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Museum Apologizes After Denying Access To Wheelchair-Bound Child

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File photo of a person attaching new wheels to a wheelchair. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

File photo of a person attaching new wheels to a wheelchair. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – The Ships of the Sea Museum offered an apology to a family who tried to visit recently after they were reportedly denied access to their facilities out of concern that one wheelchair-bound member of the family would “get the carpets dirty.”

According to WBTV, the Haas family attempted to visit the museum Sunday. Dr. Ken Haas told the station that before going there, he and his wife researched the access options at the museum for their disabled daughter, Lexi, who suffers from a brain dysfunction called Kernicterus that affects the nervous system and prohibits her from functioning physically.

On their official website, the museum states that they offered “limited accessibility” to people with disabilities.

“At present, due to a conflict between city regulations and those of the Department of the Interior regulating historic sites, we do not have an elevator or lift,” the site additionally notes.

There is no mention of restrictions regarding wheelchair-bound patrons on the website, however. Despite that, when the Haas family arrived at the museum, they were informed by the woman at the front desk that Lexi would not be able to stay in her own wheelchair due to concerns for the cleanliness of the interior carpeting.

Haas told the station that the reasoning “didn’t make sense to [him],” and explained to the unidentified employee that Lexi’s wheelchair included necessary straps that the one offered by the museum did not.

The Haas family was then offered a compromise of “hav[ing] Lexi sit outside and watch a video on a tiny TV while the rest of us walked through the exhibits,” according to a Facebook post made by the family later that day.

Officials at Ships of the Sea, including curator Wendy Melton, attributed the incident to a misunderstanding of museum policies in regards to wheelchairs on the part of the employee.

Melton added, “In Savannah, we have a reputation of being very accommodating to our guests. This was an anomaly.”

The museum also offered a formal apology to the family in the form of a letter.

“We share your shock and disbelief, since the way in which the staff member chose to answer the Haas family’s very reasonable request was in violation of the both the letter and the spirit of the Museum’s accessibility policy,” the letter, obtained by WBTV, said. “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.”

Officials added in the letter, “Hence our own shock and dismay when we heard of the incident the day following the incident.”

Though the family said to the station that they accepted the apology, Lexi, who is passionate about learning, was initially angry about the incident, according to her mother, Susan Haas.

“They really need to train their staff. They really do,” she was quoted as saying. “It’s a significant error and significant departure in the current thinking on disability access.”

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