In Germany, 62-year-old Rita Ebel is making public spaces more accessible and inclusive by making wheelchair ramps with LEGO bricks.
As someone who has relied on a wheelchair since she was injured in a car accident more than 20 years ago, 62-year-old Rita Ebel knows all too well the difficulties faced by wheelchair users in public spaces. In an effort to address this problem and make public spaces more inclusive for people with disabilities, Rita has been using LEGO bricks to build wheelchair ramps in her hometown of Hanau, Germany, and beyond.
To build the ramps, Rita glues together LEGO bricks, which ensures that the structures are strong enough to support the weight of wheelchairs. She upcycles second-hand LEGO bricks that are donated to her, which helps to reduce the cost. According to Rita, she will continue her project as long as she receives donations.
Rita’s project has received incredible national and international attention. Her ramps have been helpful to not only wheelchair users but also people with baby strollers and carts. She is now being asked to build ramps for specific sites and she has even received LEGO brick donations from other countries such as Spain, Italy, and France.
In a phone interview with Pop-Up City, Rita explained that the LEGO ramps draw people’s attention to barriers in urban spaces in a way that is uncomplicated, colorful, and friendly. She believes that is why her project has been so successful, as it does not point fingers but rather adopts a positive approach to raise awareness and address the issue of accessibility.
Rita, who calls herself the “LEGO Grandma,” is active on Instagram, where she regularly provides updates of her project with photos and videos taken by her 13-year-old granddaughter Nora. She is currently looking for more LEGO donations and is excited to share her initiative with more people around the world. However, since it is difficult and unsustainable to ship the built ramps, she has created an instructional manual in five languages (English, German, Spanish, Italian, and French) that teaches people how to build their own LEGO ramps, which can be requested via email at email@example.com.
Given that many cities around the world today have been designed by predominantly male able-bodied planners, Rita’s project bridges a gap in urban planning by making public spaces more accessible for not only people with disabilities but also women, who are typically the primary caretakers of young children in strollers and older family members in wheelchairs. In a creative and positive manner, her initiative highlights the need for urban planning to become more inclusive of multiple perspectives.