‘Making people feel welcome’: Bluebird Café and Grill receives accessibility training from Branching Out Support Services

February 23, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

Creating a space where all patrons feel comfortable and welcome has become top of mind for a well-known eatery in downtown Orangeville.

The Bluebird Café and Grill, located at 100 Broadway, recently utilized a portion of its $10,000 My Main Street grant to enhance accessibility within the restaurant and train staff so they can offer a more inclusive, hospitable experience where everyone feels like they belong. 

“Michelle and I decided we wanted to bring our hospitality level up an extra notch within the community to ensure that anybody with any sort of disability, any physical disabilities, neurological disabilities, felt very welcomed when coming to the Bluebird,” said Rick Arsenault, who co-owns Bluebird with his wife, Michelle. 

He added that receiving the training really opened his eyes to the wide range of disabilities people can experience and what needs to be done to make people feel more comfortable when dining out.

Branching Out Support Services facilitated the training for Bluebird staff on Jan. 14 and dropped off a certificate to the restaurant last Friday (Feb. 17). 

Bluebird co-owner Michelle Arsenault said she saw an incredible response from her staff during the training and afterwards.

“The servers were extremely engaged, they actually spoke about it all day long, just talking about what they learned, what they gained from it,” she said. 

Rick noted that the servers found practical ways to apply what they learned during the training.

“I’ve heard a couple of them change their routine when they’re approaching a table,” he said. “One of our servers, for example, when she approaches the table now, right off the bat, after she introduced herself, she says, ‘hey, if I’m speaking too fast or not clearly enough, please feel free to let me know how I can change my tone or if I can repeat stuff for you.”

Rick added, “It’s just being more attentive to what people are seeing or what people are doing, to help them have a great experience.”

Van Ryn said the training for wait staff focused on communication strategies for people who are non-speaking or have different ways of expressing themselves. In these instances, they might use an iPad or device to communicate with them. 

“So we’ve really spent a lot of time talking to the servers about that, and how they can gain some skills to feel confident to approach people who maybe don’t communicate in the same way,” said Van Ryn.

Creating a welcoming physical environment was also part of the training. Aside from meeting Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements, the Bluebird looked at how it can increase accessibility, inclusion and belonging for people with neurodiversities. 

“How we can make the space more comfortable? How we can make it flow? How we can offer extra amenities for people who might need it?” said Van Ryn. 

“Once businesses and organizations receive this training, we hope that they are at their highest potential to be able to help people actually belong.”

In addition to the Bluebird Café and Grill, Branching Out has offered accessibility training to Family Transition Place, Georgian College, summer camp staff at the Town of Orangeville and Whole Village. 

But Bluebird Café and Grill is the first restaurant that Branching Out has completed the training with, and Van Ryn says she hopes to offer it to many more going forward.

“We want to see this across sectors in Ontario. It can be taught online or in person, so we’re hoping for both,” she explained.

Anyone interested in receiving accessibility training from Branching Out can learn more at 

Rick told the Citizen he’d recommend the training to other private businesses as it’s really helped the Bluebird bring their hospitality to another level. 

“Ithink they really opened our eyes and opened our hearts to really make people feel welcome all the time here and what we can do as a business and business owners to alleviate people’s stresses when they’re coming out to dine,” said Rick.

“We just want people to know that the Bluebird welcomes everyone, and we’re here to make their experience the best that we can.”

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