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Access to Calgary beer: One brewery’s path to inclusivity

When most people walk into a Calgary craft brew hotspot, they aren’t thinking of how accessible it is to others.

Sean Crump is.

Crump, Head Chair and CEO of Universal Access, a Calgary company that specializes in eliminating barriers to business accessibility, said he’ll personally take his (beer) business elsewhere if he doesn’t feel a location can meet his needs. Others he meets feel the same way about accessibility into Calgary businesses.

Quite often, people don’t say anything about it. They just don’t frequent those locations.

“If I went there one time, or I was somebody that had a little anxiety in crowded spaces or wasn’t comfortable asking people to move out of the way, I wouldn’t go back,” he said.

“Because who wants to disrupt everybody? Who wants to become the focal point? And the problem is, coming into a bar, you already feel like the focal point.”

He said each time have to ask people to accommodate you it amplifies an already uncomfortable situation.

Crump is himself a quadriplegic. He broke his neck 15 years ago in a swimming mishap while out camping with friends. With limited upper body use, he operates a motorized wheelchair, so it’s essential for businesses to have an accessible entrance. He needs places where his chair fits and suitable space for him to get to the washroom.

First meeting with The Dandy Brewing Company

When he first met up with Ben Leon, co-owner and managing director of The Dandy Brewing Company in Calgary, there was a step up to get into their old brewery. There was no cut out to the sidewalk to wheel up to the front. He had to be dropped off in the grass, but snow first needed to be removed to make a pathway – to the sidewalk.

“And actually, Ben had just pulled up. When they saw that happen, immediately kind of a light switch went off and they’re like, ‘we need to get you guys to help us incorporate some of these things so that we can make sure we have an accessible location,’” Crump said.

Leon said they sat down with Crump to find out some of the barriers he faced in getting into different places. He called it an eye opener.

Straws and glasses with handles are just some of the additions to accommodate persons with disabilities at The Dandy Brewing Company. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“I mean, the first time (Sean) came in, I said, ‘Can I get you a beer?’” Leon recalled.

“I asked if he wanted a pint or a half pint and he said, ’well, whatever one has a handle.’ And I was like, ‘oh, well you know, we don’t have one.’ Luckily, we could track down a coffee mug. But it’s something as simple as that.”

Working together, Crump has helped transform Dandy’s Ramsay location. Whether it’s the glassware, the chair styles, the variable table heights – or the at-grade entrance – it’s all geared toward making Dandy barrier free for all clients. They’ve even modified their brewery to accommodate accessible tours.

Leon said they’ve gone as far as increasing the font size on menus, and Crump points out the servers ask everyone if they want straws, so a person with a physical disability doesn’t feel singled out by needing one. The tables are spaced well enough apart to ensure clear passage for wheelchairs, and the servers appreciate the space, too.

Lots has been done to reduce the barriers. And you can see it visibly when you walk in.

Money left on the table for Calgary businesses

Crump points out that there’s a lot of disposable income left on the table for businesses that don’t make an effort to aid those with physical disabilities. And he said it’s not just for those in wheelchairs. It’s others with mobility issues, vision problems, hearing impairment, even seniors who have general limited mobility. Nearly one in five Canadians identify with a disability of some degree.

He said these people and their social circles typically opt to patron businesses that meet their accessibility needs.

In a 2017 piece for the Globe and Mail, Rich Donovan, CEO and founder of Return on Disability, pegged the annual disposable income in Canada for people with disabilities is roughly $55 billion. Add in their family and friends, he writes, and they control more than $366 billion.

“So, if you’re not going to commit financially to accommodating me, I’m not going to financially support you when other places have,” Crump said, adding that when you start thinking about the younger generation that tends to spend money in socially conscious ways, it really adds up.  

For Leon, it does have a bottom-line impact. But he believes there’s a social responsibility to opening up his brews to everyone.

“I think it’s up to us as business owners or people creating spaces… it’s our job to make sure that it’s accessible to everybody,” he said.

Crump continues to advocate for better accessibility. He said he’s also talking with Tool Shed Brewing Company in northeast Calgary to look at how they can improve their location.

He’s combining his own lived experience and universal design standards to open doors for more people in Calgary with disabilities. He wants people like him out enjoying Calgary and some of the great spaces it has to offer.

Especially to enjoy a beer.