“Now we have to get on”: Man in a wheelchair makes Edmonton accessible one bar after one other

EDMONTON – Brad Bartko says he searches the internet for about 30 bars before he finds one that might be suitable for a date with his wife.

“I’m not even exaggerating,” says the 28-year-old Edmontonian, who has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair all his life.

“You have to get someone in a wheelchair to get to the facility.”

Bartko says he can’t even come through the door of some bars and restaurants.

“In some places I can’t go to the bathroom. I can’t sit at a table with my friends group. “

Bartko says Edmonton establishments aren’t nearly as accessible as they could be.

“We have to balance it … because the only difference between me and non-disabled people is that I have four wheels on my bum.”

That’s why Bartko, who sits in his building lobby that leads outside via a ramp, is on a mission.

He started a consulting firm called Disability Accessible by Design. He has already been hired by three bars to train staff on how to serve people with disabilities and make the bar space more welcoming.

“People don’t understand that as they get older they might one day end up in a wheelchair or on a walker,” he says.

“People don’t notice it until it’s too late. That’s why these changes can benefit everyone.”

In January he will begin work at a bar called 1st RND in downtown Edmonton.

“The changes that need to be made … they’re not difficult.” he says.

These include lower tables, wider doors, and downstairs bathrooms. He also recommends changes in the way the waiters serve customers.

“Some waiters get down on their knees to talk to me. (Others have) stunned their talk like they’re talking to me like a baby.

“I’m 28! Don’t talk to me like that … you can still talk to me normally.”

Bartko says another common mistake made by servers is asking the person they’re with what Bartko wants to order.

Franco Camminatore is the General Manager of 1st RND. He says inviting Bartko to his bar was an easy and obvious decision.

“A lot of people don’t realize that having a physical disability doesn’t mean they have a mental one,” said Camminatore.

“I definitely recommend that (bars) at least do their best.”

The advantage for companies is that they can develop a new customer base, he adds.

“We definitely only know through word of mouth that we are available to everyone, so people come.”

Bartko says Toronto is one of the most accessible Canadian cities he’s toured. Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal are up there too. But there is still a lot to do in the country, he says.

“Edmonton is the worst,” he says.

“We can now go outside, on my doorstep, and there is almost a piece of sidewalk missing. For me to go about it … it’s a very bumpy ride.

“These are things we need to fix because let’s face it, it’s the 21st century.”

A 2019 survey of Canadians aged 15 and over with disabilities found that an estimated one in five had at least one disability that restricted activities in daily living.

The Canadian Standards Association describes accessibility on its website as “designing and constructing environments, services and products that people with disabilities can use without barriers and that enable full participation in society”.

The website also states that Ontario was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to enact laws in 2005 that set specific enforceable goals for accessibility. Manitoba followed in 2013 and Nova Scotia in 2017.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Monday, December 13, 2021.

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This story was produced with financial support from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, the Canadian press

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