Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A gym cancels a birthday party for a child with disabilities and gets sued

How's this for discrimination: You book a birthday party at a local gym for your child with disabilities who's turning seven You sign an agreement that states if a guest has "special needs," they must have a "Professional Certified Shadow" be responsible for that guest, regardless of the nature of that child's disability. A few days before the party, the gym contacts you to confirm details, including the final guest count. You mention that a few friends from the school for children with disabilities that your kid attends will be coming. The gym refuses to let parents serve as shadows, and does not offer staffers to help. Then it cancels the party.

Yep: blatant discrimination. The parents sued that New Jersey business, Paragon School of Artistic Gymnastics. After an investigation, the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office concluded that the gym violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Per Title III of the ADA, places of public accommodation like Paragon must make reasonable modifications to policies and practices to allow people with disabilities to participate in its activities. It's also illegal for a place of public accommodation to impose additional eligibility demands or a surcharge on a person with disabilities who wants to participate in services. 

Per the settlement agreement, the gym will now ensure that children with disabilities will be given full and equal opportunities to participate in parties and programs—and it clearly states that on its website.

All gymnastics schools should have policies like this. Ditto for dance schools. Too often, though, that's not the case. Over the years, I've heard a number of parents tell of children with disabilities being denied access to gym and dance programs.

I know, it's mind-boggling that a business that caters to children would so blatantly try to shout out kids with disabilities. It's also defies belief that they thought they could get away with it. But the law's on our side. And hopefully, perceptions that it's difficult or impossible to accommodate kids with disabilities. A few years ago, when Max saw a dance performance and decided he wanted to try tap-dancing, I reached out to the owner of a local dance school and mentioned that I had a child with disabilities interested in taking tap lessons. She didn't ask a single question about Max's disability—she just said "yes." We decided private lessons would be best, and he ended up enjoying a bunch of them.

Want to encourage a business to be more accommodating? Check out this post by Torrie Dunlap, CEO of Kids Included Together, on 8 ways to include kids with special needs in programs, events, camps, classes, wherever.

If you believe your child has been a victim of discrimination, you can file a complaint with your state's Attorney's Office (here's a state-by-state listing).

Image: Flickr/Philip Morris

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