Nfld. & Labrador·Access Denied

Why a St. John's coffee shop is spending extra to become truly accessible

A St. John's coffee shop talks about why it will spend extra on accessibility features and why it's questioning the limitations of existing provincial regulations.

Jumping Bean shocked to find existing rules don't match needs of people with disabilities

Jumping Bean marketing manager George Murray with accessibility advocate Joanne MacDonald at CBC St. John's. (CBC )

Jumping Bean marketing manager George Murray had a strong reaction when CBC News contacted him.

It was about the company's coffee shop on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John's.

A woman who uses a motorized wheelchair couldn't close the stall door in the shop's bathroom, because she didn't have enough room to turn around — even though the stall was marked accessible. 

"I was pretty shocked," Murray said. "The idea that we would have a community that isn't able to use our facilities to the fullest extent is really distressing."

Accessibility advocate Joanne MacDonald of St. John's, NL, demonstrates a soap dispenser that's too high for people who use wheelchairs. (CBC )

The franchise at that location opened in the fall of 2015, and has done booming business ever since. 

Murray said the company willingly followed every requirement set out by the Newfoundland and Labrador government. In fact, he said that Jumping Bean location wouldn't have been able to open its doors without an inspection. 

Accessible doesn't always mean usable

Murray said the dimensions of the washroom stall met requirements, and that nobody at Jumping Bean realized that some customers couldn't use the facilities. 

"We were 100 per cent compliant and inspected several times by Service NL and the accessibility inspector," said Murray.

"The problem with the legislation is just because it says it's accessible doesn't mean it's necessarily usable." 

Power chair user Ashley Martin-Hanlon identified several other problems in the washroom. 

A box of supplies stored under the sink prevented her from getting close enough to wet more than her fingertips. It's since been removed. 

Murray said that the soap dispenser will be moved from high on the wall to a lower location. 

Customers at the popular Jumping Bean coffee shop location on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John's. (CBC)

Those are simple changes, according to Murray, and the company is now more aware of their importance. Jumping Bean also plans more extensive structural changes so that Martin-Hanlon and others can use the restroom in the future. 

Money well spent

Murray said it likely means spending thousands of dollars.

"It's a lot for a small company," he said. "But it will be money well spent if it means we can engage our communities better and make it available to everybody."

Options include moving the washroom stall dividers out further to create more room to move around inside. 

Another is to remove the stall dividers in both the men's and women's washroom to create spacious, private rooms each containing a toilet and sink. If that happens, the washrooms would likely be designated unisex. 

The company will also look at making adjustments so that wheelchair users like Martin-Hanlon can open the door at the main entrance of the Elizabeth Avenue location more easily. 

Accessibility advocate Joanne MacDonald is able to maneouvre in the stall in question without difficulty. She uses a manual wheelchair, which has a shorter length than Martin-Hanlon's power chair. 

MacDonald is impressed with the company's response. 

"Oh, I think it's awesome," she said. "I compliment George and the Jumping Bean on taking the information and looking at how they can resolve some of the issues that those of us who use wheelchairs are experiencing."

The Jumping Bean coffee shop followed provincial accessibility rules and was shocked to find there were still issues for people with disabilities. (CBC)

Jumping Bean is building a new coffee shop on Kelsey Drive in St. John's. Murray said the company is complying fully with the accessibilty legislation, but now he's wondering: 

"I have to ask myself, are we spending money on the building towards legislation that is ineffective?" 

"It really puts the spotlight on where the issues are," said MacDonald. "And it's not with business owners like the Jumping Bean. The issue is with the legislation that we currently have because it's not up-to-date." 

Service NL minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh announced a review of the legislation on Monday. As well, new regulations should be in place within eight months. 

After that time, newly constructed buildings and any that undergo extensive renovations will be required to have larger accessible stalls. 

 'Look at your own business'

Murray said the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador contacted him recently about plans to do an online feature highlighting Jumping Bean's accessible space as part of the upcoming Everyday Power social media campaign. 

So he said it was a deep surprise to hear from CBC News that the washroom posed a problem. 

Jumping Bean coffee shop's Elizabeth Avenue location was given the once-over by provincial inspectors before it opened in the fall of 2015. (CBC )

Murray said Jumping Bean agreed to speak to CBC because it's hoping other companies will re-evaluate whether their own premises are truly accessible. 

"Look at your own business," said Murray. "You might be compliant, but is it usable?" 

MacDonald agreed. 

"If it's not functioning for me as a wheelchair user — legislation or not — it's not working for us," she said. 

Stay tuned for ongoing coverage of accessibility issues and solutions this week online, on CBC Television's Here & Now, and on CBC Radio One. (CBC)