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Accessibility request turns into personal attack online

GINELLA MASSA | posted Thursday, Aug 2nd, 2018

A Toronto restaurant goer says she was left stunned after her suggestion for a wheelchair ramp at downtown establishment turned into a personal attack online.

On Sunday night, Tessa Vaskas and her father tried to get a seat inside Victory Cafe on Bloor Street West, where she had been many times before.

“I was with my father who is a stroke survivor, and sometimes he uses his wheelchair, sometimes he uses his cane,” Vaskas explained to CityNews.

Her father was using his cane Sunday, and with limited mobility, couldn’t get up onto the seats at the restaurant’s high top tables. Vaskas said the patio wasn’t an option either because of the two steps leading outside.

“I made a suggestion maybe he should consider getting a ramp there because it’s actually street level,” she said of her conversation with a man working at the restaurant who was helping get them seated.

“He went on to argue that ramps are fire hazards, and you need a permit to be wheelchair accessible, which is absolutely not true.”

Vaskas said she and her father ended up going around the outside of the café to get seated, but that wasn’t the end of the interaction.

Vaskas, who also volunteers for the StopGap Foundation — a charity that provides wheelchair ramps to businesses — decided to leave a one-star review on the restaurant’s Facebook page recounting her experience.

“I was a frequent Victory Cafe customer until I came with my dad who has a mobile disability,” she wrote.

“I politely mentioned to the owner that he should consider a ramp instead of stairs to the patio, allowing a more accessible entrance. He got very defensive and continued to argue with me that it’s a fire hazard and you need a permit to be wheelchair accessible. This is absolutely not true and ramps are not a fire hazard. I was extremely disappointed and will not be returning.”

But it was the response from the man she believes to be the same person she interacted in the restaurant that left her stunned.

A user named Knick Kndreka replied to her comment.

“I opened the side door for your father and helped him way more than you did,” he wrote.

“I think you as a daughter should do more for your father in helping him way more please don’t be shy he’s your dad and stop being around him for his pension that’s all you’re about.”

The reply has since been deleted from the restaurant’s Facebook page but an image of the interaction can be seen below.

“That’s just not how you respond to someone,” said Vaskas.

“He didn’t acknowledge the issue in any way. It’s just a personal attack.”

CityNews reached out to the restaurant and a spokesperson sent us a statement which reads in part: “the Victory Café would like to make clear that Mr. Ndreka does not own the Victory Café and he is not the operator of the establishment. The views of Mr. Ndreka do not represent the sentiments and ethos of the Victory Café, its ownership and staff.”

CityNews asked for clarity on how Ndreka is related to the restaurant, but did not receive a response.

However, Vaskas said during her visit he appeared to be a staff member, and when CityNews inquired about him at the café, staff referred to him as their “boss.”

The restaurant’s statement goes on to read, “The Victory Café prides itself on its open and welcoming environment to all people. The Victory Café and its ownership sincerely regrets and apologizes for the comment made.”

Vaskas said she accepts the apology but is disappointed the cafe still hasn’t committed to making their establishment more accessible. It’s something she hopes more Toronto businesses will consider.

“It’s hard enough for my dad to enjoy the city with barriers like steps to the bathroom, steps to the patio that aren’t necessary,” she said.

“Its just about understanding that its really hard (for people like him) and we need to speak up.”

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