Why al fresco dining has become a problem for people with disabilities

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Outdoor dining has given a lifeline to restaurants who were unable to serve people indoors during a fast-spreading pandemic. To survive, restaurant owners and managers moved as many tables as they could from inside to outside. Sometimes that meant moving diners to a parking lot or even to a parking structure. But it often meant moving tables and chairs to a sidewalk. 

Those sidewalks also serve as a pedestrian thoroughfare. If you’re able-bodied, it’s not much of a problem to shimmy through the diners or just go around them. But if you’re in a wheelchair or on crutches, it can present a challenge.

Television writer David Radcliff uses a wheelchair and says he has to prepare in advance for traveling down sidewalks.

“A lot of businesses are thinking first about customers who don’t have disabilities. And a lot of places don’t think of us as potential customers as well,” Radcliffe says. “What I’m seeing now in areas like Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Studio City, a lot of restaurants are pulling their tables out and blocking us. And during a pandemic that’s potentially very scary because I’d like to be in and out as quickly as I can.” 

He often has to wait for restaurant workers to clear dishes away or move the table when he has to pass. 

“It’s a little humiliating at times or certainly inconvenient in the moment, and you just have to hope that the business owner is attentive and responsive. Because otherwise, you could be sitting there for several minutes without access to the sidewalk,” Radcliffe says. 

He adds that the issue highlights why it’s imperative to be as inclusive as possible. 

“When it comes to disability in general — whether you’re talking about representation in media or access to businesses — most people don’t think of it unless they themselves are disabled or they have a family member who is. And that’s part of the challenge too — is getting folks to think about this stuff before it becomes an intimate part of their lives.”