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All welcome: Website reviews Toronto's barrier-free restaurants

Last Updated Aug 13, 2015 at 8:58 am EST

The stairlift alongside a small set of stairs at R&D in Toronto. AccessTO

Parapan Am Games athletes looking for places to eat and drink without barriers can find a website that reviews accessible restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs in Toronto.

Physiotherapist Silvia Guido started AccessTO.ca in April 2013 and it is maintained by her and a group of occupational therapists.

She started the blog because she noticed that her patients, with spinal cord and brain injuries, were unhappy.

“They would ask why they had to work on physical goals when all they would do otherwise was be at home not socializing,” Guido explained. “They felt that Toronto wasn’t accessible.”

The writers review physical space not because they don’t care about the other elements of the restaurants, Guido said, but because they really want feedback.

“We want people to visit the venues, that’s why they are doing it,” she said.

Guido originally started the site as a summer project and has already reviewed more than 160 accessible venues, with one venue being reviewed each week.

“I’m surprised that chefs in high-end restaurants cooking good quality food are thinking of accessibility.”

Still, Guido said that compared to Chicago, New York and London, England, Toronto has a far way to go.

“Some restaurant owners don’t know what accessibility is,” Guido said. “We’d show up and there was a huge step in the front, for example.”

Some restaurant owners do ask for accessibility tips, which the website lists.

One restaurant on Bloor Street West near Runnymede Road has made a change as a result, Guido said. The Kennedy Public House has removed a chain that prevented access to the patio from the sidewalk.

Guido has paired with the University of Toronto occupational therapy program and now people from all parts of Toronto are offering to volunteer.

“The students are great. They are focusing on learning about patients’ return to leisure activity instead of returning to work,” she said.

Eventually, Guido will only have contributors with disabilities write for the site because “they have lived [the] experience.”

Owners have been welcoming once they know the reviews are not about the food and that the venues will only be reviewed if they are fully accessible.

The criteria include:

  • Overall space: table height, floor space, 180 and 360 turning space, etc.
  • Floor surface: carpets, level changes, texture
  • Entrances: automatic door opener, door width, ramp, etc.
  • Toilet facilities: handles, grab bar, sink height, stall measurements, etc.
  • Outdoor space
  • Elevator
  • Parking

 

Reviewers literally step in with measuring tape in hand. Each review lists measurements of various items such as doors and sinks. Nearby parking locations and transit options are also listed in each review.

Guido has noticed that music venues are the worst in terms of accessibility. It’s so bad that they’ve stopped reviewing them because they can’t find any more that are accessible.

“I’m surprised. I don’t understand what the problem is,” she said.

Still, Guido is happy with the project.

“I’m so happy because I think it’s helped a lot of families,” Guido said. “I wanted to create a space – a website – that everyone would feel comfortable reading,” she said.