A hard-earned thirst might need a big cold beer but sometimes it also needs a venue people with disabilities feel comfortable going to. Two men-about-town say there’s one venue that has gone out of the way to make them welcome. They wish more places were like Handle Bar, writes TOM O’CALLAGHAN.
Jye Yates and Tamati Poingdestre love to hit the nightclubs, but it is not always easy to get in the door when you are in a wheelchair.
The problem is not the bouncers on the door – it’s what is beneath their feet: steps. Some nightclubs and late-night eateries lack access ramps or get too crowded to move through.
Luckily for the men, some clubs let them in around the back, and bouncers are happy to run and get them drinks when the place gets busy. It’s why Mr Yates and Mr Poingdestre often end up at The Star Bar by the end of the evening.
And the beginning? Handle Bar in Mitchell Street. Why? Because before its grand opening in July, Handle Bar’s owners did something neither Mr Yates and Mr Poingdestre had heard of. They asked the boys over to road test the business’ layout.
“It was great they were thinking about disabled people because other people don’t do that,” Mr Yates said.
They might have a handrail installed in the bathroom but that doesn’t mean all people with a disability can use them.
Finding toilets are the priority when Mr Yates and Mr Poingdestre plan their night out. Both have cerebral palsy and use motorised wheelchairs.
“A lot of places’ disabled bathrooms are not big enough,” Mr Poingdestre said.
He said some bathrooms needed wider or automated doors so that people in wheelchairs or motorised scooters could get in and out more easily.
Others needed to rethink what they meant when they said they had a disabled toilet.
“They might have a handrail installed in the bathroom but that doesn’t mean all people with a disability can use them,” Mr Poingdestre said.
Both have stories about calling ahead at restaurants, being assured there were disabled toilets and discovering they needed to navigate tight, awkward hallways.
Add all of that to a belly and bladder full of booze and it is easy to see why they are so loyal to places that cater to their needs.
“You could fit three wheelchairs in Handle Bar’s toilet,” Mr Poingdestre said.
Not that he has tried. But Handle Bar’s co-director Jesse Gollan said women, who often like to go to the bathroom together, could fit more than one wheelchair in there.
That particular design feature was not deliberate, though others added by the owners are.
“From the beginning we wanted a community space. So we wanted to make sure we were inclusive of every demographic,” Mr Gollan said.
He said the premise’s new layout had extra-wide doorways and as few steps as possible (just one, which they have a ramp for).
Before the grand opening Mr Yates and Mr Poingdestre were asked to test the facilities. They had a look around and decided nothing needed to be changed. However they did warn that staff would need to keep on their game to keep everything clean. The reason: Broken glass pops.
“At Handle Bar, when we rock up they go and check for us,” Mr Yates said.
And staff do not talk down to them.
“They are more friendly at Handle Bar than at some other places. They treat you like normal,” Mr Yates said.
The City of Greater Bendigo’s municipal building surveyor Hans Tracksdorf said that when compared to other places, Bendigo was pretty good about access for people with disabilities.
He said the council had gone on the front foot to educate businesses about access for the elderly and people with a disability, employing a specialist in the building department and educating business owners.
Mr Tracksdorf said businesses were rarely hostile or ambivalent to changes. He said people could, and did complain to council and the Victorian Building Authority about breaches of the building code which often led to fixes and creative solutions.
But national building codes did have limits. Older buildings did not necessarily have to meet the same standards as new ones.
“So the building code can kick in a case where, say, a premise is being converted for a different use. Perhaps it’s a shop being turned into a cafe. Then the owners need to address those issues around accessibility,” he said.
“Ulumbarra is a good, well, massive example of this. In the old days they would not have worried about disability access to jail. But now that it is a theatre there are multiple access points and those long ramps and handlebars out the Tom Floods end of the building.”
Obviously though, not every old store gets re-purposed regularly enough to be accessible. And Bendigo is an old town.
Room for improvement
Mr Gollan’s newly renovated premises meets the code and in some areas exceeds it. But he is still eyeing improvements around Handle Bar.
He’s got his eye on the ramp over the front step, which he now believes is not absolutely perfect.
“We still need to do small things. We’ll continue to make small improvements,” he said.
Mr Tracksdorf foresaw governments putting more pressure on businesses, with many groups lobbying for more accessible buildings with space for equipment used by the elderly and people with a disability.
Mr Gollan said Handle Bar’s owners were happy to speak to other business owners about lessons learnt.
“What we’ve learnt is that if you provide it they will come and they will really appreciate it,” Mr Gollan said.