How accessible are we here in the Falls? Daniella Slon’s very personal assessment of local establishments — and the importance of including everyone.
Last fall, I heard about a book club meeting being held at the Wissahickon Brewing Company. I love books and enjoy meeting like-minded people, so I signed up. I had never been to the brewery as I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I was looking forward to checking it out. As I approached the entrance, I was hit by a sadly familiar, sinking feeling. I looked at the two big steps into the establishment (no handrail); and I knew I could not get inside.
It is difficult to explain what it feels like when one cannot get inside a building due to a physical disability. It feels like there is a big sign proclaiming “People with Physical Disabilities Not Welcome.” It hurts. I didn’t know anyone inside to text for help and was not comfortable asking a stranger, so I left.
I have not always had a physical disability – I have only struggled with stairs and walking long distances in the last five years as a result of the slow progression of a rare form of congenital muscular dystrophy (type SEPN1) I was born with.
Prior, I never gave any thought to stairs, sidewalks and accessibility. Now it is at the forefront of my mind every day. Before I visit a business for the first time, I Google-Earth it so I can zoom in and assess whether or not I will be able to get in. It can be exhausting! I cannot imagine how much harder it is for someone in a wheelchair.
According to the US Census Bureau, more than 20 million people ages 18 and older reported having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs in 2015, representing 7.1% of the civilian non-institutionalized population. I was unable to find any information on the number of physically disabled people in Philadelphia, let alone in East Falls – but I cannot be the only physically challenged person here.
What is important to remember, though we don’t like to think about it, is that anyone can become physically disabled at any time through age, illness or accident. So if you are reading this article and thinking – this doesn’t affect me, think again. Accessibility concerns all of us. I am hoping this article will foster new awareness about accessibility in East Falls, and help promote it in our caring community.
I was very encouraged by the attitudes of business owners I contacted for this article; particularly those with businesses that were not accessible. (I focused primarily on places to eat and drink, working off the listings on EastFallsInsider.com.)
Franklin’s Pub (3521 Bowman) is inaccessible. There are two steep sets of stairs to access the deck and more stairs with no handrail at the main entrance. When I contacted the pub via their Facebook page, Kira Ansuini, Assistant General Manager, thanked me for bringing this to their attention and later texted me to let me know she had spoken to the owners who had agreed to install a handrail by the stairs at the main entrance!
Of course, it is not lost on me that handrails do not help people in wheelchairs, but it’s a start, a great first step. Kira also invited me to meet with her and the owner Paul to discuss other ways they could make their business more accessible.
Mike Murphy, Manager at Billy Murphy’s Irish Pub (3333 Conrad), was also very amenable to discussing accessibility with me. Although their main entrance door looks accessible, once you open the door which is on ground level you are confronted by a set of large stairs in front of you – but at least they have handrails.
“Imagine how many face plants after St. Patrick’s Day or Eagles Super Bowl win there would have been (without them),” he joked. Their patio is accessible by ramp, but Mike explained that due to the building design, it was not possible to make the pub accessible. However, Mike told me they have some regulars who are war vets in wheelchairs who they’ll help over the 4-inch step from the side entrance with no problems. “We’re always happy to lend a hand,” he said.
Other eateries that are not accessible include Fiorino (3572 Indian Queen), Cranky Joe’s (Conrad and Indian Queen), Frank’s Pizza (3600 Fisk Ave), Laxmi’s Indian Grill (3492 Tilden), Foghorn Philly (4213 Ridge), and Milo (yet to open at 3426 Conrad). Note: Accessibility barriers are not always obvious. The last three of these establishments, for example, appear pretty accessible but even one step without a railing creates an impasse.
Now some good news! Although the Trolley Car Café (3269 South Ferry Road) looks inaccessible from the front where there are stairs and no handrails, there is a ramp around the rear which allows access to their dining room and patio. Jasmine Fields, General Manager, explained that “because the Bathey is a historical building we cannot put handrails out front.”
It should also be noted that the Wissihickon Brewing Company (3705 W. School House Lane) has recently made great efforts towards becoming accessible. It has added signage at the front of the brewery directing patrons to an accessible entrance on the west side of the brew house and it has also added a disabled parking spot close to that entrance.
Founded Coffee and Pizza (3300 Henry Ave) is a physically disabled person’s dream space. It has a lovely outdoor patio space and inside is spacious and welcoming. I asked the owner, Fahri Demirpence whether he thought about accessibility when opening the business: “It is important to think of everyone, “ he said, “We are also near a hospital and on a medical campus, so it was very important to be thoughtful and inclusive.”
Vault + Vine (3570 Midvale) renovated their building that used to house a thrift store. Peicha Chang, the owner, explained to me that they wanted to “ensure that (their) entrance was accessible not only because code requires it, but because our vision was to create a welcoming space that everyone could enjoy together.”
Vault + Vine also has a disabled parking spot. Peicha did acknowledge that their event space on the second floor is not accessible due to financial restrictions but that she hopes to address it in the future.
Other restaurants that are accessible include Slices Pizza (4249 Ridge), In Riva (4116 Ridge), Apollo’s Pizza (New Queen and Conrad), Golden Crust Pizza III (3732 Ridge), Shan Chuan (4211 Ridge), Majors Market (Ridge and Midvale), and Le Bus East Falls (4201 Ridge),
Although East Falls Eye Associates are clearly not an eatery – I wanted to give them a special shout out. When I made my first appointment, I asked if their office was accessible and they explained there were stairs with no handrail but that they had a movable ramp they would put out for me. Now every time I make an appointment, the ramp is in place to guide me inside. Such a small but incredibly meaningful gesture!
Overall, in undertaking this research, I was very encouraged by the attitudes of business owners I contacted. Already some of them have made positive changes to be more inclusive and I am hopeful that more businesses will endeavor to be accessible.
(Accessibility is) not just the right thing; it’s profoundly the right thing to do, because the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives…?
This quote was written by Steve Krug, an information architect with regard to making the Internet accessible to all, but it struck me as a powerful pronouncement on why we should all strive to make our world as accessible as possible to people with disabilities. It should be our goal as the community of East Falls to strive to always improve the lives of all our residents and make East Falls a welcoming neighborhood.
More info about Philadelphia accessibility requirements here.
About Daniella Slon… Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Daniella ditched a legal career in favor of seeing the world. She lived in Jerusalem Israel, before ending up in Philadelphia, USA. She has lived in East Falls since 2012 which she didn’t know existed for the ten years prior she lived in Center City. For the past 15 years she has worked in the nonprofit field as a digital marketer and donor prospect researcher honing her innate curiosity and love of everything digital. She also does freelance social media and website marketing on the side.