KHYNNA KUPRIAN

Staff Writer

Researching restaurants and reading online reviews before dining out can provide a lot of information. The menu, decor, friendliness of staff and price range can often be determined without ever searching for a parking spot on a busy Friday night. But what about wheelchair accessibility or bathroom size?

A new website, www.AccessibleAdventuresVT.org, designed by the Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council was relaunched last week.

The site is a peer-to-peer review forum where consumers can rate the handicap accessibility of not just restaurants, but shopping, public parks, houses of worship and public office facilities as well.

"When people go out and do things they do a lot more than just eat out," said Peter Kriff, executive director of SILC and contributor in large part to the new website design.

Previously titled "Rolling Gourmet," the site seeks to link consumers with the businesses they are reviewing, following a September 2012 Livable Community grant from the AARP which helped cover the costs of enhancing the website.

"What makes this very special is that once somebody submits a review, an automatic email is sent to the business and lets them know their business was reviewed," said Kriff. The site will then allow the establishment to respond with a comment or update on any improvements they may have made.

With help from the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and the Vermont Center for Independent Living, the site has already received several hundred reviews and an endorsement by Gov. Peter Shumlin's office.

"People with neurological, developmental, muscular or other disabilities should not be impeded from doing things," said Sam Liss, council chair of SILC. "Society needs to be all-inclusive and include people with disabilities in all phases of life."

In Bennington, a group has been developed through the Vermont Center for Independent Living to address sidewalk issues, and another to address stigma within the community.

"This [website] would be a great tool to help focus on improvements that need to be made," said Tracy Dorman, community outreach specialist and peer advocate counselor for the VCIL in Bennington.

"There are places that I think appear to be accessible, but then in actuality they are not," said Dorman, who noted that locally, Subway on North Street and Chili's Grill and Bar in Hannaford Square were recently made wheelchair friendly.

"This website is a cooperative effort with businesses and with the state of Vermont, not a negative toward them," stressed Liss, although submitted comments will be reviewed for language before being posted.

For more information visit www.accessibleadventuresvt.org, www.vcil.org, or call the Bennington office of the Vermont Center for Independent Living at 802-447-0574.

Contact Khynna at kkuprian@benningtonbanner.com and follow her on Twitter @khynnakat.