March 10, 2010
GUELPH — Matt Wozenilek can’t wait to try out the wheelchair-accessible door at his neighbourhood 7-Eleven store after taking the company to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and winning.
Wozenilek, 58, can’t get around without a wheelchair and didn’t like that he couldn’t enter the 7-Eleven store at Stevenson Street North and Speedvale Avenue — the only convenience store in his neighbourhood — without someone opening the door for him.
“I go there once in a while to get lottery tickets or the paper or snacks. But I was dependent on other people to gain access to the store. Personally I
didn’t like that,” said the man, who has become a champion of accessibility issues through his website www.stopableism.org.
Wozenilek said he spoke with the store manager in March 2007 to ask what could be done to make the store accessible. Shortly after, Wozenilek was hospitalized for several months, so it wasn’t until January 2008 when he spoke to the store manager again.
Getting no response, Wozenilek contacted 7-Eleven’s head office in Texas in September 2008 and finally met with the regional manager in November of that year.
The regional manager offered a few suggestions — to give Wozenilek a cellphone to use to call a store employee when he arrived at the store, or to install
a buzzer at the door to alert a store clerk to assist him.
“Can you imagine if there were 10 people waiting in line and the clerk had to keep them waiting to give preferential treatment to me? That reflects badly
on me, too,” Wozenilek said. “And it’s not good business.”
Wozenilek wanted an automatic door installed at the store.
He filed an application with the tribunal Jan. 7, 2009 and later amended it, asking for $25,000 for pain and suffering, a public letter of regret from 7-Eleven
and the installation of automatic doors at all 7-Eleven stores in Canada.
The company did install an automatic door at the Speedvale store in the spring of 2009, and at its second Guelph location at Eramosa and Victoria roads,
but the hearing went ahead in July.
During the hearing, Mark Senay, market manager for all 7-Eleven stores in Ontario, testified that at the time the company was struggling financially and
the cost of installing automatic doors provincewide was prohibitive — somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000 per store.
As well, Senay testified the company didn’t realize there had been changes to the Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and both the public
and private sector are obliged to accommodate their disabled customers by 2012. It now plans to install automatic doors at all its stores by that deadline.
In her written decision dated Feb. 23, 2010, tribunal adjudicator Mary Truemner writes:
“I find that the respondent (7-Eleven) failed to accommodate the applicant’s (Wozenilek) needs arising from his disability by failing to install the automatic door by the time the application was filed, almost two years after the applicant had alerted the respondent to his inability to access the Speedvale store on an equal basis.”
She went on: “The respondent violated the applicant’s right to equal treatment with respect to services without discrimination because of disability.”
The tribunal decided the company did not have to write a public letter of regret but it would have to pay $6,000 to Wozenilek.
“I asked for $25,000 to get their attention,” Wozenilek said Wednesday. “I’m happy with the $6,000. It will cover my expenses.
“Most people don’t understand what a pleasure it is to go somewhere that’s wheelchair accessible. There’s such peace of mind knowing you won’t have to struggle. I felt demeaned as a person by the original reaction from 7-Eleven.”
Wozenilek said he doesn’t usually go the litigious route.
“Talk to the owner and try to come to a resolution first. Give them the opportunity to come up with ideas that will work. There are solutions. You just
have to find them,” he said.
Leanne Warren, administrator of disability services for the City of Guelph, said the barrier-free committee is working with businesses and non-profit groups to help them understand the legislative changes and what they’ll be expected to provide for their customers with disabilities.
“It’s the responsibility of the province to send the information but we’re being proactive,” Warren said.
This fall, the government is expected to detail other disability standards around employment and transportation, she said.
Reproduced from http://news.guelphmercury.com/News/Local/article/607664