Friday, March 20, 2015

Two and a Wheelchair

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.

That's all.


clairesmum said...

Wonderfully ordinary.

Jammy said...

I was sitting in a nice restaurant once and heard the cook say to our waiter, "Ask the wheelchair if she wants her food cut up when we plate it." I'm coming to Toronto in a few weeks. I'm going to Franks!

Princeton Posse said...

And that's how it should be!

Anonymous said...

My brain went from the title to the idea of 'two wheelchairs' and wondered if it was going to be a post about how places can cope with ONE person in a party being in a wheelchair, but failed when it came to TWO.

'Cope' - which leapt to mind - is SO the wrong word, especially after reading your nice post about having a good experience - but restaurants should be able to cope with a whole party in wheelchairs, if necessary. It sounds as if Frank's would have far less trouble than most with that situation (again, I started to say 'problem' instead of situation - my mind still needs quite a bit of work). I always feel bad when I have to use my walker, and then find a place to tuck it out of the way, never completely close and convenient, because I need it, but the restaurant is cramming in as many tables as they possibly can.


Anonymous said...

I wondered whether your friends ask you to choose the restaurant bcos you are veggie and know where there is a good choice for vegetarians...
This is just me, but I feel when I ask friends with particular needs out to eat, I should be able to select a restaurant that caters for all of us. Not that I should always choose the restaurant and specially not if I'm the one from out of town as your friend was in this story. But especially when my friends are from out of town, I feel I should do the work of checking out the restaurant.
I hate asking if it's accessible, I thought it was because generally you don't get a useful answer to that question, they will say something like yes we have ramped access at the side, but then when you ask about the toilets they are 'ordinary toilets with level access' (what???). Your post has me working out that what I really want to ask is, whether the restaurant is WELCOMING, not accessible. Accessible isn't enough, we want to have a nice time too. So often it comes back to O'Brien's service accomplishments, yes presence, yes participation, but also DIGNITY AND RESPECT, and PRESUME COMPETENCE. And, frankly, there isn't that much choice bcos the places that ARE welcoming can be few and far between :-(.