Montreal·Special Report

Montreal terrasses lack wheelchair accessibility

Montreal's terrasses are a big part of enjoying the city in good weather, but the vast majority of them are still not accessible for people who get around in a wheelchair.

Disability activists say all Montrealers have a right to enjoy summer activities

Laurent Morissette, a 30-year-old man who relies on a motorised wheelchair to get around, says many restaurants with accessible terrasses don't have accessible bathrooms. (CBC)

Montreal's terrasses are a big part of enjoying the city in warm weather.

However, a CBC investigative report revealed that the vast majority of terrasses in certain parts of downtown are still not accessible to people who get around in wheelchairs.

Despite a 2011 promise by the city to make all new public buildings accessible, advocates for people with disabilities say terrasses are the latest example of why Montreal lags behind other cities.

'I am not handicapped. It’s the society with the misconception and prejudice, thinking we have no money or love life.'- Laurent Morissette

Laurent Morissette, a 30-year-old man who relies on a motorized wheelchair to get around, says he isn’t surprised.   

Morissette's wheelchair is often blocked by a step on many terrasses in Old Montreal.

“Seeing other people having fun on terrasses, laughing, enjoying a steak or a beer and knowing I cannot go to this place… it really is undermining our capacity of being a full citizen who can spend money and have fun,” said Morissette.

“It’s really sad and I’m really disappointed about it.”

Even if there is a small ramp — just a few inches is all that's needed — Morissette says the entrances are often too narrow and the tables are so close together that there's no room for his wheelchair anyway. 

And Morissette says that many restaurants that do have accessible terrasses don’t have accessible bathrooms. 

Sidewalk terrasses skirt accessibility rules

More and more terrasses are being built on the sidewalk next to the restaurant, which is public, city-owned property.

Even if the terrasses are built on city-owned sidewalks, the city considers them infrastructure and not buildings subject to the building code that mandates accessibility criteria. (CBC )

In 2011, the City of Montreal and 19 boroughs adopted a universal accessibility mandate, promising that all new public buildings will be accessible. 

However, the city considers these terrasses infrastructure and not buildings subject to the building code that mandates accessibility criteria.

That means the 15 per cent of the population who have some form of disability could be missing out.

Accessibility not only for disabilities 

Isabelle Ducharme is the president of Kéroul, a group that helps tourists with disabilities navigate the city. 

She says that accessibility is an issue for an even larger portion of the population, including parents with strollers, the elderly and people who are recovering from an injury. 

“It’s not just the typical person that you think of in a wheelchair... it’s more than just the 15 per cent that we can identify. So sometimes it gets pretty frustrating to think, 'How come that’s not enough?'" says Ducharme.

"We’re not asking for free things or a bypass. We are just asking to have access to the same thing every other Montrealer has access to.”

A law in Montreal... eventually

Montreal has a pretty poor accessibility record in general compared to other cities, according to many disability experts.

In the U.S., it's considered discrimination for anyone to not be able to access a building or service under the 1990 American Disability Act. 

That means a wheelchair-inaccessible restaurant or hotel violates the ADA. 

In Canada, there is no such law.

Olivier Beausoleil, who is charge of accessibility issues for the City of Montreal, says the city has 400 projects on the go to make buildings and public spaces accessible.

He says the city has completed 60 per cent of the work. 

However, Beausoleil says Montreal doesn't have one policy for all boroughs that would include infrastructure like terrasses.

He says the issue is further complicated by a lack of money, time, and the challenge of reaching consensus with the city, its partners and industry. 

“Eventually we will have a law but, before the law, we will outline the desired standards,” says Beausoleil.

“There is a lot of construction on many projects for universal accessibility in the City of Montreal.”

A right to enjoy life

Both Ducharme and Morissette are asking that the city focus not only on basic needs like transportation and toilets, but also look at access to entertainment and the other activities Montreal is known for, like its terrasses and outdoor festivals.

"I am not handicapped. It’s the society with the misconception and prejudice, thinking we have no money or love life or sex life, for example," said Morissette. 

"The moment society stops thinking that way, we will have made a good step towards accessibility and acceptance of difference."