Thursday, May 8, 2014

Breaking Handicap Laws

That's an awful wheelchair ramp. That shouldn't be legal!

On your own, write down rules for wheelchair ramp builders to make sure that the ramps are safe. 

If kids are stuck, show them a steep ramp, and ask them to explain what's wrong with it. Push them to generalize: Can you draw a few ramps that aren't allowed? A few ramps that are?

Then I put them into pairs.

Make the most dangerous ramp that you can while still following your partner's rule. Be cruel here: try to break the spirit of the law while still meeting its requirements.

After a few minutes, we pool all of the kids' rules together.

My favorite requirement was that one kid said that the ramp had to "lead somewhere," so that it didn't drive you off a cliff or anything. That's awesome.

Then we looked at the actual law.

With your partner, decide which is tougher: our class' law, or the American with Disabilities Act requirements.

What really stood out to me is how much larger our angles are than the actual requirement. It leads me to think that our understanding of steepness on the page doesn't really match up with our physical experience with steepness. This was a nice intellectual way to realize this, but we should probably find a more visceral way of experiencing it.


  1. I don't have mathematical thoughts here, but I'm wondering if you or your students have seen the documentary "Lives Worth Living," which in part tells the story of the ADA and just how hard (and how recently) activists had to fight to pass it. There are some very visceral and powerful images of people working for accessibility in it.

  2. I love the idea of having students write their own rules before looking up the actual law. I meant to have my students measure and assess the legality of our wheel chair ramp at school this year, but the timing/weather never seemed to cooperate. Thanks for sharing this lesson idea!