Disability Ministries Committee of the United Methodist Church

Building wheelchair ramps for community members has many benefits, including training youth and adults as potential Volunteers in Missions (VIM) team members, energizing a cooperative parish or annual conference, and increasing disability awareness as volunteers interact with ramp recipients. Many current ramp teams trace their ministry to "Takin' it to the Streets," an annual blitz building event sponsored by the Louisiana Annual Conference VIM leaders in the early 2000's. VIM coordinator Rev. Larry Norman partnered with local churches and solicited volunteers from throughout the conference for weekend events which ended with Sunday worship. In the second year 300 workers built 33 ramps in New Orleans. The conference no longer holds the blitz, but at least eight regional groups continue to build ramps.

Greg Forrester, NE Jurisdiction VIM coordinator, attended one of the LA events. A partner organization in his town of Cortland NY alerted him to the need for ramps. His group initially built each ramp from scratch to meet specifications, but realized the benefit of a modular design that could be quickly installed and easily taken apart and recycled when the original user no longer needed it. Greg provides training throughout his jurisdiction and beyond, including a session at the Nomads national gathering after Hurricane Katrina. He emphasizes the need for building relationships as well as ramps.

model of ramp used to acquaint volunteers with ramp building process

"Ramps of Hope" is a ministry inspired by Greg's work, and was initiated by Erie County area volunteers building modular ramps in the Western Pennsylvania AC by Deacon Debbie Hills. Once aware of the need for ramps, she began assessing assets available, and found donated storage and assembly space in an old school, some seed money, and a group of churches struggling to engage in joint ministry. She located a local agency, Love Inc., to determine need and eligibility, and spread the word through area social service agencies. Funds for building materials come from grants, donations, fund raisers, and recipients or family members. She checks the local building codes and need for permits and inspection, and notes a wide variation in codes and interpretation. Ramp modules are built in advance and stored, then installed when needed. The ministry has five team leaders and a food coordinator who organizes meals which are shared with the recipient family. She and others make intake and follow-up visits, asking about installing ramps, unmet needs, and remembering families with holiday baskets. In the context of establishing relationships, when the time is right (and if they do not have a home church) families are invited to attend the nearest UM church. Since April 2010 volunteers have built 21 ramps.

Debbie Wade, former Committee chair, coordinates "R.A.M.P." (Reaching Accessibility for all Methodist Persons and Places) for the North Alabama AC. Recipients do not have to be United Methodist. R.A.M.P. is a non-profit ministry and a conference Advance Special. In addition to ramps, churches and individuals have assisted with the installation of bathrooms, chairlifts, and elevators. This assistance is provided for churches and individual homes. Some projects only need funding, while conference volunteers help build others. A retired engineer who happens to have a disability draws up most of the plans. Unique features include fund raising through a Conference Advance Special and through the conference Bridge Builders program for congregations committed to being active in disability ministry.

R.A.M.P. accepts applications on a first-come, first-serve basis, and provides assistance as long as funds are available. Churches forward applications to their pastor or the district director of Disability Ministries. Applications include a statement of need and what is requested, affirmation that a grant is needed for financial reasons, tell what workers are available, and provide plans, supplies needed, or costs as possible. R.A.M.P. also lists how anyone can help: first, by providing donations to the Advance Special fund, by praying, by providing technical assitance, such as plans, and recruiting people to build ramps.

Located on the north side of Indianapolis, "SAWS" (Servants at Work) began as a joint effort of the Construction Ministry of St. Luke's UMC and Second Presbyterian Church. It has since grown to include other churches in the city, and beyond that to other counties in Indiana.

Ramp sections were first built in a garage at Second Presbyterian and installed at locations around the city. Since then, SAWS has obtained the use of a dedicated warehouse space as the ministry has grown. In 2008, 30 ramps were built, with 2281 volunteer hours; in 2014, the number was 97, the 2015 total was 104, as well as several salvage removals and some handrail installations. The group takes referrals from Central Indiana Council on Aging, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Independent Living Center, and others. In addition to construction, there are opportunities for volunteers to interview clients and survey sites.

bright green cap worn by SAWS workers, first line is SAWS, second line is Servants At Work, the T in servants is a cross. SAWS volunteer works on ramp handrail

We are pleased to be able to share the SAWS newsletter with our readers:
July 2016 Adobe Acrobat


SAWS volunteers measure ramp installation ramp nearly complete, with tools
SAWS volunteer sands ramp handrail SAWS volunteer installs plate at end of ramp

Further guidance regarding ramp specifications is available through the US Access Board.

  • UM Volunteers in Mission, Northeastern Jurisdiction (plans and guides can be downloaded from this page)
  • District builds 153 handicap ramps (Pennsylvania, from UMNS)
  • Reaching Accessibility for Methodist Persons (RAMP), North Alabama Conference
  • SAWS of Indianapolis
  • Ramps of Hope facebook site
  • The Texas Ramp Project
  • ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities

— revised July 2016