WATCH ABOVE: Accessibility advocates say Parapan Am Games athletes and spectators using mobility aids will face barriers in Toronto. One man is doing what he can to find a solution. Christina Stevens reports.
TORONTO — Athletes and spectators are arriving in Toronto for the Parapan Am Games, but some who require mobility aids could encounter difficulties accessing certain businesses.
“Athletes and their families — they won’t be able to get into every restaurant they want to check out and that’s a disappointing thing,” said Luke Anderson, founder of the StopGap Foundation.
StopGap has been doing what it can to make it easier to overcome physical barriers, building custom-made wooden ramps that can be deployed when needed, so people who cannot navigate stairs can still get inside.
Anderson has already made inroads at one major tourist draw in the city — Kensington Market.
Several StopGap ramps can be seen in doorways of popular locations such as Jimmy’s Coffee, where a red StopGap ramp welcomes customers inside.
“It’s not a huge deal to put it out there for us, but it can make a huge difference to a lot of people,” said Manager Rachel Dineen.
Anderson said that businesses that get onboard will reap the rewards, both in goodwill and increased revenue.
Yet there are still countless businesses with only stairs as an option.
“We have a long way to go,” said Anderson.
Tom’s Place is just across the street from Jimmy’s Coffee, but Anderson said he could not get inside due to a single stair.
He was directed to another door, where there was a narrow ramp, but there was also a ledge Anderson said he could not go over in his electric chair.
Tom’s staff said their contractor had assured them the ramp was accessible, but they also said they could bring clothes outside.
When the store owner arrived at work he was eager to talk with Anderson about building a ramp and said they would make it their first priority.
“This is a family store, it’s a community, a great area and everybody should be able to come,” said Tom Mihalik.
“We failed at that and I apologize to everybody but we will make the change.”
While Anderson’s foundation is pretty much on its own, some U.S. cities have reportedly blitzed local businesses before major events to educate them on accommodating people with disabilities.
Before the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, Toronto2015 hosted a conference to provide information to interested business.
They said 175 signed up but when compared to the number of businesses in the city, which has 8,000 restaurants alone, it’s clear that more needs to be done.
Anderson said an influx of Parapan Am Games athletes and spectators could help to open the eyes of more business owners.
“That’s when the real change is going to happen,” said Anderson. “I’m excited about that.”
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