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High schoolers work to make homes more wheelchair accessible

High schoolers Shelby Goodwin and Gavin Angelo work on a wheelchair ramp with their fellow students in Conklin.
Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
High schoolers Shelby Goodwin and Gavin Angelo work on a wheelchair ramp with their fellow students in Conklin.

Less than one percent of housing nationwide is wheelchair accessible. That can be a big obstacle for people with disabilities, and older people who would like to age in place.

But the “Ramp it Up” program, run by the Broome County Council of Churches, is trying to address the problem, one wheelchair ramp at a time.

High school students from Windsor Central School District recently gathered at a home in Conklin, working together to build a long, wooden wheelchair ramp.

Tyler Sienko is one of the students in the program. He said last year, building a ramp in Harpursville was much harder. It was cold, and the ground was really rocky.

“I’m just glad that my pants didn’t rip this year,” Sienko said. “Last year, my jeans ripped and I had to borrow a girl’s sweatpants, and they came up to my knees, and it was freezing out.”

Gavin Angelo, a senior in high school, said last year, it was fun to see the finished product at the end of the two-day project.

“I thought it was a really moving experience,” Angelo said. “We finally got to see our ramp in action and how it could help someone out.”

Phoebe Taylor-Vuolo
This is the fifteenth build Windsor students have helped with since 2012.

Homeowners and renters can apply to get a wheelchair ramp installed.

The program is income-based, and determined by a sliding scale. The average cost of building a permanent wheelchair ramp can range from $1,000 to $6,000. And while Medicare covers wheelchairs, it does not usually cover home modifications like ramps.

High school counselor Makenzie Faughnan said this particular homeowner has been unable to leave the house without being carried.

“They don’t have access to the outside,” Faughnan said. “So it’s helpful for them to get to just enjoy their lives and improve their quality of life, but also for them to get to doctors appointments and things like that.”

This is high schooler Shelby Goodwin’s second year building ramps. She said it’s satisfying to see people using the wheelchair ramps when they’re finished. She has also picked up some new skills.

“I know I can go and use a drill now, and know the basics really. Because you learn it on the way,” Goodwin said. “Probably not build a whole ramp myself, but now I know I can help if someone needs help.”