We decided to stop for a cup of tea. Sadie had stayed the night at our place, wanting a sleep over too, and was getting soaking wet at a splash pad when her mother joined us. After Sadie exhausted herself and was dressed again, we went round the corner to a small restaurant we all like. To get to it I ride up a long concrete ramp and make a sharp turn. At the top of the ramp is a small patio with two tables right by the window of the cafe. Both were empty and, as there were three chairs at the table, one on either side and one by the window, we moved a chair to be on the fourth side.
We were well ensconced and deciding on drinks when the woman who runs the cafe came outside with a bottle of water and some glasses. She set them on the table and then said, "I'm afraid you can't have a fourth chair at the table like this." She paused, as if she'd said this before, often, and not gotten a welcome response. "You see these two tables are at the top of the ramp. With a chair here it narrows the space, and though someone in a wheelchair could get by, it would be cramped. We take accessibility really seriously here at my restaurant."
Now, I was sitting there, in my wheelchair, listening to her. I was in such deep shock that I found myself bereft of anything to say. Then, she brightened and said, "Maybe if we put two chairs behind and move the table over a bit, we could still keep this area free." What she suggested worked.
After we were settled, she apologized for making us all move, I'd found my words again so I spoke up and said, "I am the last person you have to apologize to for keeping a space accessible." She smiled and said, "I thought you might understand."
I have been using a wheelchair for seven years, I have been advocating for disability rights and disability access (of some kind) for most of my working life, and I've never, ever, had the experience of a shop keeper, a restaurateur, or a keeper of any public space, state, by word and action, that they were intentionally accessible. Ever.
We'd been to that cafe several times before, and as I thought about it, we went both because of the food and because of the welcoming atmosphere. They have an accessible washroom that is never blocked by chairs, never used as a storage closet, never kept for staff use only. It never occurred to me that this was all intentional - I think because the concept was foreign to me.
Who'd have thought?
Clearly not me.