NEWBURYPORT — A Portsmouth-based group has added Newburyport to its online dining accessibility map, which includes local 30 restaurants, for wheelchair users and people with mobility challenges to use in planning where to dine out.
Access Navigators began the initiative in its hometown of Portsmouth to create a list of accessible restaurants for people with mobility issues in order to stay engaged in the community, said Anne Weidman, Access Navigators inspector general. Too often, she said, mobility challenges can lead to isolation and a social and physical disconnection with communities.
Leaving the house can be stressful, Weidman added, but having this list can give people the ability to plan dining out in advance. The online guide lists 17 communities in New England, including Haverhill, Newburyport and Hampton.
“Newburyport looks great,” Weidman said. “There’s a lot of restaurants listed. We try to give a suggestion on where to park.”
Jennie Donahue, chair of the Newburyport Commission on Disabilities, said the accessible dining list has been a long-time project finally coming to fruition. One of the commission’s volunteers, Brian Greenberg, got in touch with Access Navigators over the summer after learning about its mission, Donahue noted.
“We are very excited,” Donahue said. “It is something we’ve been wanting to figure out and have that information in that place for people to figure out dining out, if they have company and things like that. It’s a way for people to figure out where they can go if they have a physical disability.”
In Newburyport, she said she has received several requests over the years about accessible dining and wanted to create one place where residents and visitors could read about where to go.
The Access Navigators team assesses local restaurants and cultural attractions for physical barriers that impact accessibility, Weidman said. The group uses an online form for data collection and, to ensure reliability, the group uses a team of local residents who are wheelchair users as “fact checkers.” Once the Commission on Disabilities got involved, Donahue said she sent out three volunteers — Arthur Levine, Lisa Rowan and Greenberg — to talk to restaurant owners if they qualified for the list in terms of wheelchair access.
The online map and listing allows people to know what to expect if they visit a restaurant, said Weidman, who added the list is meant to be simple rather than meeting strict requirements compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under each restaurant lists what the entryway looks like for a wheelchair, if the restaurants are handicapped accessible, if a wheelchair can fit at a table, whether there is appropriate parking and what visual access as relates to the menu, Donahue said.
“It’s real basic, it’s not intimidating, its not anything that is authoritarian or official reporting or anything,” Donahue said. “It’s nothing like that at all. It’s really just something much more streamlined. It’s not scary, it’s not anything that any establishment should say no to unless they know of course you can’t get in the door.”
Donahue added, for example, if there is an issue with a wheelchair getting to the bathroom, the solution could be as simple as moving a trash barrel out or some storage boxes out of the path, making it easy for a person with a mobility challenge to get by.
Some Newburyport restaurants listed include West Row Cafe, The Black Cow, Port Tavern and the Newburyport Brewing Co., Weidman said. Donahue said the listing is really a “win-win” for local restaurants and people with mobility challenges.
“This is going to be so beneficial for both the businesses and the folks who are limited to where they can go in terms of dining and things like that, they now have a pretty good spectrum to choose from,” Donahue said.
The list can be edited and updated if a change needs to be made to a listing, or if new restaurants want to be added. The group is looking for additional funding to eventually build the website into a mobile app, to increase accessibility. If a Newburyport restaurant owner is interested in being added to the list, email Donahue at email@example.com.
To view the Newburyport accessible dining listing, visit https://accessnavigators.com/newburyport-ma/
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.