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Boston initiative seeks to improve accessibility at restaurants

Outdoor dining set up on Hanover Street in Boston's North End.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced a new initiative this week to increase accessibility at Boston restaurants that have reopened with outdoor dining spaces.

The initiative allows restaurants that have been granted a temporary license to have seating in parking spaces, or on the street, to request a portable ramp for curbs. The ramps will eventually be returned to the City to be repurposed.

The decision came with guidance from the mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities and support from Citi as part of the Empowered Cities Initiative, which provided Boston with $200,000.

”It’s important that as we reimagine our streets to accommodate outdoor dining during our reopening process, we do so in a way that is equitable to everyone who uses our roads and sidewalks, including those with disabilities,” Walsh said in a statement. “We are glad to include accessibility as an integral part of our permitting process and thank the restaurants for welcoming the use of portable ramps in their spaces as they continue to safely reopen.”

The Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities has been working with the Licensing Board, the Boston Transportation Department, and other city departments since outdoor dining was permitted in June to ensure that the new layouts for restaurants remain accessible and that sidewalks are not obstructed.


Restaurants that are in need of increased accessibility outdoors can fill out a Portable Ramp Request Form and their need will be assessed. The ramps will then be provided on a rolling basis with an accessibility toolkit that offers information on setup, a laminated sign with accessibility information, and ways to efficiently provide services to customers with disabilities.

So far this week, more than 10 restaurants have requested and received ramps.

Under the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board, the state building code requires restaurants to have an accessible route to tables. With outdoor dining, the City was granted a temporary MAAB variance to allow Boston restaurants to use portable ramps.


Boston has granted restaurants over 300 temporary extensions onto outdoor space to serve customers, and the Licensing Board has been issuing approvals for temporary extensions on private and public property.

Kristen McCosh, commissioner for the Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities, reminded members of the disabled community that COVID-19 is still a major concern and that they should take the necessary steps to protect themselves and others when dining outside.