Secret customers testing for accessibility at restaurants in Springfield, Mo.

March 6, 2023

Original Article:

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Springfield restaurants are getting a visit from some secret guests through Empower: Abilities, a non-profit in Springfield.

The program started back in 2020 where surveyors looked at the five points of accessibility, but the pandemic put it on pause.

Now, “secret customers” are checking out more than 200 restaurants in our area to see if they can become Reasonable Accommodation Program (RAP) certified.

“We survey local restaurants with volunteer surveyors who go in as secret shoppers and they look at five points of accessibility,” said Shelby Butler, Empower. “Once you get into the restaurant we look at how easy it is to navigate.”

Butler says there needs to be enough space for people to pass through the tables, seats need to move out from the table, and wheelchairs should be able to roll under.

“We look at the bathrooms for grab bars, whether people could roll under the seat, reach the soap and paper towel dispenser, and toilet height,” said Butler. “We think that everyone has the right to dine and to eat together and to have a seat at the table.”

Butler says surveyors also look at parking lots to make sure they have handicapped parking, flat surfaces with no stairs, and a door handle two fingers or a fist could open.

Springfield residents say they are happy this type of education is continuing to spread.

“I’ve been in a wheelchair for 33 years, and there’s been a lot of change since then, but we have a long way to go,” said Kristi Kliewer, who uses a wheelchair. “There’s a lot of programs around here that are really focused on inclusion, but I hope people do things more action-based like this.”

“The last thing we look for is customer service, and we want to know that staff are educated on inclusion,” said Butler. “If someone needed an accommodation they would be prepared to provide that.”

Empower received a grant from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks that will help supplement the surveyor’s meal and they are looking for more surveyors.

An upcoming training is happening Friday, March 10 with the Empower Access Team at the Village Inn on South Glenstone at 10 a.m. to do an onsite RAP training.

It’s in-person only at this address: Village Inn, 2036 S Glenstone Springfield, MO 65804.