UAW-Ford Program Builds Wheelchair Ramps for Detroiters and Others in Need

Nearly 2,000 ramps have been provided across the country since 2012.

Imagine being unable to set foot outside the four walls of your home. It's unthinkable for the average person who leaves the house each morning to head to work, drive the kids' carpool or go grocery shopping. But it's a reality for a surprising number of individuals in the Detroit area and beyond who are wheelchair-bound and without a ramp.

At around $2,500 or more, having a ramp installed is simply impossible for many people in this situation. That's why in 2012, UAW-Ford began working to change that by providing free ramps to those in need. It started out in Detroit as a partnership with United Way, when UAW-Ford committed to building 40 ramps in 40 days. Seeing the impact of the ramps, UAW-Ford decided to launch its own program. "That's how we started the program, and it just spun up from there," says Angelo Sacino, UAW-Ford international rep, who serves as project manager for the ramp program along with Tom Kanitz.

Today, UAW has multiple crews all over the country, from Detroit and Chicago to Kansas City, Louisville and beyond. Each crew has five to 10 people who work full-time building and installing the ramps – all time essentially donated by UAW-Ford as a commitment to the program. Nearly 2,000 ramps have been provided so far. "We're not just about making strong cars, we're also committed to helping build strong communities," Sacino says. "Therefore, we feel it is our responsibility to give back others in need."

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UAW-Ford will install a wheelchair ramp free of charge for homebound, handicapped individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford the service. Contrary to the popular assumption, people do not need to be UAW-Ford members or relatives to be eligible; anyone can apply for the assistance. "If you don't have the finances to build one or get one built – it's for the people that really can't get a ramp out there," Sacino says. "Sometimes people just don't know anybody. There's a lot of people who don't have anything."

An unexpected benefit of the program is the strong bond formed between crew members and ramp recipients. "We've had homeowners make the guys lunches, meals, stuff like that. It's pretty great," he says. "The families come out too. Some of them help us and actually work with us." Recipients of the program have included veterans, the elderly, children and people who are blind or have other conditions. "We've had people who haven't been able to get out of their houses for years, just because it's not accessible to go in and out to see the doctor or even just get sunlight," Sacino says. "A lot of kids are just wheelchair-bound – they can't move. And by doing this, it lets them get outdoors and try to live a more normal life."

When the job is complete, families enjoy taking pictures with the crew to celebrate. The gratitude expressed is immense. "It's overwhelming," Sacino says, recalling one ramp recipient who hadn't left the house in 10 years. "They were bound in-house because they couldn't get out of their house." In addition to the regular full-time crews, an additional ramp crew in Ohio is comprised strictly of UAW-Ford retirees. The teams work year-round, weather-permitting, and a project usually takes about five days, start to finish, once permits are obtained and other preparation is complete.

"We're more than just building cars. We're just people that care and want to help out," Sacino says. "We try to do what we can in the community. Even if there's a special request, someone out of state that we're not in the area, we try to get the closest team out there if it's possible."

Apply for a ramp or request more information at uawford.org/ramprequest or by calling 313-392-7213.

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