Saturday, June 28, 2008

Federal judge sides with family when Santa Claus wasn't in ADA-accessible building

From the Wichita Falls, Texas, Times Record News on June 26:

A federal judge said the Wichita County Heritage Society showed “studied indifference” to the Americans with Disabilities Act when it denied a little girl access to the Kell House (pictured above) to see Santa Claus.

Judge William F. Sanderson ruled Tuesday the heritage society violated the ADA in denying access to the historic home to Kaelei Kennedy, who is confined to a wheelchair because of a genetic disease.

The family did not request monetary damages, but a hearing July 21 will likely require the heritage society to comply with ADA guidelines and determine payment of attorneys’ fees.

“We are very, very happy there has been has been some justice,” said Shamayn Kennedy, Kaelei’s mother. “We feel it’s not just a win for our daughter, but for all people with a disability. It benefits a huge population getting left out.”

Kaelei was 6 years old in 2004 when her parents attempted to take her to the Christmas season Santa Claus visit at the Kell House. Her mother claimed Kaelei was denied access to Santa, even though the family suggested options other than the child going into the building.

The suit claimed Howard Morris, executive director of the society at the time, told the family the Kell House was exempt from ADA requirements and could not put a wheelchair ramp on grounds because of cost. It also alleged Kell House employees told the family Morris did not want a wheelchair in the house because objects might get broken.