I love my city. Our city. I love our theatres, our comedy, our shopping. I love our big city lights and our big, bold sign. I love so much of what this town has to offer, but more than anything, I love our food game. From poutine to poke bowls, from dim-sum to designer donuts, Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world and our food culture reflects that. A boozy brunch with my girlfriends or a night on the town is part of what makes city life, well, city life. Going out has always been part of my lifestyle.
And, for a long time, I took it for granted.
Until recently, it never occurred to me that something as simple as dinner and drinks might be on the endangered list; that the combination of multiple sclerosis and this city’s inaccessible spaces would make it anything but simple. MS and out-of-date design are threatening the world of going out that I love so much. Like most, I took reasonable access to public bathrooms for granted.
Part of the charm of Toronto, and of many cities, is old-school architecture. But overwhelmingly, this means most bar and restaurant bathrooms are located in dungeons beneath steep, sketchy stairs. We’ve all agreed that a safe place to pee is a pretty basic human right; restaurants and bars are required to provide potties. I don’t want to bore you with like, the law, or anything, but these regulations only protect a portion of the population.
More than 10% of Canadians aged 15-64 have disabilities (Stats Canada 2012). It’s higher than 35% for persons over 65. That’s a freaking lot of people who have nowhere to pee in the mind-boggling majority of places.
We don’t say “I’m in the mood to pee”. We say “I HAVE to pee”.
While I wait for society to catch up, I’ve been coming up with some work-arounds to keep me on the bar stool and out in the world. When I’m invited to the cool new gastro-pub in the latest hipster ‘hood, I call ahead or check the AccessNow app to determine whether or not the place has a main floor bathroom. It almost never does, which means it’s gonna be more of a kangaroo rat-kinda night.
These bitches don’t drink – ever. Look it up.
Kangaroo rat-nights mean skipping slushy pink cocktails and generous glasses of wine. Those are classic pee makers. Kangaroo rat-nights mean ordering saltines and hard liquor, because drinking whiskey by the ounce provides a pretty good buzz with none of the inconvenience of water.
Whether we’re talking about gender, race, or ability, bathroom access can be a yardstick of a society, reflective of who, and what, we value. Before MS struck, my fully-functioning-legs privilege let me live in ignorance of this problem. If we don’t speak up, businesses might wrongly assume that accessibility isn’t an unmet need.
Look, I get it. First the gluten people, and now this. It can be tough to make everyone happy in the restaurant biz. But aside from it being the right thing to do, business owners have the opportunity to be leaders in the next big social justice movement. Nobody really likes stairs anyway. Even healthy people groan when they realize they have to walk down the stairs to pee, tipsy and in stilettos.
Still not convinced? Consider this:
Branding: Accessible businesses have bragging rights. Being ethical and inclusive will earn you the respect and repeat business of customers of all abilities.
Reputation: Toronto is respected for its diversity and inclusiveness, as is Canada. As a business owner you help create and maintain that reputation.
Money: Accessibility not only affects disabled persons, transgendered people, and parents of small children – it affects anyone who wants to hang out with them. Accessible businesses reach more people. More people means more money. Don’t you want more money?
The Law: Many upgrades can be done inexpensively, and will pay off in the long run. The deadline for compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is 2025, so be forward thinking and do it now, while it’s still cool, before that nagging B, the government, gets all up in your face.
Here’s an adorable picture of me. Don’t you want to serve me a drink, and let me pee in your powder room?
There are accessibility barriers beyond bathroom access that haven’t been dealt with here. But bathroom rights are a hot topic right now, so while we’re thinking about it, debating it and legislating it, because we know how effing essential it is, we must remember to consider everyone. Disability is not a new phenomenon, and sadly, nor is over-looking this population. In an era of unprecedented social awareness, even unintentional obstacles that exclude persons with disabilities from reasonable participation, can feel like discrimination.
I know a well-curated cheese plate and artisanal beer-flight aren’t going to fix my MS. But being able to participate in the social world around me is what makes life worth living. So, let’s make a deal – you provide inclusive facilities, and everyone I know will social media the hell out of your business. It’s time to invite everyone to the table and to la toilette.