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Disabled Rights Activist Challenges Guelph’s Bookshelf Over Accessibility

October 23, 2010
Thana Dharmarajah, Mercury staff

GUELPH — Matt Wozenilek holds a copy of The Bookshelf’s Off the Shelf publication. It lists events at the popular downtown bookstore and cinema, many of which he said he can’t attend because he is in a wheelchair.

“Very few of (the events), unless it is on the main floor, can I attend,” Wozenilek said.

The bearded, grey-haired man is taking The Bookshelf to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal alleging discrimination because he says the building it is operated out of isn’t accessible to people in wheelchairs.

He filed the application with the tribunal in May. Four other parties connected to staging events at The Bookshelf are also listed in the application.

When he was able to walk up stairs, Wozenilek said, he enjoyed going to The Bookshelf cinema. He has had to stop going since he has been confined to the wheelchair he sits in as he leans forward to tell his story.

Since then, he has noticed that many activities of interest to him, such as book launches, bands and speakers are held upstairs at the eBar. Wozenilek said he has spoken to the owners but hasn’t been successful.

He once even protested outside the bookstore.

“I would call it a quiet protest,” he said. “I didn’t harass anybody or talk to people.”

Bookshelf owner Doug Minett said the only previous complaint about accessibility at his business was received in 1998.

“We participated in a thorough review and the (Ontario Human Rights Commission) ruled that we were doing all we could possibly be expected to do, given the old building and nature of business,” he said.

Minett said an early dismissal of Wozenilek’s application has been requested based on the previous ruling.

He said he’s supportive of legislation for accessibility in all new buildings, during major renovations and even for businesses that can afford to retrofit.

“It can’t be done everywhere,” he said. “There are places where it will never be accessible.”

Meanwhile, Wozenilek has been successful in getting other local businesses, such as Wyndham Art Supplies, the Dairy Queen and Arby’s on Woolwich Street, and the 7-Eleven store at Stevenson Street North and Speedvale Avenue to become wheelchair accessible.

He said he has only asked those businesses that he frequents.

“I want to have the choice like everybody else and it is granted to me under the human rights law.”

Wozenilek also champions accessibility issues through his website

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