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Health: Local Girl’s Family Claims Daughter Was Discriminated Against at Hershey, Now They’re Trying To Make A Difference

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Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3 and The CW Philly 57’s Emmy Award-win...
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By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A disabled little girl was barred from popular attraction, including a visit to Santa.  Now her parents are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to others.  3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the push to change federal laws.

Layla Mongelluzzo is a happy and playful 2-year-old.  But she has autism and a condition that makes her prone to accidents, which is why she likes her stroller.

“It’s pretty common for a child with autism to feel safe and comfortable in a stroller,” said Ed Mongelluzzo, Layla’s father.

But on a recent trip to Hershey, dubbed The Sweetest Place On Earth, what happened to Layla and her family was anything but sweet.

At Hersheypark and Hershey’s Chocolate World, Layla’s parents say she was denied access in her stroller to two attractions, and she wasn’t allowed to see Santa either, even though her big sister was.

“We’ve got our 4-year-old who is asking why Santa doesn’t like Layla.  This is my baby.  I’m supposed to protect her from the world,” said Liz Finnegan, Layla’s mother.

There are ADA Accessible signs all over Chocolate World.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity to the disabled, including people with autism.  So Layla’s parents figured there would be no problem keeping Layla in her stroller.  They had paperwork from her doctor, and got a special pass from the front office.  But workers still refused to let her in.

“It was an ADA violation, but these people had no clue they were violating it.  It’s not right to exclude her based on something that she has absolutely no control over,” said Liz.

The law is clear about the right of the disabled, but it does not require training for workers, so they know how to handle all types of situations.

“We run into problems like this all the time,” said Patti Erickson, the President of the Philadelphia chapter of the Autism Society.  She thinks ADA training should be mandatory.

“A lot of times it can be very simple accommodations.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  It could be as simple as letting a child be in a stroller,” said Patty.

Layla’s parents complained and say they got apologies.  One email from Hersheypark read, “..we will use this unfortunate incident as a valuable learning opportunity for all of our Security staff moving forward.”

Hersheypark told CBS3, “We were disappointed to learn that we weren’t able to adequately communicate the accessibility procedures that we have in place to Layla’s family.”

Chocolate World says, “our facility is fully ADA compliant and we make every effort to accommodate the needs of all our guests.”

Meantime, Liz has started a petition calling for a change in the law to require training.  So far, she has more than 47,000 signatures, many claiming to have also been discriminated against, including at Hershey.

“Our big goal is to make sure that we’re doing whatever we can based on our really awful situation, to make sure we can stop it from happening again, hopefully,” said Liz.

Layla’s parents say they’ve been in touch with several politicians on the state and federal level about passing a law to require employees in ADA Accessible buildings and parks to receive specific training on disabilities.

Layla did finally get to see Santa someplace else.

Americans with Disabilities Act Information- http://www.ada.gov/

Greater Philadelphia Autism Society- http://www.asaphilly.org/

Petition For Layla’s Law- http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-disability-discrimination-pass-layla-s-law

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