CBC News, Aug. 11, 2021
For a blind person like Yvon Clement, obstacles are everywhere.
Everyday objects like sandwich boards, bike racks and sidewalk patios can pose a danger for those who use a cane to get around.
Patios that only have a rope-and-post barrier can pose an accessibility issue because the open space between the posts can’t be detected by cane.
“There’s nothing there to indicate that there’s something coming up,” said Clement, who has been blind since childhood.
“That’s how it’s dangerous to us, because we can trip over a table, fall over somebody, and there we go their food is on the ground.”
In response, HRM’s department of planning and development is changing its policy for certain types of sidewalk patios.
There are more than 80 establishments in Halifax with licences allowing temporary patios on the sidewalk or road.
By Aug. 30, these patios will be required to have a barrier at ground level that a cane can detect. Patios that already have a solid barrier will not need to be changed.
The city says it received feedback from a blind resident about patio accessibility issues last month and wanted to act immediately.
Challenges for restaurants
Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, said most restaurant operators agree with making their space more accessible.
But he said a new rule in the middle of the busy summer season poses a challenge.
“The knowledge base of people who can help them do that is not very large in this geographical area, plus if it requires special equipment from the supply side, there’s just nothing out there,” Stewart said.
Cost is also a factor, as many restaurants are still dealing with financial losses from the pandemic.
“No one has any extra money [in our industry] – people are so far behind,” Stewart said.
Stewart suggested government grants to help restaurants complete these changes.
Lui Greco, the manager of regulatory affairs for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, agrees that government incentives should be easier to access for restaurants making improvements to the accessibility of their space.
Changes overdue, say advocates
He said this new policy is a step in the right direction, but it has taken too long for these issues to be taken seriously by the government and businesses.
“Organizations like CNIB and other disability groups, we’ve been standing on the rooftops, shouting this out for years,” Greco said.
The city says it consulted accessibility advocates and a diversity and inclusion team to create this policy.
But Greco said no positive change will occur in the lives of blind people if this new rule isn’t enforced.
“Unfortunately the bar is set pretty low right now,” he said. “Putting in enforcement mechanisms with teeth, I think would help raise the bar and at least not prolong the inequity that exists when we’re talking about people with disabilities.”
City to follow up this month
Planning and development staff will be following up with restaurants at the end of the month to make sure the new standards have been met and helping with required changes, if necessary.
Greco said some people may not think these changes are necessary because no one in their social circle has a disability, but accessible spaces are crucial, and everyone can benefit from them.
He said people should put their money where their mouth is, and not patronize establishments that have accessibility barriers.