Planning a Memorable (and Accessible) Valentine’s Night Out

Valentine’s Day, one of the most popular nights of the year to go out to eat, is right around the corner.  Flowers?  Check.  Reservations?  Check.  Accessibility?  Not so fast.

You might expect accessibility to a restaurant in a major city to be as standard as chocolate on February 14th.  But many of these establishments lack the basic ability to allow someone with a disability to enjoy a meal.

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that businesses must provide “reasonable accommodations” for access.  This act grandfathers many older buildings in so that no costly changes need to be made to them — and there are LOTS of old buildings in Philly.  The act is also poorly enforced, leaving most restaurants unable to be accessed.  Many locations claim to be “accessible,” but this is a broad phrase which lacks standardization.  What is accessible for one person may not be accessible for another.

So how do you know if that popular steak house is going to be barrier-free for you or your Valentine?  Here are some tips to find out before leaving the house.

Ask ahead of time.  Call in advance, request to speak to a manager, and ask specific questions.  Ask questions like:

    • Are there stairs to get in?
    • Is there a railing?
    • How wide is the doorway?
    • How large are the bathrooms?
    • Is the bathroom on the same floor?
    • How large is the waiting area?
    • Is the area well lit?
    • Do the tables have booths or chairs?
    • How tall are the tables?
    • Is there any construction in the immediate area?

Know your needs.  Make specific requests.  Ask for a table close to the door or in a less distractible area.  Ask to have one chair removed if you are using a wheelchair.  Consider aisle sizes.  Think about going during non-peak hours and days.  Look at the menu online beforehand in case the print is too small or lighting is poor.

Do a visual investigation.  Use Google Map for a topographical view and Street View to assess accessibility from the outside.  Look for nearby parking, ramps, and doorway considerations.  Use sites such as Yelp to find pictures of the interior.

Research sites.  Websites such as Drink Philly, Philadelphia Restaurants and MenuPages provide lists of local restaurants and bars which are accessible and “wheelchair friendly.”

Utilize appsDownload apps, such as AXSMap and AbleRoad, which configure comments, reviews and ratings for accessible restaurants.  You can provide your own thoughts to help others and keep track of which ones suited you best.  While relatively new, both of these apps are free and available for iPhone and Android.  They are also accessible on the Web.

Don’t let different definitions of “accessible” ruin your special night on the town. If you follow these tips, you and your Valentine are sure to have a memorable evening!

We want to hear from you! What are you favorite accessible Valentine’s destinations in Philly?

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