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4-year-old with Down syndrome turned away from aquarium for no mask

Photo: Amanda Yeary

Amanda Yeary’s day of fun at Cincinnati’s Newport Aquarium with her two children was ruined when they were turned away because her 4-year-old daughter, Hannah, who has Down syndrome, wouldn’t wear a mask or face shield.

Yeary said the aquarium refused to give Hannah an exemption from their mask-wearing policy.

“To be a parent and be told that your child is not welcome at a certain establishment because of their disability is just absolutely heartbreaking,” said Yeary, adding, “I felt like the aquarium was telling me that my daughter, who has a disability, isn’t entitled to enjoy the same experiences that other children are.”

Advocates for people with disabilities say that face mask exemptions due to disability are still a tricky situation, even a year into the pandemic.

Patrick Ober, disability rights and advocacy specialist for the Center for Independent Living Options, said, “We’ve had court cases over it and the answer still is we just don’t know any kind of clear-cut answer to that.  It’s all case by case.”

Ober says the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) does require businesses to provide reasonable accommodations when it comes to masks.

“We do appreciate when accommodations can be made for individuals with Down syndrome who aren’t able to wear a mask or aren’t able to wear a mask for a long period of time,” said Krissy Vinson, communications coordinator for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati.

Yeary said the aquarium did ask if Hannah might be able to wear a face shield instead, but she said her there’s no way she’d keep it on.

The aquarium would offer a virtual visit, but the family wanted an in person experience.

In Kentucky, the mask mandate says children under 5 and people with disabilities are exempt from wearing masks.  Yeary said this makes the aquarium’s policy even more disappointing.

The family is looking into filing a complaint through the ADA.

The aquarium did not respond to calls for comment.

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