Visiting Smith Street can provide a wonderful cultural experience. Smith Street was Melbourne’s first suburban shopping strip. It is the border between Collingwood and Fitzroy. After a period of decline, the street has now awakened again. It is a real urban melting pot. It has many fantastic shops, clubs, cafés and restaurants. The eating places include both cheap eats and more exotic dishes from accomplished chefs.
DiVine recently explored Smith Street's diverse range of restaurants to test its accessibility for people with a disability. But we could not find any restaurants that were fully accessible on the popular eating strip.
We could not find a single restaurant on Smith Street that had acceptable access for people who use a wheelchair. We could not find any restaurants that had step-free entries. Instead, many restaurants said they could cater to wheelchair users with outdoor dining tables. We also could not find any restaurants with accessible toilets for people with a disability.
When I entered many restaurants I found that they were often small and crowded. Tables were often too close together. It made it difficult for wheelchair users to be seated at a table or move around the restaurant. Crowded dining rooms can also present problems to people with vision impairment. It is challenging navigating around tables when they are so close together.
Braille and large print menus are very empowering. People who are blind or vision-impaired are able to read Braille and large print menus and independently choose their meal. I think information access is very important. Restaurants should also put their menus online so that people using screen readers and other assistive technology can access them.
DiVine could only find one restaurant on Smith Street that has Braille and large print menus available. It was pleasing to see this large chain has a commitment to information access for people with a disability. Unfortunately, the physical accessibility of the restaurant was not as good. It is a shame the restaurant was not accessible to all.
Our experiences with restaurant staff on Smith Street were much more positive. Staff in every restaurant we entered said they could provide assistance to people with a disability if needed.
Staff were always more than happy to show me to a table. They were also happy to read the menu to me. I found all the staff I encountered to be friendly and helpful.
Overall, Smith Street restaurants have a lot of work to do to improve access for people with a disability. Many buildings on Smith Street are old. They were built before modern building codes that require consideration of accessibility needs. Many buildings were also not originally intended for use as restaurants and cafés.
It is good that most restaurants have helpful staff willing to assist people with a disability whenever possible. But a commitment to improving physical accessibility needs to be shown. We also need more restaurants to offer accessible menus for all.
What have been your experiences dining on Smith Street? Let us know in the comments section below.