Allegedly inspired by a letter from a physically challenged girl, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) is now planning to make it mandatory for restaurants to have wheelchair-accessible facilities on the ground floor.
Earlier this month, eight-year-old Chen Min-yu (陳玟聿), who requires a wheelchair to move around, wrote a letter to the McDonald’s restaurant chain saying she had always dreamed of having a meal or celebrating her birthday at a McDonald’s restaurant.
However, her dream has never been fulfilled because most McDonald’s restaurants have stairs at their entrances and some provide seating areas only on the second floor.
After the girl’s letter was released to the media, a group of people in wheelchairs attempted to enter a branch of the restaurant chain in Taipei and protested outside for hours after realizing it was impossible to get their wheelchairs into the restaurant.
Amid the furor surrounding the unfair treatment of individuals with physical disabilities, the ministry responded by mulling new regulations requiring restaurants to provide wheelchair-accessible facilities at least on the ground floor.
Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said the ministry had decided during a routine meeting last week to complete revisions of relevant laws to make it mandatory to ensure the first floor of all restaurants can be accessed by people with physical disabilities.
“We plan to invite academics, restaurant operators, as well as groups promoting welfare for the physically challenged, to discuss more details about the planned policy after the Lunar New Year holidays,” Jiang said.
Based on the initial plan, new restaurants would have to meet the requirement immediately, while existing restaurants would be given a buffer period and incentives to make the changes, he said.
Groups advocating the rights and welfare of physically challenged individuals welcomed the policy.
“The policy should be implemented as soon as possible,” said Hsu Chao-fu (許朝富), chief executive director of Access for All in Taiwan, a non-profit organization advancing the rights of the disabled.
“Because everyone has to eat everyday, they [the physically challenged] face the problem of wheelchair access every day,” Hsu added.
However, he said the needs of physically challenged individuals went beyond having accessible entrances to restaurants.
“We also need accessible toilets,” he said.
Aside from restaurants, there should be accessible facilities at other public places as well, Hsu said.
“Otherwise, the definition of ‘public place’ may be different for people with disabilities and those without,” he said.
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