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Accessibility debate heats up on Toronto restaurant's Instagram page

Last Updated Nov 15, 2018 at 8:28 am EST

Chris Stigus thought he was asking a simple question when he posted on a Toronto restaurant’s Instagram page, writing “Are you guys wheelchair accessible?” The restaurant, Sugo Toronto, responded saying “not really no, we’ve had a couple chairs in but we have a step and it’s a very small place.” Stigus didn’t expect what happened next.

“That started an avalanche of Instagram comments,” Stigus said. “People were saying that the restaurant has a duty to accommodate people in wheelchairs, they were upset about the responses given by the store owner. They felt they weren’t doing enough to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

When other social media users began to criticize the restaurant and commented that it had a duty to be accessible, Sugo Toronto, located on Bloor Street West near Lansdowne Avenue, responded by saying, “actually we don’t if there is a step. check city bylaw. thanks for the two cents,” and “put your money where your mouth is and start fixing steps or mind your business.”

“I felt the restaurant maybe didn’t handle it in the best possible way in their responses but I do feel that they were innocent and not malicious,” said Chris. “It seems the machine of social media really started piling on.”

Chris said that he was shocked and hurt by the responses the restaurant gave to the other commentators. The owner of Sugo Toronto and the eatery’s Instagram page Conor Joerin, said the comments were interpreted the wrong way and offered to buy and deliver a plate to Chris.

“It’s completely on brand, I’m a knucklehead from the west-end,” Conor said. “I was upset that he was personally hurt and obviously I apologize if anyone was offended. But I didn’t say anything wrong, I just stated it’s not law for me to be wheelchair accessible.”

The restaurant has been around for 15 months, but next door to Sugo Toronto, is The Emmerson, a restaurant that’s been in the neighbourhood for six years. Joerin owns both of these restaurants, and although Sugo isn’t wheelchair accessible, The Emerson is.

He tells CityNews the space, located inside an old Toronto building, doesn’t allow for accessibility.

“I don’t have a lot of money, I’m a cook, I’m an owner-operated business and I’d love to accommodate everyone but it’s not reasonable to think we can make every space accessible,” Conor said. “There’s a line-up, the tables are very close to each other, and the bathrooms have steps leading to them as well.”

Following the CityNews interviews, both men had a conversation over Instagram, with plans to meet up in the future.

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Luke Anderson, the Executive Director of StopGap Foundation, an organization focused on community projects that raise awareness about moving barriers, says buildings/structures that aren’t accessible are common throughout the city of Toronto and a business might benefit from opening to a bigger customer base.

“I think it’s a really big problem, here in the city we have a subway system where half of the subway stations aren’t accessible,” Luke said. “To install an elevator at a subway station takes a lot of time, and we don’t really have a lot of time to uphold that goal of becoming barrier free by 2025.”