A reminder that PWD also use sidewalks

ABOVE: In the summer, Elgin Street comes alive with patios, but do they leave room for people using mobility devices? (Photo: OLM Staff)

The past few days have been beautiful here in Ottawa. We’ve had plenty of sun and warm temperatures. In other words, perfect weather for me to get out and about.

Sadly, while rolling around Centretown, I’ve been constantly reminded of how non-wheelchair accessible the city is.

For example, several bars and restaurants are either in the process of setting up their patios or are already open. Along with them, there are signs on several boards in front of stores advertising sales, menus, etc.

The above all have one thing in common.

They all take up space on often very narrow sidewalks. As a result, there is very little room left for people using mobility devices to get by. Often, able-bodied people even have difficulties getting around them.

It’s important to note that some bars and restaurants are mindful that their patios take up too much space on the sidewalk and have taken steps to make them smaller over the years. Unfortunately, most have closed due to the pandemic or other reasons.

While I haven’t had the chance to go out and check Elgin Street or the ByWard Market yet this year, pictures have already been posted on social media. I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it looks as though things are still the same, at least in certain spots.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy having a beer or coffee on a patio,

As I’ve gotten older and more aware of my surroundings and wheelchair accessibility in general, my perspective has changed. 

Many questions run through my head when I decide or get invited to go to a bar or restaurant.

For starters, which patios are wheelchair accessible?

If they are accessible, will there be enough space for my wheelchair or a friend in a wheelchair?

Is the front entrance and sidewalk clear and easily accessible?

Where’s the closest accessible bathroom? Is it inside the bar or restaurant with a step or two to get in? If so, is there a bathroom nearby that is wheelchair accessible?

On top of all that, transportation brings another busload of questions.

For example…

If, for some reason, I’m unable to roll home due to a tech issue with my chair or a sudden weather change, will there be wheelchair-accessible transportation available, such as a taxi or OC Transpo bus?

If I were able-bodied, I’d be able to call a taxi or an Uber to pick me up, and that would be that. However, because I’m a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair and lives in a city that assumes people with disabilities rarely go out, especially at night, people with disabilities are forced to take extra measures to ensure they can get home safely.

Why is that?

Why does the City of Ottawa assume that people with disabilities don’t exist and continue to be treated as third-class citizens in a supposed world-class city?

Regarding patio size, one could argue that it depends on the business. Businesses can choose to maximize their space, and I understand that. After all, business owners want to maximize their profits, especially after being hit during the pandemic.

Fair enough.

At the same time, more considerations should be taken regarding how much space is being taken up. Start by paying attention to pedestrians outside your business.

In general, how often do you see people going down the sidewalk?

Out of all the people using the sidewalk;

  • how many people walk with strollers, kids, family members, or their partner(s)?
  • how many people with disabilities pass by your place of business using wheelchairs or other mobility devices?
  • also, how many people are visually impaired and using a cane?
  • how many seniors are walking by?

I often see people stepping onto the road to go around a patio. People with disabilities aren’t able to do that, and we shouldn’t have to cross the street beforehand just to be able to get around a patio that is taking up more space than is necessary.

Whatever happened to sharing the road or sidewalks?

We’re all trying to get somewhere in this city and life. We should all do our part to ensure our journey is smooth with as few barriers as possible.

As the weather gets warmer, I’ll be out and about more often, sharing my latest experiences with bars, restaurants, and other local businesses regarding wheelchair accessibility.