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Posted on Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 8 a.m.

Elderly woman's fall off new library ramp punctuates safety concerns

By Jen Eyer


The entrance at the AADL downtown branch two weeks ago

Lon Horwedel |

When Gytha Mack visited the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch on Aug. 13, she got two books, several facial bruises and an overnight stay in the hospital.

The 87-year-old Ann Arbor resident took a nasty fall off the library’s new ramp in exactly the type of scenario that disability advocates had previously sounded warning bells about. I raised the issue in a column last Sunday, and a reader informed me of Mack’s injury.

The new entrance consists of a gradually sloping ramp leading to a platform in front of the library’s porch. The platform has a step leading down to the sidewalk on two sides, and, at the time of Mack’s accident, a yellow painted stripe along each edge served as the only warning.

Mack, who uses a wheeled walker, told me she exited the library and turned right to go home. It was around 6 p.m., and the bright, low sun made it difficult to see, she said.

She started walking to the edge of the platform, and then noticed the sidewalk was closed in that direction. So she turned around to go the other way.

“There’s a little step down, but I didn’t see it,” Mack said. “One wheel of the walker went over the edge, and I fell down over the walker and on my head.” She was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where she was kept overnight for observation.

As I reported last week, the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living’s advocacy director Carolyn Grawi had asked the library to add extra safety features to the new entrance, such as handrails and detectable warnings, but Library Director Josie Parker declined most of the requests.

Parker said handrails weren’t required under ADA or building codes and could create other problems, such as people climbing on them. Detectable warnings — textured surfaces used to signal an impending edge — could be a tripping hazard, she said.

Grawi had also asked for signs to show people which way to go, and Parker agreed to add them, but they haven’t been posted yet.

After the column ran, I also heard from Ann Arbor resident Carl Anthony, who said he tripped and fell off the ramp on Aug. 13.

Anthony said he had started walking from the bottom of the ramp and stumbled over the step where the ramp divides.

“I caught myself, but I hit my leg pretty hard and awkwardly. My knee was hurting and sore. It still is today actually,” Anthony wrote in an email to me on Aug. 19. “I think this is a serious issue. I can't imagine what will happen come winter and snow starts to cover it.”

When I contacted Parker about Mack’s accident, and to ask whether the library planned any additional changes to the entrance, she said she had no comment. Library Board President Rebecca Head also declined to comment.


These cones appeared at the library sometime between Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon.

Stefanie Murray |

However, on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 18, Grawi said she arrived at the library for a meeting and noticed orange cones lining the edges of the platform, which were still in place as this column went to print.

Grawi said she’s glad to see the cones — though she would like to see an additional one at the edge where the ramp begins — and she hopes they indicate that a more permanent solution is forthcoming.

She added she hopes library officials will consult with the CIL or other disability advocates as they draft that solution.

“I just hope that the seriousness of this is addressed more formally with some additional consultation and disclosure with all parties that have been trying to help make this safe for all patrons,” Grawi said.

Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at, and she writes a citizen advocacy column. Do you have a problem you’d like to share? Contact Jen at or 623-2577, or fill out this form.



Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 9:26 p.m.

"The Library modification is a result of a $50 million project but a simple pipe handrail that would cost a few hundred dollars was not installed. And this was for a public building that houses the library for the blind." I thought the quote above from another poster implied that $50 million was being spent to renovate the library. This amount seems pretty major to me. Today there was a huge payout to the victims of the Minnesota bridge collapse: "A $52.4 million settlement has been reached between victims of a 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the engineering firm responsible for the bridge's inspection, the victims' attorneys said Monday. Thirteen people were killed in the collapse, which occurred at rush hour." This is what can happen in accidents and tragedies. Ann Arbor really needs to be more vigilant.

David Cahill

Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 8:09 p.m.

There is no "complete library renovation." The Library Board decided not to build a new downtown library - and even cut its millage.


Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

An attorney that I consulted about this says that even if this met ADA standards, there is still a very winnable lawsuit. It would not be an ADA violation lawsuit, but personal injury. I would urge any of those injured, such as Ms. Mack, to contact one of our very able personal injury attorneys in Michigan. Apparently that is the only way that this will be changed. Just another large sucking noise of money in Ann Arbor going down the drain: the downtown underground parking lot that kicked this off, and a complete library renovation. Meantime, the Stadium Bridge looks more precarious every day!


Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 11:30 a.m.

The old planters looked so much better. I just don't understand whjy they changed it to begin this ugly design.


Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 9:16 a.m.

When I visited the library yesterday, the cones along the edge of the ramp were not in evidence. I was very careful in guiding my 2 yr-old.


Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

Many of the comments seem to concern only one kind of disability--the kind that requires a wheel chair. But the Ann Arbor Library has taken over the functions of the old Washtenaw Library for the Blind, and the current set up is extremely hazardous for those with limited vision. I wonder what the insurance company that has issued the Library's liability policy thinks about all of this? If I were they I would certainly think of raising the Library's rates if not canceling the policy.


Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 8:41 a.m.

A few planters and a railing at the corner would probably solve much of the problem. I do like that the ramp has a long gradual grade, easier for wheelchairs to self-propel. I am amazed at how steep ramps are sometimes...


Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

humdinger: How high are the brass light deflectors as compared to the steps? 1/4 the sise or less I bet. Juat weight til you are disabled then you will see a lot of thing had interfer with you being able to get around that you did notice before. Here are just wo things done to help the disabled that everyone one loves and uses, automatic doors and curb cuts.


Mon, Aug 23, 2010 : 6:05 a.m.

That sucks for the older woman, I feel bad for her. PS: Blame the roller bladers, not the skateboarders. Any rail there would not be configured well for skateboarding. Perfect for "bladers" though.

Stephen Landes

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 11:05 p.m.

The people responsible for the Library are more concerned that some skateborders will "ride the rail" than doing what is safe? I would probably see the yellow paint, but someone with less acute vision may not. I may be able to mange being off balance if I missed the step, but I know a lot of people who would not be. I'll bet the same folks who are now saying this meets the ADA requirements would be up in arms if a private business made the same decision. Seems to me I've heard a lot of griping about commercial and industrial incidents where the requirements were met, but that didn't stop the "do gooders" from insisting that it just wasn't enough. Someone with a less regulatory mindset should be included in the design review process.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9:07 p.m.

"When I contacted Parker about Macks accident, and to ask whether the library planned any additional changes to the entrance, she said she had no comment. Library Board President Rebecca Head also declined to comment." Rampgate. Prior notice of a hazard. The administrators are lucky Ms. Mack survived. It's likely protection will be installed now. Does the library have any books on common sense? At the very least, they should have escalated Ms. Eyer's concerns. Hide and deny = PR101 Fail. Chai, 100% correct. Time to clean house... Good job Ms. Eyer. We need more good investigative reporters like you...


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9 p.m.

"When I contacted Parker about Macks accident, and to ask whether the library planned any additional changes to the entrance, she said she had no comment. Library Board President Rebecca Head also declined to comment." Rampgate. Prior notice of a hazard. The administrators are lucky Ms. Mack survived. It's likely protection will be installed now. Does the library have any books on common sense? At the very least, they should have escalated Ms. Eyer's concerns. Hide and deny = PR101 Fail. Chai, 100% correct. Time to clean house... Good job Ms. Eyer. We need more good investigative reporters like you...


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 8:34 p.m.

Meeting code minimums or not, this is design is just a bad idea all around. Regardless of age, eye sight, or general intelligence to watch your step it is far too easy to make a mistake. That is how accidents happen. I'd like to see another application of a ramp designed like this on a public building. How did it work out?


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 7:39 p.m.

4.8.7. Ramps and landings with drop-offs shall have curbs, walls, railings, or projecting surfaces that prevent people from slipping off the ramp. Curbs shall be a minimum Ramps and landings with drop-offs shall have curbs, walls, railings, or projecting surfaces that prevent people from slipping off the ramp. Curbs shall be a minimum of 2 in (50 mm) high of 2 in (50 mm) high. But, here's the definition of a ramp: 4.8 Ramps. 4.8.1* General. Any part of an accessible route with a slope greater than 1:20 shall be considered a ramp and shall comply with 4. I'm assuming the designers are well aware of the ADA guidelines and probably did not need to have railings. That slope looks pretty shallow to me. But the design looks pretty poor to me.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 7:04 p.m.

Sure, let's use some warm and fuzzy notion of collective "common sense" instead of building codes and standards determined objectively through scientific and engineering means by experts in that field. And exactly whose common sense shall we use? The general consensus of the posters to this article?


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 6:30 p.m.

Here is the ADA standards for ramps: D:\CDPAGES\STDSPDF\ADASTD94.PDF Check out section 4.8.7 very interesting!


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 6:18 p.m.

Since when do skate boarders try to skate up hill? And to those that say we should use "common Sense" I agree, "common Sense" should have been used before this thing was built! It was ASSUMED when the ADA was passed that "common Sense" would tell people that the ADA was setting only the very minimumest of standards and that "common Sense" would prevail and people would biuld it better. Hasn't worked that way.

Paul Taylor

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 5:39 p.m.

Based on the picture, it appears that the ramp runs along the edge of the bottom of the steps. ADA guidelines met or not, that is just bad design. You'd be surprised how much as little as a quarter inch difference between the anticipated drop-off and the actual drop-off can mean to a person. Having a ramp at the base of the bottom step, thus creating a continually-varying landing, just makes no sense. No amount of yellow paint will tell your foot that the next step is either an inch higher or lower than you calculate based on sight. Also, what's wrong with handrails? Don't you think that maybe--JUST MAYBE--library patrons with reduced mobility might welcome a handhold to use while entering the library? The mind boggles...


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 4:17 p.m.

The steps fall within ADA guidelines. It was an accident. Sometimes crap just happens. I dont think there's a person in the world who hasn't tripped or stumbled when stepping off a small step, not realizing it was there.

scooter dog

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 4:07 p.m.

Should be a easy few million dollar law suit for Jeffery Feiger. Wow no railing to hold onto going down/up steps,thats just about automatic to have it in place.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 3:58 p.m.

1. If you build a ramp, especially ramp with two sides consisting of steps and only one side with an actual ramp, why not also include guard rails in lieu of yellow stripes to keep folks from falling off? Seems logical, no? 2. The latest initiatives regarding the library include plans to tear it down and rebuild it brand new, so why not wait until the new library is constructed and do it right?


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

Those cones look like they could be put to use by some mischief makers. Are they going to remain there permanently? I hadn't noticed the smokers/homeless folks congregating there, but perhaps the cones could be replaced with folding chairs and the library could be back where it started. By the way, how much did this driveway cost - $20,000?

Jon Saalberg

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 3:15 p.m.

Call me cynical, but it seems like the underlying reason this unsightly expanse of concrete was installed was to eliminate a place where smokers and homeless people liked to hang out.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 3:12 p.m.

Would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall during certain key meetings. What logic went into the decision to dispense with railing options for the new ramp at the downtown library? What reasons were given for wanting to downplay the resulting safety considerations as well as the potential public reaction? Just what were they thinking? Great to see that media attention here has led to the strategic deployment of conework. That's definitely an upgrade as compared to a week ago. ------------------ Partisans of retro street theater may wish to consider making arrangements an upcoming library visit by the Conehead family, the former TV role models now attired for fall fashion in spanking-new orange & white haberdashery.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 2:28 p.m.

Honestly, I feel it's a matter of common sense. Seeing as the entrance to the library has ALWAYS been two steps up, it seems a given that there would always be two steps down. Ramps are never jutting straight out from the door; they always follow the side of the building. Why would there be a ramp on the north and west steps? Why would these steps need railings? The older stairs don't have railings because it's not necessary. People should pay attention and not complain because they weren't looking where they were going.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 2:12 p.m.

I agree with all of the safety concerns, and think the ramp should have been built properly to begin with. I love the fact (being sarcastic) that a new ramp has construction cones on it so that people can see the step!


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 1:58 p.m.

"When I contacted Parker about Macks accident, and to ask whether the library planned any additional changes to the entrance, she said she had no comment. Library Board President Rebecca Head also declined to comment." ALRIGHT! That's it, I'm making a citizens comment (since the library is public property) on Parker and Head's behalf... "We regret very much the injury to our patrons and realize that despite our previous confidence in the safety of the ramp design, improvements are clearly necessary and will be forthcoming as soon as possible. We wish Ms. Mack a speedy recovery and wish again to express our deepest sympathies and regret." pause... "Oh, and we also want Ms. Grawi and reporter Eyer to know that, well, you were right and we were wrong."

Silly Sally

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 1:58 p.m.

Add a railing that goes down the steps at some place, some people do need them

Silly Sally

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.

"Parker said handrails werent required under ADA or building codes and could create other problems, such as people climbing on them" So, Josie is more concerned with a 11 year-old boy climbing on safety railing, which he should not do, and getting a bruise for his trouble than an elderly lady getting hurt. This ramp is ridiculous. People come out of the dark library and see bright sunlight reflecting off of bright white cement. Most people over 40 have a harder time quickly adjusting to bright lights, making the subtle steps hard to see. Especially where they are not expected. There should be a railing along the ramp, parallel to the street. Even the old ramp had railings. Who is this designer that the AADL paid good money to? It was wasted. As an earlier reader pointed out, a cement truck driver could have designed it. Install a railing before anyone else gets hurt. If a misbehaving boy were to fall off the railing, so what. Better a misbehaving boy than an elderly lady.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 12:45 p.m.

I realize this is not a "news" story rather an "opinion" piece and a picture from the other angle may be somewhat damaging to your case. But I sure wish you had posted one. The thing seems pretty easy to see going in to the library. And you have to go in before you can come out. Having said that, if I had a vote I would vote for maybe 3-4 hand rails that would make the presence of stairs more noticeable.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 11:17 a.m.

Any ramp I have ever seen has had a railing and no steps. The whole purpose of a ramp is for the disabled. That would mean anyone with mobility issues. Even my 10 year old was surprised to see the steps. His comment was, " what is this step for? People are going to trip". I am curious as to how the designer justified this lunacy. LOL! Only in Ann Arbor would this happen. Most elsewhere has the common sense to realize mobility issues means steps are a hazard. I hope the woman sues, as it seems only then will change occur.

Donn Nelson

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 10:46 a.m.

I think that Josie Parker should resign, she had the power to have the ramp done correctly and didn't.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 10:17 a.m.

Couple of points here: Building to code (or the minimum standard is a very poor excuse to hide behind. The ramp may meet ADA requirements but it doesn't work in this application ( I also like how they are proud of doing the least amount of work they could get away with). Calling the CLI a fringe group is a joke and I hope (past article) the person who did never needs their services but I suspect the minute they need something they will be pounding on the CIL's door. The yellow line at certain hours of the day with some peoples eye sight may not stand out as one would think it should. Yes we all need to pay attention to where we are walking (driving, biking etc) but it could be this person could not see it. A contrasting black (or dark blue) line along side my help. Before you jump on the victim here we are all victims. We are all going to need assistance at some point in our lives. The CIL is to be congratulated for looking out for all of us.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

I'm sorry that this happened to Ms. Mack. And it's not only elderly people that may be injured or people that are not "paying attention". I've taken my children several times recently, and held their hands both times because this platform is misleading and hazardous to children. You've got this huge platform which drops off with a yellow paint strip as the only warning, with then yet another step. I understand the concern that handrails may attract people to sit on them, but this is what happens without them. Maybe changing the yellow paint to red might help also? On one of the days that we went, the sunlight was so bright, that it was confusing for a second when stepping down as the brightness of the light concrete and the yellow paint seemed to blend in. There will definitely be more injuries and broken bones if not redesigned more safely....and lawsuits!

Laura Hoseney

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

I am now only 63 and don't see as accurately as I used to. I also have to be careful on the Library ramp. I wish they left the planter boxes and trees(which we need for oxygen), and just added a small ramp alongside the planter wall leading up to the entrance and the handicapped door. Up and straight in, simple. The new ramp will be icy in winter, so my bad knees will be using the steps. At least add a rail, skateboarders are not the problem.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9:49 a.m.

Thanks for the information on the designer of the ramp. It strikes me as designed by an engineer and a cement truck driver. It may meet ADA standards but it is (a)ugly; (b)not as safe as it could be; (c)built with the fear of skateboarders in mind. Go back to the drawing board and add some barriers on the west side of the ramp; add some rails on the steps on the north side. And, use a designer the next time - not the cement truck driver.


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

The steps are at the top of the ramp. In the picture, the ramp slopes down and away from the photographer. So, you can either take the steps near the photographer, or take the ramp which starts down by that bus and people in the picture.

Hot Sam

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9:36 a.m.

Thanx for the clarifications...I didn't realize tat the old one was closed...

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9:30 a.m.

I wonder if the library is concerned about skateboarders abusing the rails.

Hot Sam

Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 9:28 a.m.

If one could look to the left of this picture, (you can see it on Google street view) toward the parking lot, there is a ramp. I'm not sure why we are looking at the steps and confusing them with the ramp...


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 8:52 a.m.

Which firm did the design for this ramp? I wonder if they'll include it in their portfolio? If so, don't forget to include the 2-week later photos with orange cones lining the "design."


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

why not just be responsible for your own actions and watch where you are going


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 8:06 a.m.

Why would anyone place a step at the base of a ramp? What does it take for someone to see that this kind of thing is not acceptable? A lawsuit?


Sun, Aug 22, 2010 : 7:29 a.m.

But it meets ADA guild lines! And the cones are so unsighly! If it had been RIGHT in the first place and with PRACTICAL SENSE and not by ADA MINIMUMS. This wouldn't have happened!