Guelph's Matt Wozenilek wins battle to improve voting accessibility

Elections Canada is improving accessibility to its polling stations across the country, thanks to a Guelph man.
Matt Wozenilek's efforts led to Elections Canada pledging to improve accessibility at polling stations nationwide. (Lisa Xing/CBC News )

Elections Canada is improving accessibility to its polling stations across the country thanks to a Guelph man. 

Matt Wozenilek has had a rare neurological disorder since he was 27. 

As a result, he uses a wheelchair and has a service dog.

We pushed that bar of accessibility a little bit further.- Matt Wozenilek

His experiences trying to vote in the last two federal elections inspired him to take Elections Canada to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

In 2011, he relied on a passerby to help him into a polling station. 

"Once I got in I couldn't get into the area where you're supposed to vote, either," he said. "So, I voted in the hallway ... it planted seeds of anger and resentment because I was being treated like a second class citizen." 

Wozenilek said he then decided to speak out for himself, but also for others living with disabilities. 

"A lot of people in their wheelchairs, or with their disabilities, or diseases, or conditions, don't have the time or the energy to do that," said Wozenilek. "So, I did what I could." 

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing began Aug. 25 in Guelph. 

But the two sides agreed to mediation, and a few days later they reached a settlement. 

Elections Canada agreed to improve access for those in wheelchairs, either through using locations with automatic doors or having staff open doors at all 20,000 polling stations across the country. 

"Elections Canada is currently conducting a national survey of polling sites within its data bank to determine the accessibility of all Canadian sites," the body said in a statement. "The survey results will be published and shared with the Advisory Group for Disability Issues, an advisory group established to assist Elections Canada in meeting the needs of all Canadian electors."

"In life's great chain of all events, it's not very important," said Wozenilek. "But it's the idea it represents. There wasn't something in place for persons with disabilities at that time. And that's why I got angry." 

"We achieved something. That was the best part," he said.

"We pushed that bar of accessibility a little bit further so that ... the people who need it and the people who don't need it are more aware of it now."