SSA prepares to install switchback ramps to meet accessibility rules


The Steamship Authority is preparing to install new passenger loading ramps at its four main terminals. The million-dollar retrofit is required to meet state marine ramp requirements for people with physical disabilities.

Work is currently underway in Woods Hole to prepare the terminal for a ramp fabricated in Florida. Last week, with the ramp out of service, passengers boarded and disembarked from the boats over the vehicle deck ramps.

Once Woods Hole is complete, work will begin at the Oak Bluffs terminal, Wayne Lamson, Steamship Authority (SSA) general manager, said. Work will resume in the fall on Nantucket and Vineyard Haven.

Mr. Lamson acknowledged that the work is something of a redo. New, wider ramps were installed to accommodate the Island Home in 2006.

Common practice has been to allow people in wheel chairs, or those with difficulty walking, to board the boat over the vehicle ramp and use the elevator to reach the passenger deck.

The costly modifications are the result of a complaint the Massachusetts architectural access board filed in 2009.

In a telephone conversation, Steven Sayre, SSA general counsel, said that when the SSA received the complaint, it took it as an opportunity to improve accessibility at all terminals.

Mr. Sayre said the current ramps are. . . steeper than allowed and lack the appropriate handrails. He said it is not appropriate to tell people who may be disabled and may want to board the vessel with the rest of the traveling public to board through the freight deck.

“We also thought that the existing ramps, even for people without disabilities, were too steep. . . and it would be a better customer service for our passengers to have a more accessible passage way for them to get on the boats,” he said.

Mr. Sayre said the SSA worked closely with the architectural board and representatives of disability organizations in all the port communities to come up with a new ramp design and employee guidelines and policies for accommodating people with disabilities.

The new ramps leading from the loading platform will feature switchbacks designed to minimize the ramp incline. Mr. Sayre said because the architectural board realized that passengers who do not have disabilities may not want to go back and forth, it allowed a variance for a parallel non-compliant ramp that will allow a passenger to walk straight off a boat and avoid the switchback.