored bricks assembled for these ramps—there doesn’t appear to be any patterns or adherence to a specific color scheme. But the colors not only help brighten the town, say the locals, they also help to draw attention to the ramps and the important problem they’re solving. Wheelchair ramps and accessibility should be a standard design requirement for new buildings and urban planning in general, but when they aren’t there it’s nice to know the world’s most popular building toy can help.