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  • Writer's pictureLesley Davis

Sometimes you just have to bring the access with you


I am sitting in the wheelchair as described above, wearing a pink dress over a green shirt and looking back toward the camera.The folded ramp is being held vertically in an orange cargo net attached to the back frame of the wheelchair.
Me and my gear: Fold & Go wheelchair with the optional cargo net holding the Dunlop 70 cm lite ramp. Next to me is my Trionic Walker 12er. I hauled all this stuff to Hungary with me.

The Stepless Lite Ramp makes it possible for the wheelchair user to bring the access with them.


After my first trip to Hungary post-wheelchair (a place I used to live pre-wheelchair), it hit me that I have grown accustomed to the relative ease of access provided by Title III of the ADA. Title III covers "public accommodations" -- things like hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, and some modes of transportation. I'll be the first to recognize that accessibility at places of public accommodation throughout the United States is still spotty; however, the existence of the ADA means that, in the most general terms, there is an obligation on the part of the owners/landlords of public accommodations to try to become accessible if located in an existing (i.e., old) building, and a mandate to be built with ADA accessibility features in the case of new construction. Much of the world has no such legal obligation that covers public accommodations even if a given country may have laws that cover places like schools, government buildings and hospitals.

Budapest is a gorgeous, architecturally significant city with many buildings dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. And what do 19th and early 20th century buildings always have at the entrance? At least one step. Throughout much of the world, there is still a pervasive idea that "just one step" = wheelchair accessibility. Why? Because even if you cannot get up the step under your own steam, it is believed that there will always be someone standing by to lift you and your wheelchair up that step. If this idea weren't so misguided and out-of-touch and date, the sentiment would be almost sweet. And, indeed, I have met some incredibly kind and good-hearted people who I know would gladly lift myself and my chair into inaccessible establishments; that is, if I made sure to call ahead and let them know I was coming and had plans to redeem my right to enjoy the goods and services that their city makes freely available to everybody else.

But the lack of consideration for independence in notions of accessibility is a topic for another post. Suffice it to say that, as an independent traveler who travels internationally for work, usually solo, I need to prepare myself thoroughly for the challenges each new city has to offer. As such, I have become expert at using Google street view to see if the buildings in which I have meetings have steps but no ramps (and then suggesting a change of venue). I have perfected the craft of finding just the right person at the hotel with the "accessible" room to enumerate the features of said accessible room and, critically, to ensure that it is indeed reserved for me when I get there (always get it in writing). And, the proliferation of public transport apps that can help you plan an accessible journey (shout out to the BudapestGO app, which is shockingly thorough and accurate), at least in Europe, is truly life-changing. But, once in the city, there are so many sidewalks without curb cuts; so much fascinating cafe culture that is just one big marble step away; and delightful outdoor venues where the food and drink are set on a deck without a ramp. I knew I had to take access into my own hands.

After three years of obsessive internet searching, speaking with engineers, architects and materials experts, and swearing that someday soon I was going to invent the portable, foldable, ultralight ramp that the wheelchair user could carry with themself and deploy independently and at will (mobility, strength and dexterity permitting) when faced with "just one step" -- I FOUND IT! There it was, hiding in an obscure, far-flung corner of the internet buried impossibly deep in my search results: the DUNLOP portable folding ramp. Yes, that's Dunlop like the tires and the tennis balls. Owned now by the Sumimoto Rubber Company, Dunlop makes a wide range of thoughtfully-designed, high quality ramps used by Japanese and other East Asian countries' train systems, aircraft, and many residential buildings. The ultralight portable version is made of carbon fiber-reinforced fiberglass. It's so light a toddler or a Corgi could carry it.

Tracking down this magical ramp took weeks of WhatsApp messaging with people in Hong Kong and Malaysia, then a referral the European distributor, Guldmann, in Denmark, then a referral to the US office in Boston, followed by confusion on my part between Guldmann (whose US website shows no ramps) and Stepless, Guldmann's sub-label for ramps and lifts (not so well represented on the internet). But once I found them, jackpot! Not only do they distribute the 7.7 lb., 27" foldable ramp (pictured on the back of my wheelchair, above), they will soon carry the smaller and even lighter 18.5" version in the United States, as well as several of the brilliantly elegant Stepless platform lifts common in some churches and historic sites in places in Europe where attention is being paid to accessibility.

Last summer when I returned to Hungary, I took my Stepless ramp. I used it to get up the 4" step to my Airbnb; I used it to enter several restaurants and cafes (at some, the grade was quite steep and I was glad to have friends spotting me); I used it to get over substantial iron door thresholds inside museums and academic buildings; I used it to get into friends' houses; I used it to get up and down curbs. Of course, once inside various places I didn't find accessible restrooms or other features, but it's a start. If Diversity is being invited to the party, I guess I've figured out how to invite myself. Equity and inclusion, you're next.

Shout out to Ryan Storts and Marc Lewis of Gludmann/Stepless USA for listening when I told them: wheelchair users need this ramp and I want to find a way to get it to them. Please contact Ryan Storts (rs@guldmann.net) and tell him Lesley at Everybody In! International sent you, and receive a discount on a Stepless ramp!

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