When Longo was just one, her father was pinned down by a cement truck. He survived and slowly recovered, but the family would be faced with yet another ordeal a few years later when a car struck Longo’s brother. He had to undergo multiple surgeries and a long recovery. Then, when Longo was nine, her mother became paralyzed as a result of complications from an epidural given before the birth of her fourth child. Longo had to quickly learn not only how to help take care of her now paraplegic mother, but her newborn sibling as well. “I was very aware at a young age how to help my mother, how she could get in and out of places. When you’re a child with a disabled parent, their issue becomes yours too. Her restrictions became our restrictions,” says Longo.
While the family eventually learned how to adapt and deal with the physical challenges their mother faced, the emotional ones were much harder to accept. Longo explains, “Over time, people stopped inviting my mother to events. It wasn’t that they didn’t want her there, it was that they didn't know how to help her, how to make things accessible. My mother would sometimes cry. As her child, you just want the pain to be taken away. The pain of being excluded hit me so profoundly that I always said that if there was some way I could help, I would.”
It wasn’t until Longo was in a serious car accident in 2014 that she received her wake-up call. “It made me realize how short life can be,” she recalls. So she got to work researching portable ramps. Growing up, she had seen her cousin who was in a wheelchair use portable ramps to visit family. “I realized that this was the way: provide wheelchair-bound individuals with accessibility through portable ramps!”
In 2016, Longo founded the Navy Street Charity For Persons With Disabilities. She says the aim is “to optimize a person’s life who is confined to a wheelchair. By providing them with a portable ramp, we’re giving them options regarding accessibility for the home or travel.” The portable ramps can handle up to three steps and fold neatly into a suitcase size with handles for lifting. Frank and Judy Borgatti are recipients of a donated Navy Street ramp. “Last November, my husband slipped and suffered a lumbar fracture,” explains Judy Borgatti. “After he left the hospital, I wondered how I was going to get him into the house by myself, as there was the issue of a step to get into the home. The ramp alleviated that problem.”
While the goal in Ontario is that all municipalities be accessible by 2025, Longo mentions an important point, “My mother never cried because she couldn’t go to a mall; she cried when she couldn't go see her elderly mother or go help her daughter who had a newborn baby. It is the exclusion from social elements, like family gatherings, which truly affect a person in a wheelchair.”
The charity is going strong and Longo says she’s received feedback from those in wheelchairs and their families who are grateful she’s provided an option for accessibility. As Borgatti explains, “To have someone truly understand what you are going through is so important. It helps you to feel like someone is there that actually cares.”