After visiting the New England Aquarium this past Thursday my friends and I headed to Panera Bread to meet with Sean, Kate and Brian from Povo. Povo ( http://boston.povo.com/) is a great new local innovative collaborative on-line guide who believes it is very important to include the true ‘Accessibility’ of places listed on their site and not just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. They will rate accessibility as ‘Full accessibility, Partially accessible, Not accessible or No information/no rating’. This information will be very helpful to all persons with accessibility issues. I think it’s wonderful for I’ve never seen another site similar to Povo who provides any ‘Accessibility’ information. Kenny & co and others are partnering with Povo in a type of collaboration on ‘Accessibility’.

While we were at Panera Bread we did a wheelchair accessibility review. Panera Bread has a main and a side entry door yet neither entry is wheelchair accessible for both have stairs. There is a sign on the main entry door that asks wheelchair users to enter Panera Bread through the door in the building next door. My friends and I went to the entry door of the building next door and found it had a nice cement slope leading to it’s entry door. We entered the building and had to walk/wheel down a long hallway to another door. This door is automatic and led us into a small foyer by the rear door to Panera Bread which is also automatic.

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We then found ourselves in the rear part of Panera Bread where the restrooms are located. There is a Family/Wheelchair accessible restroom located here. It is a spacious single restroom that has all the required ADA guidelines such as the grab bars and the protective covering around the pipes under the accessible sink.

We then proceeded to the front of Panera Bread so we could order our food/drinks. The only way we could get to the front where you order was to go the reverse way everyone else who ordered was traveling to pick up their food/drink. This was a narrow path and my wheelchair barely fit through and people in line had to move to let me by. I was embarrassed and felt bad I had to inconvenience so many people.

My friends and I finally got to the ordering counter at Panera Bread. The woman behind the counter was very courteous and kind. The counter you order your food at is a good height for persons in wheelchairs. The counter you pick up your food is way too high for someone in a wheelchair. My friends had to get my bottle of water for I couldn’t reach this counter.

There are many indoor tables and some are a good height for my wheelchair but others are too low. Some of the tables are located where there is a small step so you can’t get to these tables unless you go back to the front of the restaurant.

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We then headed back outside the same way we entered. It seemed like it took FOREVER to get in and out of Panera Bread and all this work for just a bottle of water. We again joined our friends Sean, Kate and Brian who were sitting at an outdoor table. The outdoor tables at Panera Bread are not wheelchair accessible. My wheelchair couldn’t fit at the table because the legs of the table stuck out and prevented my wheelchair from moving under it.

It’s a shame that I can only give Panera Bread TWO STARS for wheelchair accessibility. I was pleased to see they had automatic doors and a very wheelchair accessible restroom but the time and effort it takes just to get inside to order and the fact you have to go in reverse order that everyone else is going to get to the ordering counter is not worth coming here again. I felt like I was a nuisance and was embarrassed! I prefer to go to places where I can enter the same way as all others.

I give Panera Bread TWO STARS. They can earn the other Three Stars by making their main or side entrance wheelchair accessible, lower the counter where you pick up your food/drink order, place a threshold ramp at the step leading to the dining area that has the indoor tables and place some wheelchair accessible tables outside.

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