TikTok user bringing awareness to the lack of accessibility at Toronto restaurants

Taylor Lindsay-Noel’s restaurant reviews not only focus on food and ambiance, but on accessibility too. Faiza Amin on the community advocating to make spaces accessible to all Torontonians.

By Faiza Amin and Meredith Bond

A Toronto woman has taken to TikTok and Instagram to shed light on the inaccessibility of restaurants and other spaces in the city.

Taylor Lindsay Noel, who uses a wheelchair, began posting about her experience at restaurants after a close friend of hers had been looking at wedding venues and found that they were not accessible despite businesses claiming to be.

Noel has only posted five restaurant reviews with #AccessbyTay since she began posting at the beginning of May but has received a ton of support and gained over 5,000 followers.

“Some of the response has been incredible,” shared Noel. “People, whether you’re disabled or not, have related to the videos and have been quite shocked about how inaccessible the city can be and the experiences and the pitfalls that people with access needs face when places are not accessible.”

Noel provides an accessibility rating for each restaurant and an experience rating out of five along with clips of her navigating the space in her wheelchair.

She said the visual aspect of her reviews is something that’s been missing for those who are interested in finding out if a space is accessible. “People relate to visual content. You can write a review and say, ‘There was a step there.’ But when you see someone with a barrier and that’s where they can stop. It brings it all together, and that’s why I love the video format of this.”

Noel tells CityNews she has not been shocked by the inaccessibility of some of the places she has attended.

“I’m not personally surprised by how inaccessible the city is because I’ve experienced it every day since I’ve been in a wheelchair,” she admits. “But I’ve been amazed by how many people not even in wheelchairs relate to it, whether they have strollers or just recently broke a leg and are on crutches for the first time or have difficulty walking long distances, it makes a huge difference.”

Her reviews have opened up a lot of people’s minds to those experiencing these spaces.

“Unless it’s what you’re experiencing, for many people [it’s] just out of sight, out of mind. And we need this to be at the forefront of conversations when we talk about businesses and spaces. People should be able to access them just like everyone else.”

Maayan Ziv, also a Toronto native and wheelchair user, said it was the inaccessibility of the city that led her to create the app Access Now.

The app, which provides feedback on restaurants, bars, and other public spaces in 35 countries, collects information submitted by thousands of users on the app and information from businesses to classify a place as accessible, partly accessible, or not accessible.

“The impetus for starting AccessNow is just that along my life’s journey, I’ve constantly come up against barriers to navigating inaccessible spaces,” said Ziv, who launched the app in 2015 during the Parapan American Games.

Through the app’s development, she said she’s realized accessibility means different things to many other people.

“My needs as a wheelchair user in downtown Toronto are very different than someone who experiences a different type of disability,” Ziv added. “And I think one of the most powerful things about the AccessNow app is that we’ve learned collectively what’s important to people and what makes the space inclusive.”

Noel tells CityNews it’s not just about being able to access certain places, but these barriers can also affect someone’s mental health.

“I’ve had so many experiences where I show up to a place that says it’s accessible, and I get there, and it’s not, and I feel embarrassed, or I feel rejected and don’t want to go out for the next few weeks,” said Noel.

“For anyone new to accessing inaccessible places, it could be a huge setback for them mentally and stops many people from even leaving their homes.”

Businesses crucial to improving accessibility in Toronto

Noel said she recently received a phone call from the owner of one of the reviewed restaurants apologizing for her experience.

“The owner reached out to me personally and apologized and said they’re going to be making changes and said they’d love to have me back once their changes have been made,” explained Noel. “This is exactly what I’m hoping for. I’m hoping for people to become more aware and receptive to my feedback and essentially open up their businesses to a whole new population as well.”

Ziv shared that working with businesses has been crucial for increasing accessibility.

“It’s amazing to see companies begin to wake up to this, begin to create advancements and recognize that there is tremendous value to be had when you build an accessible and inclusive experience for any customer.”

In Toronto, Ziv said she has seen a growing awareness about the accessibility issues, but there’s still a long way to go.

“We’re far from reaching a day where every single space is accessible and inclusive to the needs of people with disabilities,” she said, adding that the role of the government in promoting accessibility is vital.

“We need to make significant tangible, accountable decisions that result in change for people. The bottom line is if you’re a restaurant [and] your store and space are not accessible, you’re missing out on a potential customer base and breaking the law.”

Noel plans to expand her reviews beyond restaurants to include experiences, wedding venues and even while travelling.

“It’s not going to be exclusive to restaurants. I want to do experiences, and I’m excited to start travelling again,” said Noel.

“I have a list of places I want to go to and have a few wedding venues I’m hitting up this year for my friends’ weddings. So, anywhere I’m going essentially. I think it’s an opportunity to share and create a diary of places for people to come and see where it’s accessible.”

You can follow Noel’s #AccessbyTay reviews on TikTok at Taylorln93.

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