Volunteering: The ramps of the "Lego-Grandma" overcome barriers

Rita Ebel and her helpers have already built more than 100 ramps from Lego bricks for wheelchair users and given them to children with disabilities as well as to shops and restaurants.

Volunteering: The ramps of the "Lego-Grandma" overcome barriers

Rita Ebel and her helpers have already built more than 100 ramps from Lego bricks for wheelchair users and given them to children with disabilities as well as to shops and restaurants.

In many German cities and even in France, Italy, Austria and Spain, the colorful driveways ensure that high steps in front of shops, public buildings or in private houses are no longer an insurmountable obstacle for people in wheelchairs - but also with walkers and prams.

"It is at least as important to me as this practical benefit that people are made aware of the issue of accessibility and that they may notice steps that they have previously passed without paying attention to," emphasizes the 66-year-old from Hanau, who has been dependent on a wheelchair herself since a car accident 29 years ago.

Special production for a three year old

The "Lego Grandma", as she calls herself, and her eight helpers have just completed a special Lego ramp: The example with the number 103 was built for the three-year-old Mads, who is dependent on a wheelchair due to an illness and lives with his twin sister and his parents in the Germersheim district of Rhineland-Palatinate.

The two black halves of the ramp show a boy in a wheelchair and a standing girl in white, with small hearts between them. Mads' parents had the idea for this motif.

Normally, "Lego Grandma" sends the ramps with a shipping service, but the ramp is too heavy for little Mads at around 18 kilograms. "The higher it is, the more a driveway weighs," explains Ebel. So she and her husband Wolfgang (66) are delivering the 17 centimeter high Lego structure personally to the Palatinate this weekend.

"It's always very beautiful and heartwarming when you see children driving down this ramp for the first time," she says. That's how it was a good three years ago with the first ramp that "Lego Grandma" built for a child and delivered to her home.

"Mona immediately went up and down the ramp in her wheelchair without fear. After the third attempt she managed it on her own, even though the ramp was quite steep," she recalls. Now the girl, who lives in the Unna district in North Rhine-Westphalia, can drive in and out of the apartment on her own.

Building with a system

At first, the ramps were thrown together with everything that was available in the way of building blocks. In the meantime, the Hanau master builders can make the right models on request. The construction of such a ramp can take up to 50 hours. In addition, there is the whole organization and everything to do with the construction: Exactly how high does it have to be? How is the underground?

"We don't build steps higher than 17 centimeters, otherwise it would be incredibly heavy - and then I don't have that many bricks," explains Ebel. "Then I'd rather build three other, smaller ramps."

Unfortunately, steps in front of shops are often between 17 and 22 centimeters high. "Then we won't make it." If the ramps were made shorter in order not to have to use so many stones, they would be too steep, explains Ebel.

According to Ebel, commercially available ramps may only have a gradient of no more than six percent due to legal requirements and therefore reach a considerable length with a final height of 20 centimeters, for example. The space in front of shops or in houses is often not enough for this. And in such cases, the ramps from Hanau come into play, because they can be built steeper.

"We now call them Auffahrhilfe, and there are no legal regulations for Auffahrhilfe." In order to protect themselves legally, the "Lego-Grandma" team has a corresponding declaration of use signed when a ramp is delivered.

Lots of donations

Ebel did not have the idea for ramps made of Lego bricks himself. She first read about it about four years ago in a specialist journal for people with spinal cord injury and asked the author for construction instructions. Many people are now asking Ebel for the blueprints she has developed. She has now had the instructions translated into nine languages ​​and sent them halfway around the world more than 800 times.

When it comes to many of the organizational challenges, Ebel is supported by her city's workers' welfare agency, which is also responsible for the project. The bricks for the very first ramp were donated by an online retailer. There are now many private donors throughout Germany who have become aware of "Lego Grandma" through media reports or on the social networks Facebook and Instagram.

When the donated, used stones arrive in Ebel's apartment, they are first pre-sorted and, if necessary, washed. An adhesive manufacturer provides the team with the necessary special adhesive free of charge so that the building blocks hold up well.

Ebel devotes many hours a day to her voluntary work. When time and circumstances permit, the 66-year-old likes to take a break from ramp construction and organizing - preferably doing sports with her daughter Melle. The "Lego grandma" is particularly drawn to the water: she lists canoeing, stand-up paddling, kite surfing and water skiing. In 2006, she was even once European Vice Champion in disabled water skiing.

Rita Ebel is "one of our most sensible export hits," said Hanau's Mayor Claus Kaminsky (SPD) in praise of the "Lego grandma." With the ramps, she makes an excellent contribution to making the world more barrier-free for people. "Through her creative Lego solution, she enables participation," he emphasizes. On her 66th birthday a few days ago, Ebel was awarded her city's citizen plaque.