Visually impaired man in Sudbury narrowly avoids injury with downtown pop-up patio
SUDBURY -- It was supposed to be an ordinary work day for Rob Di Meglio, who was on his way to Independent Living when he ran right into a pop-up patio.
The patio, which wasn't there before, had been permitted by the city and directs people onto a closed lane of the road.
Di Meglio, who is visually impaired, found himself smack dab into the fencing after his guide dog Fiyanna got confused and went underneath.
He got turned around and almost found himself in the path of a passing truck, if it wasn't for the help of a nearby pedestrian.
"I noticed something was odd as I was heading out Durham, like I had reached a dead end," he said. "My guide dog snapped me a little closer. I felt there was a barrier blocking the sidewalk, didn't know what to do so I naturally wanted to go off the sidewalk, onto the lane of Durham and there was big trucks flying by.
"I guessed I stepped wrong and one of the pedestrians-- one of the kind people came and saved me but I don't know if I'd be here telling you about this right now."
Accessibility issues are nothing new to those with physical or visual impairments.
Unsure of what to do, Di Meglio made a video and posted it to Facebook of himself and a co-worker trying to navigate the sidewalk with the obstacles in place.
The two-minute video was viewed more than 2,500 times in its first 24 hours. They never mention the name of the business, as there are now several with downtown patios, but he does suggest those with impairment, given the current status of downtown and the construction, avoid the area until it's safe.
"We should continue accessibility during a pandemic because there are people in the community that need to pay bills and they need to get to banks," he said.
Gray, who is an able-bodied woman, tried to navigate the sidewalk herself in a wheelchair and said it was an eye-opening experience.
"I know there are plenty of videos out right now here within our city limits that are talking about breaking down barriers and that's what we're trying to do - we're not trying to hurt anybody, we're just trying to make people aware that people with disabilities are consumers, too, and they have the right to shop," said Gray.
Want everyone to be safe
She said they love the downtown and have nothing but respect for all of their neighbours. They just want everyone to be safe.
"It's hard to put my feelings in words," said Di Meglio. "I do feel with my title and my role in life that I needed to speak out and speak up because there might be those voices that won't. I have called the city many times in the past and had nothing done. I did call 311 yesterday and the barrier is still up."
He said there could still be patios on the sidewalk, there just needs to be more room for people in wheelchairs to get up and down the street.
Di Meglio said they don't fault the bar and restaurant owners who are already dealing with a lot due to COVID-19. He wants the city to consider accessibility or keep it in mind more during the permitting process.
Downtown Sudbury's councillor Fern Cormier was unavailable for an on-camera interview but did tell CTV News that Independent Living is right.
He saw the video on Monday and immediately escalated it through city channels asking staff to address it. Cormier also sent it to the mayor's office.
Working toward solution
“As soon as we became aware of this issue regarding accessibility, we directed staff to contact Mr. Di Meglio directly and work towards solutions to ensure that any accessibility issues are addressed as quickly as possible," Cormier said in a statement. "We will also ensure that accessibility consultation takes place where needed prior to patio installations in the future."
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Greater Sudbury thanked Independent Living Sudbury Manitoulin for raising concerns regarding a restaurant patio on Durham Street.
"We've been working with the business to address these concerns," the statement said. "Pedestrian access to the sidewalk has reopened by removing planter boxes. The City of Greater Sudbury will continue to work with the restaurant owner to support their economic reopening."
Each patio design is unique, the statement said, given location and the amount of space available for setup.
"In the case of the Durham Street patio, a portion of the adjacent roadway was blocked-off to provide a standard five-foot pedestrian allowance to accommodate those with disabilities," the city said.
"Ultimately, our goal is to support local businesses while also recognizing and respecting the needs of all residents. We appreciate resident feedback."
CTV has also reached out to the Downtown Sudbury BIA for further comment.