Sudbury patios causing accessibility challenges, advocate says
Blind Sudburian says he couldn't safely navigate the path around a downtown patio
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.
"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.
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.
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.