Cape Town mom’s struggle after shop denies access to boy in wheelchair

Liezel and Connor Haskin. (PHOTO: Facebook/ConnorMySpecialAngel)
Liezel and Connor Haskin. (PHOTO: Facebook/ConnorMySpecialAngel)

A single mom from Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, is ecstatic after the equality court ruled that a local supermarket discriminated against her and her disabled son.

Last year a small supermarket refused access to Liezel Haskin (44) and her disabled son, Connor (5). Connor is in a special wheelchair.

Liezel says she’s often visited the Save More Superette with Connor. It’s near her home in Woodlands and she can quickly walk there with Connor in his wheelchair.

“It takes a lot of planning and budgeting when I want to take him to a large supermarket in his wheelchair. Public transport is a nightmare for someone in a wheelchair,” she explains.

Last year on 18 April when she visited Save More as usual with her three children, including Connor, a shop assistant stopped her at the entrance.

Connor has Down syndrome and West syndrome, a type of epilepsy, with poor cognitive skills and physical disabilities. He can’t walk or talk and requires full-time care.

“When I entered the shop, a staff member said I couldn’t go in. He gestured to a sign that no prams and bags are allowed in the shop. I explained it’s not a pram, it’s a wheelchair for a special-needs child,” she says.

Liezel then contacted support groups and the police for advice.

When she returned to the supermarket with two police officers, Liezel was told by a shop assistant that she knew in future to leave Connor at home when she came shopping “I felt hurt and decided I wasn’t leaving the matter there – my child’s human rights had been violated.”

About a week later, the shop owner, Salauddin Khan, who wasn’t in the shop at the time of the incident, visited Liezel and Connor at home. He apologised to the family, offered Connor chocolate and took a picture with him.

“He explained wheelchairs and prams aren’t allowed in his shop because of shoplifting. My reaction was, ‘Surely it’s not people in wheelchairs who steal’,” Liezel says.

She didn’t find Khan’s suggestion, that she leave Connor in the care of a shop assistant while she shopped, practical.

When Liezel visited the supermarket a short time later, it had been rearranged “in such a way to make it impossible for me to shop there with Connor in his wheelchair”.

She contacted the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, who took the matter to the equality court. Odette Geldenhuys, from Webber Wentzel attorneys, acted as Liezel’s lawyer pro bono.

In his defence Khan argued that his staff didn’t deny Connor access because of his disability. They’d simply been acting in accordance with the supermarket’s policy that doesn’t allow prams, large bags or wheelchairs.

On 14 February the Mitchells Plain magistrate’s court found that Connor had suffered discrimination. The court ruled that it was unfair discrimination because the shop owner neglected to remove obstacles to give disabled people easy access to the store. Also, no reasonable steps were 
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