Patios in downtown Sudbury scrutinized by accessibility panel 'for areas of improvement'

It's patio season. Establishments in downtown Sudbury have created space for patrons on nearby streets and sidewalks, but there's concern they're not all meeting accessibility standards.

Group visited all 15 patios to check for problems that could arise for those with disabilities

Man holds tap measure out beside patio structure in Greater Sudbury.
Charles Tossell, a member of the Accessibility Panel for the City of Greater Sudbury, holds a tape measure to show 1.5 metres from the patio structure at a downtown establishment. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

There are about 15 patios set up in downtown Greater Sudbury for the summer.

While they're a welcome sight for those looking for a sun-drenched cocktail or dinner al fresco, they can be anxiety-provoking for people with disabilities.

The city's accessiblity panel is paying attention. Last week, members of the panel, along with two city councillors and two city staffers, paid a visit to all of the seasonal structures.

The group was checking for any issues with structure or patio space that could cause problems for someone with a disability.

Need a clear path 

Charles Tossell is a member of the panel and was part of the group. He has a brain injury and has accessibility needs.

He said there has to be a walkway large enough for those navigating past the patios.

"I believe we need a clear path, like a proper path along the wall of the restaurant with nothing in the way, not even signage or business signs."

"So that those with vision issues could actually feel for themselves — with a stick — along the edge of a building structure. They know they're safe by doing that," Tossell said.

The accessibility requirement for the width of a walkway is 1.5 metres around each patio. If the restaurant door opens out on to the street that distance is 1.5 metres from the edge of the open door.

"The only thing I would tell them is not to have a table along the walls, so that those with vision issues can clearly know where they're going."

A patio in Greater Sudbury that shows a table in the way at the far end.
The Accessibility Panel has a problem with this patio at an establishment on Elgin Street because the pathway for passersby is not straight and clear. There is a large table at the far end that people have to walk around. (Angela Gemmill/ CBC)

Because the group visited the patios during the day, Tossell said it was hard to imagine what each one would be like during a busy weekend. 

"I really wish we had done it on a Friday night or Saturday night to really observe how busy it can be," Tossell said.

"I'm waiting for that right time on a Friday night or Saturday night when it's nice and sunny, and you'll really see how jam packed and busy it'll be. It'll cause barriers for those with disabilities when they're trying to access the proper sidewalk," he added.

Mindful of all disabilities

Travis Morgan was also a part of the Accessibility Panel that checked out the patios downtown. He is deaf, but said as a member of the diverse panel they try to be mindful of as many disabilities as possible.

"Not all disabilities are affected by building design," he said, adding that when he or other members notice barriers they pass that on to city staff "and it's up to them to decide if that's a barrier that falls under their jurisdiction."

Morgan said when he goes to a restaurant he points to the menu for what he wants, but admits that's not always possible when the menus are on the wall.

"Pen and paper usually work best in those cases, or cell phones," he said.

Morgan said he is appreciative of the efforts to make downtown more accessible-friendly, particularly from those who joined the panel members on their recent visits to the patios.

"The efforts not only benefit those with disabilities but for everyone who uses the downtown."

Mobility scooter parked beside patio in Sudbury, because there is no ramp available.
A patron of this restaurant on Elgin Street had to park their mobility scooter by the patio because there is no ramp available. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

"The goal of the tour was to look for areas of improvement that could help make these patios and the areas around these patios more accessible to all residents in the community," said Joe Rocca, Greater Sudbury's acting director of Infrastructure Capital Planning.

Following the assessment each establishment was provided with recommendations to improve accessibility.

"The businesses were very apologetic," Rocca said.

"Every circumstance we found was unintentional, but nonetheless they're moving ahead with making the adjustments as per the required dimensions."

If the accessibility requirements aren't made, Sudbury's Bylaw Services will be called in.

They need a little more guidance on what are better practices to make their patios and the area around the patio as accessible as possible.- Joe Rocca, acting director Infrastructure Capital Planning, City of Greater Sudbury

Rocca also said now that city staff have worked with the accessibility panel members and understand what the various needs are, they're going to create a checklist for future years.

"Along with a set of resources for the patio operators to reference when they are setting up these patios," he said. 

"They all mean well, I just think they need a little more guidance on what are better practices to make their patios and the area around the patios as accessible as possible."


Angela Gemmill


Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 16 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to


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