Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article by Angela Glover Blackwell tells how wheelchair users in Berkeley, California, began the curb-cut movement. One night they poured a cement ramp against the kerb and wheeled off. This act of political activism gained publicity and led to more wheelchair users campaigning for kerb ramps. As the kerb ramps were gradually rolled out for wheelchair users it became obvious that many others benefitted, notably parents pushing strollers. This benefit to others became known as the “Curb-Cut Effect” (to use the American spelling) and could be applied to other movements for equity.
The Curb-Cut Effect recognises that helping one group does not hurt another – everyone wins when more people can engage in economic and social activities. As Blackwell says, “Opportunity doesn’t trickle down; it cascades out and up”.
The article is a reminder that political activism has its place. All improvements towards equity for any disadvantaged group have been hard fought, and not always won. The article also discusses the growing inequality between rich and poor, and between whites and people of colour. Blackwell goes on to discuss how, “The curb-cut effect applies to America’s new demographic profile in two important ways. First, curb-cut thinking is animated by the idea of equity. Second, the curb-cut effect illustrates the outsize benefits that accrue to everyone from policies and investments designed to achieve equity.”