HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Accessibility problems

As in disabled access, of course. Herewith my mumblings.

So I heard someone say, "Of course they're accessible. It says so on all the reviews." Oh, my. There are a lot of places out there that say they're wheelchair accessible when someone telephones to check. But when one gets there (if you don't further inquire about what whoever answers the phone means by that), one discovers that yes, there's a step or tow or three. Or that the guest is expected to go in through the kitchen or the freight elevator or wait while the staff tries to find people to bodily lift the guest and their mobility device, whether wheelchair or scooter, into the establishment.

And then there are the ramps that require a 180-degree turn but are so narrow that there's not enough room to make the turn no matter how many switchbacks are done. We won't even get into restroom problems.

I know the ADA is very complicated. I've read it. And I know disabilities differ; I was a nurse for many, many years, and what someone with a stroke can use, someone with, say, a spinal cord injury may find un-helpful.

The fact is that many, many publications and websites when they're filling out the details on a place will either copy the info from somewhere else or call the restaurant and take the word of whoever they talk to, who means well, I'm sure, but has never really thought about it. We have a disabled family member, and have to carefully assess whether the scooter will get inside and then have a place so that our family member can be at a table in the scooter and not block aisles.

Anyone else have experience with this?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Most people have no idea what disability accessibility really means, and that even includes a lot of people with disabilities. I don't have a disability, but I've worked on research projects assessing accessibility at health care facilities and learned a lot about accessibility standards in the process. I'm a big fan of universal design. For most people "accessibility" means a ramp at the entrance and elevators and/or lifts to get from one floor to another. No one ever thinks about how high the paper towel dispensers from the ground or how to use relay phone service if a hearing impaired person needs to make a reservation. In some ways technology is improving things - I recently saw a man with impaired hearing using his iPhone to type his food order at a deli counter - but it's a double edged sword as people who aren't in the know begin to expect more of individual technologies and less of infrastructure.

    On the bright side, I stopped at a gas station last weekend that actually had insulated covers on the pipes under the sink!

    2 Replies
    1. re: mpjmph

      I agree that most have no clue. I use a rolling walker and will soon need to use a scooter or power chair. I don't have much trouble with restaurants as I do with hotels. Most restaurants have gone out of the way to help me and make me comfortable but I have been in many a hotel where the accessible designated room has not enough room around the bed, carpeting so thick that it's hard to roll the wheels and a shower without a bench or hand held sprayer that I have to step over and in to. I have now learned that I have to go to higher end hotel chains and ask for an accessible suite or king and even they will tell me that they can not guarantee the specific room I ask for. I even found a hotel that have handicap designated rooms on the second floor with no elevator!

      It's frustrating and I could go on and on with experiences. Maybe that's why I don't see many people out with a walker, maybe they just stay home.

      1. re: LikestoEatout

        I can't agree more!! I, too, need a rolling walker most of the time, and will also soon need to adapt to life on wheels. I have found that many restaurants have access into the place, but then place the tables so close together it is difficult to maneuver. And where do you store walker while you eat? This is more often a problem in upper end local eateries rather than chains. While the intimate surroundings are good "atmosphere," it makes getting in and out a challenge and disrupts the other diners.

        I haven't stayed in many motels/hotels since my disability manifested itself, but I will be careful what I ask when I make reservations in the future.

    2. My mom is in a wheelchair and I’ve taken her everywhere from the Crystal Cruise to Pie & Burger in Pasadena. I don’t mind going through the kitchen, in fact, I like to say “Hi” to the cooking staff. It’s fun to see these pros work. You would not believe the number of pies in the kitchen at Pie & Burger. Businesses have made great efforts to accommodate their few disabled customers and we always find them very willing to help us. I thank them all for their efforts and we are willing to try to work around less than perfect retrofits.

      1. My M-I-L is completely wheelchair bound, and we discuss the availability of access for her, when making all reservations. Only in one case have we been disappointed. That particular restaurant said that they WERE wheelchair accessible, and it turned out that M-I-L would have to be carried down two narrow, dark flights of stairs. Not quite what we had anticipated. We booked elsewhere and canceled at that moment.

        Good luck, and do ask - requesting full details.


        3 Replies
        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Ah yes, Stairs!! I remember when we flew to Barbados 1st class because it was easier to manage the wheelchair. It was a big Delta jet, I believe, and everything went well. When we landed and they rolled a stairway up to the plane, I wondered how they were going to get that wheelchair down. I figured they would use one of those scissor-bed trucks that the caterers employed. Wrong! Four, big, surly bearers came slowly forward lugging a special, narrow wheelchair with extended handles. My only regret is my camera was in the suitcase, but as they descended the stairs, the scene (head back, eyes tightly closed, maybe hyperventilating) is etched in my memory. I guess they just pop the chute and push you out in coach.

          1. re: BN1

            Whew - I was sweating it for a moment. At least they had it covered. I can imagine a scene like Cleopatra being carried to her "royal barge."

            Glad that it worked out well. I have now learned to ask a LOT more questions.


            1. re: BN1

              Yep, my ex went through that on our trip back from France where he'd managed to shatter his leg. At least we had someone from the airport to push him through the airport so I could manage our two bags. Thank goodness we'd only packed one carry-on each for the whole trip.

          2. For those of you who are interested the following link is for the ADA requirements in all types of facilities. Obviously there are going to be more issues with a building built long ago than one built in the last three decades, but even some of the newer ones are woefully inadequate. I'm not saying this is an easy read, but it can be enlightening.


            1 Reply
            1. re: KaimukiMan

              Yeah, I've read them. Makes your head spin. But as what's called Universal Design becomes more common, it should be easier. Still, I keep thinking about Itzhak Perlman being forced to use a freight elevator.... As to entering through the kitchen, yes, that's one way to do it, but it's a shame that it's necessary. And there are a lot of kitchens where things are just as snug as out on the restaurant floor. (I know people who don't WANT to see the kitchens lest they lose their appetite.)

            2. not a big fan of ADA req's. I think a debt of gratitude is owed to any establishment that makes itself accessible to wheelchair/walker/scooter bound patrons. It isn't cheap, nor is it logistically very feasible sometimes(old buildings, space constraints). Instead of carping about having to enter through the kitchen/service elevator or complaining the ramp is too narrow, how about saying thank you for making it possible for you to come into THEIR establishment!?

              3 Replies
              1. re: nkeane

                I know this is going to end up locked, but since restaurants have to have licenses issued by the city/town, they have to be accessible to all citizens.

                If you'd like to open a private club, then you don't have to worry about accessibility.

                1. re: nkeane

                  Yes, just like people of color should be happy that we let them through the door... Personally, I don't believe that anyone should be allowed out in public only at someone else's convenience.

                  1. re: nkeane

                    This is an astoundingly callous attitude. "Thank you for letting me be brought in the back door like the weekly fish shipment."

                  2. Our standard modus operandi is for the Mrs. to scope out a restaurant before we make the effort to get me inside. My power chair is 30 inches wide (and the overall length, wheel to wheel is 48 inches), most standard doorways are 36 inches, excluding side moldings, so it gets pretty tight trying to drive through one. Double doors at some restaurants can also be deceiving, you think you will have an extra wide opening, but are surprised when you open the doors and find a door jam in the center.

                    Of course the other issue is how closely tables are packed together, despite being able to get inside, you need to find a table where you can roll up the chair and not block the passage of staff or patrons. Some restaurants have a greater ratio of booths to free standing tables, and a booth does not work for us. This is when it helps to dine on week nights, or early, to avoid making it unsafe or inconvenient for others, and to find an available table that works.

                    Another issue is my size and the size of my chair, there is no way I can roll up and park the front of my chair and my legs under a table, I have to eat siting sideways next to the table, which is a real inconvenience if you need to say, cut your meat with knife and fork, and I end up with the Mrs. doing the slicing.

                    So when some place is listed as or calls itself "accessible" that could cover a very wide range of variables, and minimally meeting ADA requirements is never a guarantee that the "accessibility" is actually practical. We have also found that there is a wide variation in accessible hotel rooms, a lowered peephole in the door and a grab bar or two in a bathroom doesn't really have much of an impact on accessibility. On the other hand some of the bigger hotels do a pretty good job, with roll in showers and sinks you can roll your chair under, etc. We found that for example the Mirage in Las Vegas offers two types of accessible rooms (you can see the descriptions and floor plans on their website) the "fully accessible" room even includes a lift mechanism. We also found out not all accessible hotel rooms are "advertised", we checked in to the Pechanga Casino Resort in Temecula, California recently and booked a two room suite that we had really enjoyed in previous stays when I was ambulatory, and after checking in learned that we could have reserved the same suite in an accessible configuration.

                    So it seems that it helps to ask ahead of time and also don't be afraid to ask for assistance when you are there, restaurant staff seem to always be willing to move a table or chair or open doors (which is really useful when you have to pass through a door, an antechamber, and another door.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChinoWayne

                      I will add, that it seems some establishments, while believing that they are compliant and accommodating, fail at execution. As an example in a shopping center that was constructed recently (within the last four years), and designed by architects and engineers working for the developers, one of the restaurants that I would like to try (a branch of a local BBQ chain) is surrounded by parking lots on two sides, a drive way on another and the street on another. with parking places strung out along two perimeter walls, and then extending out considerably.

                      The main entrance (and as far as we can tell the only entry/exit except some mandatory fire exits hiding somewhere) is fronted by a nice, wide (10 feet, or so) concrete/stone walkway to the door, and with the parking lot pavement in front of the walkway stripped off, so cars will not block it. However, there is no curb cut where this walkway meets the parking lot.

                      Extending to the side of the walkway is a sidewalk, abutting the immediately adjacent parking spaces. There are about four or so marked disabled parking spaces here, with a curb cut between two of them. The problem is that the sidewalk is a mere 36 or 30 inches wide, and management has placed four disabled parking signs, mounted on 8 foot steel poles in the sidewalk adjacent to the disabled parking spaces. So in reality, the full width of the sidewalk is blocked to a wheel chair user, unless they have a VERY NARROW ASSED chair.

                      We have not tried rolling me out of the van to try to make it to the door of this place, if we remember to bring a tape measure with us some time, maybe we will give it a try. And then, of course, we will then have to see if we can navigate the front door.

                      Its kind of incredible to me, that with all the awareness of ADA in the commercial and municipal sectors, that these places fail at something so basic, especially when building from scratch.

                    2. I don't think hoping for a reasonable way to get into a restaurant and enjoy their offerings is a remarkable thing. But I certainly am grateful to those places that provide such, and even more so to those that go above and beyond what's required, like Union Square Cafe a number of years ago who calmly handed a friend of mine a Braille menu and apologized because the daily specials hadn't been transcribed yet.

                      But the fact is that unlike being a member of most minorities, any of us could become disabled. As we live longer, we're more apt to need a little extra accomodation in one way or another. So it's good business to provide it. No one is complaining about the places that do. We'd just like more of it, thank you.

                      1. With a parent who recently became disabled, I've only just started noticing how many establishments in my city are not accessible. I remember calling ahead once and the establishment said they were fully accessible. Unfortunately, they forgot to mention the 2 steep steps infront of the restaurant. We had to cancel our reservation because we couldn't lift the wheelchair up the steps.

                        Often, I have to check out beforehand whether there are steps, whether there is a ramp, whether her wheelchair can fit in person. Admittedly, you never notice how important the little things are in making a difference for comfort between table spacing and even table height. Sometimes, even cups, forks, chopsticks, mugs are too heavy for my parent to lift. We often have to bring our own very light cutlery and dishes so she can manage to eat.

                        Thankfully there is still the take-out option for places where the wheelchair doesn't quite work. No point depriving yourself of good food, even if you eat it at home.

                        1. This is interesting. When we built out our wine bar/ wine shop 5 years ago our city building department and the county health people both reviewed the plans on paper and then had on-site reviews as well. I think it was the city that was responsible for the ADA requirements and they checked everything in detail: bathrooms, width of open spaces, counter height, etc.. The building was 30+ years old but we were changing the use, so we had to comply fully.

                          From what I recall, though, the rules are different in spaces that have been in place for years prior to the ADA laws. It's possible that spaces that have had no new construction may be in a 'best they can do' kindof category. Please correct me if that's wrong.

                          I DO know that any wheelchair-bound guests we had were very appreciative of the accessibility.