Accessibility is a complicated issue, and Richmond restaurants run the gamut from fully compliant to torturously not-so. Cobblestones, narrow doorways, upstairs bathrooms, cramped dining rooms, insensitive staffers - the list goes on.
Here's an example of a recent experience, shared by Gail Hyder Wiley of Charlottesville, that's not that unusual for customers with disabilities:
Last night, July 22, my husband and I, visiting from Charlottesville, decided to try Zuppa Restaurant in Shockoe Bottom (103 N. 18th St.), based on a critics' choice in Style Weekly. As we arrived, so did another couple; the gentleman was in a wheelchair. The narrow double doors of the restaurant posed a problem (one side was too narrow for his chair and the other side of the door wouldn't come unstuck despite the employee's standing on a chair to try to unlatch it).
We proposed that perhaps the door that's at 101 N. 18th St., on the corner, marked "Fire Door - please use other door?VbCrLf could be used for entry. The Zuppa staffer had to move a line of chairs that had been placed in front of the door (!), then said he didn't know where the key was to unlock the fire door! At this, we chose to go to another restaurant, not wanting to reward an establishment with our patronage that ignored both safety for the general public and sensitivity to disabled customers.
I know this isn't the example that the restaurant, fire safety officials or the dining critics of Richmond want to leave with visitors or residents of the area. The restaurant's Web contact info isn't functioning, or I would have included them in this e-mail.
Cheryl Duke, editor of Accessible Virginia (www.accessiblevirginia.org) offers the letter writer, and us, a response and invites owners to learn more about making a restaurant accessible to all patrons:
Thank you for contacting us, and you did the correct thing by sending messages to Richmond's fire marshal and Style Weekly.
Zuppa Restaurant is not on the Accessible Virginia Web site. We have a very detailed and concise accessibility survey that each listing on our Web site has completed. I have no idea if Style made any representations about access or if it used the international-access symbol as part of the review. The more important issue is who decided the access, the reviewer or the restaurant? What are the access criteria? We learned over 25 years ago, when our son became a wheelchair user, that accessibility is in the eye of the beholder.
The detailed access information that you find on AccessibleVirginia.com had the genesis of "Mom's list of questions?VbCrLf we used before we ever set foot in a facility. We always called ahead to determine access, and then found out that we got erroneous information quite frequently. "Oh, sure we're accessible,?VbCrLf a staffer would say when we called, only to find two steps at the entrance and no ramp when we arrived. The face-to-face reply to us was, "Oh, we're fine once you get inside.?VbCrLf
You would think after 18 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act that this would no longer be an issue. Alas, we still have a long way to go to eliminate attitudinal and physical barriers, along with movable barriers that hinder people with disabilities.
I applaud your show of solidarity with the customer using a wheelchair. Unfortunately, Zuppa Restaurant is not one of our listings so we have no real recourse in helping with the issue. Since it does not have a functioning Web site, I suggest you call and talk with the restaurant manager about your concerns.
As for the lack of sensitivity, it can remedy this for $59 with a video or DVD in disability-etiquette training specifically for restaurants by calling 804-633-6752. Please pass this information along to the manager, and I will let you know if they call to order the program. If they do, then you will know they are serious about really wanting people with disabilities to patronize their restaurant.
In the meantime, check out the Positive Vibe Cafe. It is innovative with delightful cuisine, owned and staffed by people with disabilities (Stratford Hills Shopping Center, 2825 Hathaway Road, Richmond. 804-560-9622).
Style spoke with Adam Schumm, co-owner of Zuppa. He says the restaurant is aware of its responsibility to provide reasonable access.
"We have taken proper procedures to correct the situation and should have been able to accommodate him,?VbCrLf Schumm says. "It was unfortunate but not typical, and we sincerely apologize to the gentleman for this situation.?VbCrLf
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