Washington, DC- Following an incident in Dauphin County, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) has written to the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging the agency to examine how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could be strengthened in order to ensure equality of services for those with disabilities and better protect vulnerable children. Recently, a two year old child in Pennsylvania experienced challenges trying to access a Pennsylvania amusement park despite the fact that the child and her family chose attractions that were marked ‘ADA accessible.’ The ADA, which was passed in 1990, currently doesn’t require employees of places like amusement parks to undergo training that could help them better serve these children and families who are working through a disability.
“The ADA has opened up new doors for Americans with a disability. It’s important to examine whether this transformative law needs an update to deal with the challenges these families and children face today,” Senator Casey said. “Children with a disability and their families have a lot of challenges on their plate daily. It’s important that amusement parks and other places of public accommodation don’t add to the challenges that these families confront. I look forward to working with the Department of Justice and members of Congress to ensure the ADA is serving these children and their families.”
The full text of Casey’s letter is below:
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
United States Department of Justice
Dear Ms. Samuels,
I write today to bring your attention to a troubling incident in my state which has demonstrated a weakness in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the law banning discrimination on the basis of disability. With the Civil Rights Division’s collaboration on this issue, I hope to work together to ensure the ADA continues to protect individuals with disabilities in public accommodations throughout the country.
In December 2013, Edward Mongelluzzo and Elizabeth Finnegan of Pennsylvania took their two daughters to Hershey’s Chocolate World and Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. One of their daughters, Layla, is two years old, has autism, and suffers from hypotonia, which makes her accident-prone. Layla is also hypersensitive to sensory stimulation as a result of her autism. When Layla is away from home, her stroller provides a “safe place” to address her special needs. During the family’s trip to Hershey, park employees denied Layla access to several attractions labeled as ADA-accessible due to her stroller, despite her parents’ explaining her disabilities and producing documentation that included a note from her doctor and a pass obtained from the park.
This experience was understandably upsetting to Layla and her family, and raises troubling questions about the effectiveness of the ADA in preventing discrimination in addition to addressing discrimination that has occurred. As you know, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, and requires reasonable accommodation unless such accommodation would result in an undue burden. However, the current ADA does not require training on ADA compliance, making it difficult to ensure that employees interacting with individuals with disabilities are aware of their obligations. While it is my understanding that Hershey provides such training to its employees, the discrimination Layla encountered suggests that the law could be improved to prevent these types of incidents before they occur, rather than putting individuals and their families in the position of experiencing discrimination before seeking relief.
Given Congress’ intent that the ADA provides protection to all individuals with disabilities, I would welcome a dialogue with your office regarding any provisions of the current ADA that may be better implemented to prevent such situations. In addition, I ask for your technical assistance on this aspect of the law and how it might be strengthened to better prepare ADA-covered entities to provide equality of service to all individuals with disabilities. It is critical that the law protect those with visible disabilities as well as disabilities like Layla’s that are “invisible”.
With the shared goal of protecting individuals with disabilities from unlawful discrimination, I look forward to collaboration between my office and your Department. I appreciate your attention to this important matter.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator