Tell Newport Aquarium: Stop Discriminating against Disabled Patrons (and Apologize!)

By Ashley Jacobson

As a disability rights lawyer, I see disability discrimination every single day. As a disabled woman myself, I’ve also lived it. It’s difficult to describe how flagrant and earth-shattering these experiences are for members of the disability community–who all experience them in unique ways. “Ableism” is a term often used to define this experience–when someone is prejudiced or discriminates against a person with a disability. But coining a term doesn’t address the fire within us that dims each time someone denies us access, doesn’t provide accommodations (even when legally, it is our right to receive them), and comments negatively on our daily lived experiences. It also doesn’t accurately explain how endlessly hard we work to reignite that flame within us to fight back.

A friend of mine, John Faver, recently shared with me a blatant form of ableism he experienced, and I am asking for all of you to support John as he reignites, and burns down the ableist policies brought on by these awful perpetrators of disability discrimination.

John Faver is a man living with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, who since the age of 11 has safely used a medically-prescribed Segway as a mobility aid.  Mr. Faver has used this mobility device without issue in school, at work, in several aquariums and zoos—until Sunday, June 27th, 2021 when visiting the Newport Aquarium with his family.   

After waiting in line to enter the aquarium, he was stopped by the aquarium’s security officer and denied entrance to the facility because of his Segway.  Mr. Faver notified the officer of his disability, and the need for his mobility device as his doctor prescribed, but was repeatedly told he could only enter with an aquarium-provided manual wheelchair—a wheelchair he is not able to operate safely with his disability.  Mr. Faver offered medical documentation to the security officer, but was ultimately denied entrance and denied his right to reasonable accommodations for his disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  John and his family were sent home. Mr. Faver attempted to communicate with the higher-ups at Newport Aquarium to resolve this and future instances of disability discrimination, but the aquarium staff was not receptive to any such talks. These instances of discrimination happen often, and Mr. Faver is raising awareness to prevent other community members with disabilities from experiencing the same trauma and to demand that Newport Aquarium, and all of its owner’s businesses, stop violating the protected rights of disabled citizens.

Those are the facts, but let me break it down to you on an emotional level. John is a family man, who was excited as he waited in line with his loved ones that day. His Segway has provided him with the independence he deserves, since childhood. The ADA allows that Segway to be used, and he hasn’t had issues with another establishment turning him away like the Newport Aquarium did. So when the aquarium wouldn’t allow him to enter, I imagine his stomach dropping. I imagine him feeling misunderstood, shocked at being treated differently, hurt each and every time he had to explain to the security officer that no, he could not use the aquarium’s manual wheelchair, because not all disabled people use the same mobility aid–and to assume we do, shows how far nondisabled people have to go to understand what disability is, how disabled experiences are different and similar to nondisabled ones, and how our existence shouldn’t be limited by strangers we encounter who clearly don’t understand us.

How can you help?

  1. Tag news outlets and other media sources on any post shared about John’s story.
  2. Comment on the Newport Aquarium’s social media pages (@newport_aquarium on Instagram, and they are also on Facebook) to “stop discriminating against people with disabilities and apologize to John Faver.”
  3. If you see a facility turning away a disabled customer, offer to support. Don’t speak over the disabled individual, and don’t assume they need help, but if you witness a situation like John’s, and you see someone with a disability is being turned away, tell the facility that this is not okay. It can be extremely isolating living with a disability sometimes, and knowing other people have your back can make a big difference.

If you have any questions about disability discrimination, please feel free to contact me, Ashley Jacobson, at Jacobson Law & Advocacy (248) 878-6940. I offer nationwide consulting as well.

Published by Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

Disabled and legally abled attorney, vocational rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and accommodations specialist

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