Sudbury·Audio

Sudbury patios causing accessibility challenges, advocate says

Rob DiMeglio often walks to work in downtown Sudbury, but recently, he's been afraid to venture into the city's centre — after a scary incident left him "shaken up" and concerned about accessibility for people with disabilities.

Blind Sudburian says he couldn't safely navigate the path around a downtown patio

Rob DiMeglio recently had a scary experience trying to navigate a path around a patio in downtown Sudbury with his guide dog. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Rob DiMeglio often walks to work in downtown Sudbury, but recently, he's been afraid to venture into the city's centre — after a scary incident left him "shaken up" and concerned about accessibility for people with disabilities.

DiMeglio, who is the executive director of Independent Living Sudbury Manitoulin, is blind, and navigates using a cane and a guide dog. Recently, he had a frightening experience, when he and his dog were unable to navigate a path around a patio — one of many that have taken over sidewalks this summer, as bars and restaurants reopen.

"I understand these places want to open up and feed their small families downtown, but I gotta feed my family too. And I have the right to walk down the sidewalk and don't feel like I'm going to be killed," DiMeglio said. 

He says the city should have done more to ensure patios — and the walking paths around them — are accessible for people with disabilities. 

A moment of fear 

DiMeglio was walking to work one morning last month when he passed in front of The Alibi Room, a bar on Durham Street. The bar's patio has taken over the sidewalk, and there is a walking path set up on the street in front — roped off from traffic.

The problem for DiMeglio was that there was no curve or edge that he could feel with a cane, or for his guide dog to follow. 

Rob DiMeglio is the executive director of Independent Living Sudbury Manitoulin. He says he doesn't blame individual businesses for accessibility issues with patios, but rather the city. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"When I was in the middle of the road I couldn't figure out where I was," DiMeglio said. 

He says his dog walked under the rope, and he started to fall — when he felt a passerby grab him to lift him back up. 

'A learning process'

After the incident, DiMeglio met with Alibi Room owner, Kyle Marcus, to discuss ways to make the path more safe for people with visual impairments. 

Marcus says he was sad to learn "something that we had produced affected someone negatively," and has since added a second rope, close to the ground, to provide guidance to service dogs, as well a detectable barrier for canes.

My anger is with the people that signed the permit— Rob DiMeglio

"Things like how a guide dog works or what they look for or what their cues are, are not anything that you know I've been conscious of in the past, [or] how someone with a cane walks," Marcus said.

"It was quite a learning process." 

He said he also plans to add pylons to help demarcate the patio area from the path. 

'Not everyone's being thought of'

DiMeglio is glad Marcus acted quickly to make changes at his bar, and he says he doesn't blame individual business owners for not knowing exactly how to make spaces fully accessible. 

"My anger is with the people that signed the permit, which is the city." DiMeglio said. 

He says the city should have consulted people with disabilities when approving patio permits.

After speaking with DiMeglio, Kyle Marcus has added a second rope, near the ground, along the edge of the pedestrian walkway in front of the patio at The Alibi Room. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

For his part, Marcus says the city was "tremendous" in helping him set up his patio — but he wishes there had been instructions around accessibility for people who are visually impaired. 

"I was disappointed that you know these kinds of considerations weren't rolled into the plan, and it's not a part of the permit, and you know, that not everyone's being thought of," Marcus said. 

City's response

In a statement to CBC, the a spokesperson for the City of Greater Sudbury said the application process for patios "includes a requirement for businesses to consider the safety and accessibility of the patio design" — such as having a walkway wide enough to accommodate mobility aides. 

The city said there are no requirements for cane-detectable barriers on pedestrian walkways, however the spokesperson said "the City will take this recommendation to the Accessibility Advisory Panel for consideration."

The city says it welcomes recommendations from residents for design improvements. 

Rob DiMeglio is blind, and gets around using a cane and a guide dog. He regularly walks to work in downtown Sudbury - but recently, he had a scary experience. He says patios that have taken over sidewalks downtown are making streets less accessible for people with disabilities. 8:50

About the Author

Sarah MacMillan is a reporter with CBC Sudbury. She previously worked with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca

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