Ramps for disabled people trace back to ancient Greece

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The ramps for disabled people that smooth entry into many public buildings today aren’t a modern invention. The ancient Greeks constructed similar ramps of stone to help individuals who had trouble walking or climbing stairs access holy sites, new research suggests. That would make the ramps—some more than 2300 years old—the oldest known evidence of architecture designed to meet the needs of the disabled.

The evidence for ramps and their use has been there all along, but archaeologists haven’t paid much attention to it, argues Debby Sneed, an archaeologist at California State University, Long Beach. People tend to think all ancient Greeks were as muscular and fit as the individuals depicted in their art, she says. “There’s this assumption that there is no room in Greek society for people who weren’t able-bodied.”

Sneed says there are plenty of clues to the contrary. Sculptures and vases regularly show men and women leaning on canes or crutches, she notes. Skeletal evidence reveals arthritis and joint disease were common. And small clay offerings depicting afflicted legs and feet were left behind by hopeful visitors to sanctuaries dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.

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