Games venues accessible but many GTA stores, hotels, restaurants are not Sarah-Joyce Batters
The Toronto Star, June 13, 2015
Organizers are touting this summer’s Pan and Parapan Am Games as the most accessible in history. But critics say that accessibility has to extend outside the bubble of the Games and into the bubble tea shops.
“Tourists don’t eat and shop at the stadium. They’re not going to sleep at the stadium,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
All 31 venues may be fully accessible, but just steps from the Parapan closing ceremonies, it’s a different story.
Anyone leaving the Nathan Phillips Square festivities on Aug. 15 with a wheelchair and a hankering for roti, pho, Mediterranean or kimchi will face steps at nearby Dundas St. W. restaurants – from a few pesky centimetres to a full nine-stair flight.
With recent news that venues are almost $60 million under budget, Lepofsky cheekily suggested that chunk of change would have gone a long way to making the tourism and hospitality industry more hospitable.
But private business owners shouldn’t expect any government cash to increase accessibility anytime soon.
Despite calling the Parapan Am Games “an incredible spring board to inspire Ontarians and our business communities to embrace accessibility,” Brad Duguid, the minister responsible for economic development, said no funding was on its way.
The province will employ legislative tweaks and beefed up enforcement, according to a recently announced 10-year accessibility action plan.
“It’s not about incentives or rebates. It’s about a good business case. And that’s what we’re planning to sell,” said Duguid.
The province estimates improved accessibility by 2020 could generate $1.6 billion in new tourism.
In the meantime, business owners could implement simple fixes such as Braille menus, ramps and customer-service training focused on people with disabilities even before the Pan Am Games start on July 10, Lepofsky said.
Luke Anderson, co-founder of the Stopgap Foundation, which builds temporary ramps for businesses, says they haven’t received the increased demand they were hoping for ahead of the Games.
“I’m worried that businesses are going to miss this fantastic opportunity to welcome all of these visitors to our city, many of which will have disabilities,” he said.
Games organizers recently held a conference to encourage business owners to adapt for customers with disabilities. But it was not well attended, said Anderson, who was a guest speaker.
Hypothetically, if the $60 million venue surplus were handed out, Anderson said it would effectively implement his project, something he would be happy to see.
“This isn’t the best solution out there,” he said. “Our program is, as its name suggests, a stopgap measure to a problem that really needs a permanent solution.”