Museum rejects disabled girl because her wheelchair 'would get the carpets dirty'
Lexi Hass, an 11-year-old girl from Charlotte, N.C., has a disease called Kernicterus, which is caused by high levels of bilirubin and causes neurological complications. Haas suffers from an induced brain dysfunction that has left her physically disabled and bound to a wheelchair.
The girl’s family visited Savanna, Ga., last weekend, where they hoped to visit the Ships of the Sea Museum on Sunday. The exhibits are located in an old home, and Dr. Ken Haas told WBTV that he knew it might be difficult to bring his daughter. But he said the reason the family was denied entrance “didn’t make any sense to me.”
After carrying his daughter’s wheelchair up a flight of stairs to the museum entrance, the family was told that the girl could not come in because the wheelchair would “get the carpets dirty.”
“I said, what about our shoes? Do people have to take those off?” the girl’s father told WTOC. “I was flabbergasted.”
Museum staff offered an alternative wheelchair that they had available, but the girl could not fit in it and it also lacked the straps that the 11-year-old needs. Personnel then told the family that they could “have Lexi sit outside and watch a video on a tiny TV while the rest of us walked through the exhibits,” the Haas family wrote in a Facebook post after the incident.
The girl’s father said Lexi was angry about the ordeal, especially since she loves to learn and was denied that opportunity.
"She told me she was angry. That's the word that struck her. She wasn't sad," Haas said. "If that is all it is a video, why have a museum? It's not the same and we were willing to haul her up there and carry her around if we needed to but it was nixed."
Museum curator Wendy Melton told WBTV that the Haas family’s summation of the day’s events is accurate, but said that the staff’s response is not the museum’s official policy. Melton says she spoke with the employee who denied the girl’s entrance.
The museum sent a letter of apology to the Haas family on Wednesday, claiming that the staff response violated “the spirit of the Museum’s accessibility policy.”
"Until the day after the incident, both in practice and in staff discussions regarding accessibility there has never been any time when the state of the carpet was even discussed as a cause for concern,” the letter stated. “Hence our own shock and dismay when we heard of the incident the day following the incident (Monday.)"
Melton also apologized on local television, telling WBTV that “in Savannah, we have a reputation of being very accommodating to our guests… this was an anomaly.”
The museum also stated that it has dismissed the employee who denied the Haas family entrance. Susan Haas, the mother of the 11-year-old, said she has accepted the apology and does not plan to file charges.
But the incident is not an isolated one. A woman from Acworth, Ga., this week told WXIA-TV that her son was also turned away from the same museum in Savannah because he was in a wheelchair. Marsha Prater told the station that Lexi’s story “kind of struck a cord with us because the same thing happened to use a little over a year ago.”
Prater’s son, Alex, suffers from muscular dystrophy and is bound to a wheelchair. He wanted to visit the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum in March 2012, but was denied entrance because the museum was “not set up as wheelchair accessible.”
The museum curator claimed that Lexi’s case was a one-time incident – a statement that infuriated Prater.
“I couldn’t believe that this happened a year later to another family and it can’t be just because one person working there doesn’t know the regulations or what to do with somebody who’s in a wheelchair,” she said.