Experts calling for more standards in patio accessibility

By Andrea Bennett

Pandemic patios have become a fixture across Canadian cities over the summer months and a disability advocate is calling on the province to roll out across-the-board standardization to make patios more accessible.

Canadian cities eased rules and waived fees for bars and restaurants to open patios during the height of COVID-19 pandemic, allowing businesses to offer more outdoor dining and increase revenue.

Lawyer and disability advocate with Accessibility 4 Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, David Lepofsky, told The Sam Laprade Show on July 10, while expanding public seating areas was a great response to the many effects of the pandemic, it’s critical this is done in a way that ensures accessibility for people with disabilities.

“We’ve found over time, even though the law requires that our communities become more accessible, we’re finding in some ways they’re becoming less accessible,” said Lepofsky.

Expanding patios onto city sidewalks makes it challenging for people with disabilities and seniors to navigate and in some cases, forces them to walk on the street – and this is a safety concern, he adds.

According to Lepofsky, effective provincial standards must be implemented to ensure better accessibility and safety.

“Ontario should enact set standards for what must be required so outdoor seating areas are safe and accessible for everyone,” explained Lepofsky.

Another issue facing those with disabilities is ensuring the patio itself is accessible – so everyone can enjoy the outdoors during the summer months, he added.

“Unless we have effective provincial standards, people with disabilities will be left to battle this issue, one city at a time or even one sidewalk at a time,” said Lepofsky.

According to the disability advocate, former Toronto Mayor, John Tory, was working to implement a new strategy. It instructed restaurants to use parking lots or the first lane of a larger road for patio spaces. It also outlined that patios would be built level with the sidewalk, to ensure wheelchair accessibility.

Lepofsky is also calling for the reduction or elimination of e-scooters in the capital, describing them as ‘silent menaces.’

Ottawa’s electric kick scooter pilot project is back for a fourth summer, with 900 e-scooters available for rent to cruise through city streets.

But Lepofsky explained, e-scooters are a danger to everyone, especially vulnerable residents – including people with disabilities and seniors.

“City council in Ottawa has, summer after summer, allowed electric scooters and they’re a real risk to everyone, he said. “They’re silent and you can’t hear them coming, and they’re on sidewalks regularly even though it’s banned.”

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