Accessibility Advocate Opens One Door At A Time

By Guelph Tribune | March 2010

It has taken more than two years, but one local man has finally won his battle with the 7-Eleven, a victory he said is not a personal one, but one for accessibility.

“I get upset when people treat it as a frivolous issue, because it’s not,” said Matt Wozenilek, seated in his wheelchair in the living room of his Guelph home. “I just want to be treated like everyone else.”

Since 2006, Wozenilek has relied on a wheelchair to get around due to a medical condition. In that time he has become a champion for accessibility in Guelph.

“It started as part of what I do in my regular life,” he said. “I was going to places and not getting in.”

This was the case with the 7-Eleven on Speedvale Avenue, his nearest convenience store, where without someone else to open the door for him he could not enter.

After complaining to the store’s manager and getting an unsatisfactory response, Wozenilek filed an application with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

“I wanted to make the theoretical point that companies are not allowed to do this,” Wozenilek said.

The tribunal agreed with Wozenilek, ordering the company to pay him $6,000 “compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect arising from the infringement of his rights under the (Human Rights) Code,” said the tribunal’s decision.

“It wasn’t about the money for me,” said Wozenilek. The decision was symbolic and represented a wake-up call to other businesses, he said.

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, businesses do not have to be fully accessible to people with disabilities until Jan. 1, 2012, but anyone can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal on accessibility issues for a possible infringement of the Human Rights Code.

Though the 7-Eleven did eventually install an automatic push-button door at its Speedvale store in the spring of 2009, the remedy came too late, almost 20 months after Wozenilek had made his first complaint.

Reluctant to shell out the money to have the automatic door installed, the 7-Eleven offered several other options. The first was to have a staff member leave the counter and open the door whenever Wozenilek arrived.

“That would make me feel a little bit degraded,” said Wozenilek. He felt that other customers would resent him for the interruption in service.

The company then offered to give him a cellphone, which he could use to call ahead and warn employees when he planned to come to the store. Again, he was not satisfied.

“It wasn’t ‘equal and independent access’,” he said, quoting from the Human Rights Code.

Feeling his treatment by the company constituted discrimination, he followed through with his application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and almost a year later the decision was made in his favour. “I see that as being positive for our society as well as their company,” said Wozenilek.

7-Eleven went on to install an automatic door at its other Guelph location on Eramosa Rd in December 2009. It was a step toward the making all Ontario stores accessible by 2012, a time that will be much welcomed by Wozenilek.

“People in wheelchairs, they like to be as independent as possible,” he said. “When there’s no barrier, it’s like we’re normal or able-bodied.”

The city of Guelph is getting better all the time, said Wozenilek, noting that city buses are nearing 100 per cent accessibility.

“It’s very slow, and very small pieces are coming together, and awareness of this issue would be helpful,” he said. Wozenilek tracks Guelph’s progress on accessibility on his website at , and says he hopes to make a difference in the city, not just for himself, but for others who struggle with similar issues.

“I can’t make everything perfect, so I’m concentrating on trying to get wheelchair-accessible doors,” he said, “One door at a time.”

Source: Guelph Tribune, HRTO Case

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Opening Doors to Dignity

We promote equal access for people with physical disabilities to services, transportation, buildings, businesses, stores, and services.

We advocate that people with physical disabilities should receive the same respect and consideration that able-bodied people receive.

We remove attitudinal and systemic barriers that persons with physical disabilities must handle on a daily basis by educating and talking with able-bodied people.