Take a walk down the streets of Hanau, Germany and you are in for a pleasant surprise. Colorful ramps built from LEGO® bricks lead up to several storefronts. Each work of functional art comes from the home of a woman lovingly known the world over as Legooma, the LEGO® Grandma. Along with her team, Legooma builds LEGO® ramps for wheelchair accessibility. Additionally, her pieces attract attention. The ramps raise awareness for the struggles of disabled individuals and promote universal design. True North Bricks caught up with the LEGO® Grandma for a look at her ramped-up builds.
Legooma is known to family and friends as Rita Ebel. She began her ramp construction in 2019. However, her journey towards becoming the LEGO® Grandma began well before. “I liked building with LEGO® bricks when I was a child,” recalls Rita, “but we only had red and white bricks, windows, doors and roof tiles. We were excited when garden fences and flowers were added over time.”
A turning point came 26 years ago when Ebel was in a car accident. Consequently, she became a partial paraplegic. This condition results when an injury does not completely sever the spinal cord. As a result, victims can still experience sensation in their legs. Additionally, partial paraplegics may retain limited control of the lower half of their body. In Rita’s case, she spends most of her time in a wheelchair.
As a partial paraplegic, Rita was inspired to increase accessibility in her hometown.
For obvious reasons, being wheelchair bound leads to accessibility issues. Storefronts with stairs become a major obstacle. However, where many see a roadblock, Rita saw an opportunity. “I read an article in a magazine for paraplegics,” says Ebel. “It was about a woman from Bielefeld [Germany] who builds ramps out of LEGO® bricks for wheelchair users. There was a picture of an electric wheelchair driving over a LEGO® ramp. I was so enthusiastic that I wanted to do the same in Hanau. I got the building instructions from Bielefeld and we started building according to that design. Eventually, we made the instructions a little more detailed and came up with the idea for single track ramps. Unlike two-track ramps, they can be left in place all day and are not an obstacle for pedestrians either.”
According to Rita, the type of ramp produced depends on weight and the height of the steps at a store. Obviously, the larger a ramp gets, the heavier it becomes. One half of a dual-track, 15 cm high ramp weighs 8 kg. Therefore, Rita only builds single track ramps for steps under 12 cm high. Beyond that, they become too heavy. She can customize two-track ramps to accommodate steps up to 18 cm in height.
These ramps are not light-weigthts!
In addition to improving accessibility for wheelchair users, the ramps serve another purpose. Rita says “the ramps are real eye-catchers. Individuals who otherwise have no relation to people with disabilities become sensitized and made aware of inhibitive circumstances. And of course, ramps make it easier for walkers and baby carriages to access the stores too.”
The ramps improve accessibility, but also increase awareness.
In a similar vein, Rita has thoughts on inclusivity in the LEGO® Minifigure world as well. “I think LEGO® Minifigure wheelchairs are great. It is very important that children are made aware of people with disabilities in a playful way and that it becomes a matter of course that people with disabilities are part of life. As such, we have collaborated with a Bricklink dealer to construct a small Legooma kit. At the moment we are still looking for cheap wheelchairs so that the kit is not too expensive. The basic idea is that the Bricklink store handles the sale and shipping. Subsequently, the profit goes to us in the form of used Lego bricks.”
Check out that sig fig!
Legooma’s ramped up builds come free of charge. Initially, Rita visited stores to ask if they wanted a ramp. However, now that her initiative gained momentum, she receives requests daily. Sometimes the requests are for ramps, but she also shares her instructions and expertise with people around the world. Through interviews, the Legooma story has also reached international status in the media.
Since the ramps are free, volunteers carry out all the work. Actual construction of the ramps takes place on weekends. As it is not a business, Rita and her team build the ramps using donated LEGO® bricks. Stores in Hanau act as collection points. Subsequently, Rita’s volunteers go to these stores for pick-ups. Donations also come in by mail. At present, Rita is unable to say exactly how many bricks she has. However, her stocks have outgrown the Hanau apartment she lives in with her husband. A gracious landlady donated basement space to house all the LEGO® pieces. There, the Legooma team sorts and stores the bricks by shape and color. Since the ramps consist of only basic bricks, Rita trades unusable donations for usable pieces with online shops.
Rita’s ramps are build with donated LEGO® bricks.
In addition to wonderfully colorful ramps, Rita and her team also produce fun designs. While shops occasionally request specific designs, Rita says “most of the time we think up the designs ourselves. My daughters, Kerstin and Silke from the Legooma team are very creative. We discuss a pattern and then they make a design on paper. Afterwards my husband and I or my daughters implement it.”
What was Legooma’s favorite design? Elsa and Olaf from Disney’s Frozen for a brave young girl named Mona. “It was so great at the handover to see how happy Mona was,” Rita remembers. “She immediately went down without fear. By the 3rd try, she was able to go up all by herself.”
From cryogenically freezing LEGO® bricks to Technic turtle wheelchairs, True North Bricks loves out-of-the-box uses for LEGO® products. Rita Ebel certainly put bricks to a new and inspiring use. These ramped up builds increase accessibility for wheelchair users. Additionally, they promote universal design by also helping others with limited mobility, like those with walkers and baby carriages. Finally, the colorful ramps draw the eye. They increase awareness among the general population who might not otherwise consider the challenge one or two steps creates. Erstaunliche arbeit, Rita!
Until next time,
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