A few weeks ago we were contacted by a friend who was going to be in Toronto on Thursday last and wanted to know if we could meet for lunch. We had to turn it down at first because we had something big on that day. But it big event was cancelled and we were really pleased to be able to contact her and say, "Lunch is on!" If you are going to be disappointed with something - do something that is completely wonderful and spontaneous. That's what we did, and it worked.
I was asked to choose the restaurant. I've been noticing over the years that friends typically ask me to choose a place. I became self conscious about this and finally, when pressed, a friend said that they found that it was so much pressure to find an accessible restaurant. He said that "most say they are and I go there to check and they aren't really. Some have a couple steps, others have tables packed together so that even though you can get in you can't get to a table. It's just too stressful." Another said simply, "I don't know the right questions to ask."
So I chose a restaurant called Frank. It's attached to the Art Gallery of Ontario and, like almost every restaurant that is in a museum or gallery here in the city, the restaurants are really nice and really accessible. Frank has an upper and lower level and, this may shock you, a ramp between the two. So you have choices anywhere in the restaurant. I went on line to find out what time it opened so I could call and make a reservation and found that you could do so on line. They have a place for comments or special requests, so I typed in a message about having a large wheelchair. When I arrived they had several spaces for me to choose from that would fit me and my chair.
The servers must have had a lot of training in the expectations of disabled customers because I was always asked about my wants, they never deferred to the others, I was treated with the same respect and courtesy as my friends and I was never once spoken to LOUDLY or as if I was a child. Amazing experiences all.
It strikes me again, when going to a place that is physically accessible, that's only the start. The intentional accessibility inside the restaurant was remarkable. Tables were spaced with a bit of room. The staff were completely welcoming and incredibly warm and respectful. The woman who served us served us as a table of customers not as 'a table of two and a wheelchair' as I heard a fellow working at the 'please wait to be seated' desk call out to a waiter in the restaurant who was to seat us. As a representative of the spirit of the restaurants policies on dealing with disabled customers she gets an A++.
I've not mentioned the food and I'm writing about a restaurant. Let me just say 'amazing' and if you don't believe me check out the menu at the link above.
Accessibility, in the end, is the simple and intentional act of providing welcome to all. That's it.
And to be frank, Frank was a wonderfully accessible experience because it didn't feel like it was labouriously accessible and as a result it was natural, not forced.. It felt instead, that their goal was to make us all feel valued.
Joe and I felt, after our friend had to go, we'd been there for almost three hours after all, and strolled home. We chatted about the amazing food and the wonderful service and the terrific company. And that's all.