Denise Watts’s 6-year-old son, Steven Heffron, was excited for summer camp at the Greater Miami Valley YMCA in Ohio, where he could join his classmates from his elementary school.
But the YMCA denied Heffron access to its camp’s morning session, as well as restricted him to a shorter period at the afternoon session. As reported by the Associated Press, the YMCA asserts that the categorical exception is necessary to protect the camper’s safety.
Watts, for her part, is contending in a federal lawsuit that the YMCA’s decision violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The YMCA or any other program that is subject to the se laws has to make reasonable modifications to accommodate Steven’s needs to allow him to have equal access,” Richard Ganulin, the plaintiff’s attorney, told NBC News. “There are behavioral experts who assess situations like this and they provide recommendations for how to accommodate the needs of someone with a disability. We asked the YMCA to do that here, but it refused.”
Watts also argued that the YMCA retaliated against her by terminating her employment as an assistant teacher with its early education program, as a result of her advocacy for her son.
Moreover, the YMCA allegedly has used Heffron’s photo in promotional materials, showcasing its efforts on behalf of students with disabilities, complete with tag lines such as “Providing Opportunities for Everyone.”
“It’s a slap in the face to use Steven as a poster child and then deny him equal opportunities,” Watts told the Associated Press.
Kevin Truitt, an attorney with Disability Rights Ohio, agrees that the YMCA’s actions likely ran contrary to the law.
“The child has a right to be in an integrated program. They can offer what are called segregated programs, which is just children with disabilities, but he has the right to be in an integrated program for children without disabilities,” Truitt told NBC News. “They have to accommodate his needs to ensure he has the same access to this program as any other child.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
Disability Rights Ohio and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.