Joined by his service dog Gretel and a handful of supporters, Matt Salli picketed outside the Walnut Grove Save-On-Foods location Thursday afternoon. Troy Landreville Langley Times

VIDEO: Legally blind man pickets supermarket in wake of alleged discrimination

Matt Salli and Save-On-Foods working on a solution, following ‘unfortunate’ incident

A legally blind man who contends he was verbally abused by a staff member at the Save-On-Foods location in Walnut Grove in February mounted a protest outside the store on Thursday afternoon.

Matt Salli came away from the Feb. 10 incident so angry, he returned to the location wearing a picket sign reading ‘I think Save-On-Foods discriminates against the blind.’

A handful of people joined him, wearing picket signs while standing with Salli and his service dog, Gretel, along 88 Avenue, near the Save-On-Foods building.

“The way I was treated was disgusting,” Salli said. “I felt demeaned.”

However, Save-On-Foods believes the incident was the result of a misunderstanding.

“The experience that he had was very unfortunate,” said Julie Dickson, director of public affairs at Save-On-Foods.

“He had a bad customer service experience with one of our team members, and the team member — who I’ve had personal dealings with — feels terrible. In a rushed environment, where he was low on staff, he was asked to help do something he didn’t think he could support. And he said no, and he realizes he probably shouldn’t have done that, and he feels terrible about it.”

On the day of the alleged incident, Salli says he went to the service desk in the store to ask for help with his shopping. The customer representative told him there was no one available, so he asked to speak to the manager on duty.

The manager first said he was too busy to help, then agreed to give him a hand. However, Salli says the manager treated him with disrespect, saying things like “you people have to give us more notice,” and “there’s organizations out there that can help you people do your grocery shopping.”

Salli was so upset by the experience, he left the store without purchasing anything. He then submitted a formal complaint to Save-On-Foods, and met with the store manager. Salli said he didn’t want the employee to be fired, but he did ask for a letter of apology, a letter of reprimand on the employee’s file, and staff training specifically around people with disabilities — all of which Save-On-Foods agreed to.

He also asked Save-On-Foods to donate $3,000 to a Langley-based non-profit organization. He says the company wanted to do an in-kind donation in the form of hotdog sales and other fundraisers “where the customers would be paying for it.”

“I didn’t feel that was right,” Salli said. “Save-On should accept responsibility for what was done to me and how I was treated and that the $3,000 should come from the company itself and not the customers.”

Reflecting on the alleged incident, Salli said “nobody should be treated this way. I have never had anyone speak to me that way my whole life, and I have been legally blind since 1979.”

Dickson said the store is continuing to work with Salli to make things right, and has been in contact with the charity he requested.

“The store manager is really trying to work with that charity to find a way to make a better resolve out of this situation than simply cutting a cheque to someone and saying that’s what we’ve done here,” she said.

“I think there’s a bit of a disconnect between what Mr. Salli’s impression of what (the store manager) is trying to do.

“I think what he (the store manager) thought was, ‘Jeez, I just don’t think that that’s the right thing to do, I think our team could benefit from some of this training. I think that this organization sounds worthy, I’d like to partner with them to do something over a much longer term than simply have an entity mail a cheque to them without knowing why and have it go away.’”

After the protest on 88 Avenue, Dickson said staff met with Salli and were able to come to a solution. However Salli said “nothing has been finalized yet.”

“It’s not wrapped up, but it’s looking like we’re heading in that direction,” he said.

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