Special Needs Child Thrown out of Beauty and the Beast

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Samantha Torres took her five-year-of special needs child to a Providence, Rhode Island theater to see “Beauty and the Beast.”  She wanted to give her child a new experience, instead they were thrown out of the performance.

“They did not ask me to leave; they told me I had to leave,” said Torres, a New Bedford mom who says she was ejected from the Providence musical “Beauty and the Beast” because her daughter was “squealing and giggling and humming” along with the show.

Nadia suffers from a rare chromosome abnormality, which prevents her from speaking.  On June 2, Torres took her two children and a nurse to the Disney musical at the Providence Performing Arts Center.  What she hoped to be a new and pleasant experience turned into another frustrating event.

Marketing Director P.J. Prokop of the Providence Performing Arts Center, said that Ms. Torres and her daughter were offered alternate seating.  Torres said that never happened.

Prokop further stated:  Audience members “were turning around; they were looking; they were also kind of gesturing,” Prokop said.  “It is the theater’s responsibility to try and ensure that everyone can hear and have a good time.”

Torres said that because they were sitting in the rear of the theater, and the sound was very loud, they didn’t appear to be bothering anyone.

Attorney Christine Griffin, executive director of the Massachusetts Disabilities Law Center, said this is not uncommon.

“I think that if there really weren’t legitimate complaints from other attendees, and they didn’t really attempt to accommodate them in a better way.  Yeah, that would be discrimination,” she said.

Griffin said that the actions of theater management violated the Americans
With Disabilities Act.

She said that if there were a few complaints, those people could have been offered alternate seating.  If there were multiple complaints, they should have accommodated Ms. Torres and her party.  She said that the staff of the theater should receive sensitivity training.

“What about as a parent thinking ‘Isn’t it great that this little kid gets to go to this show, and we’re going to make sure that she enjoys it.'”

New Bedford’s Zeiterion Theatre doesn’t have a “hard and fast policy” on dealing with these issues, said Rosemary Gill, the theater’s co-director.

“Philosophically, our position is we are a welcoming organization; we absolutely welcome anyone with a disability and we make accommodations whenever possible,” she said.

She said that these types of situations are handled on a ‘case by case’ basis, but the best way is to tell the theater operators in advance that a member of their group has a disability.  They could make advance arrangements.

Lisa Condit, marketing director of the Hanover Theatre in Worcester told of a boy who attended their theater about two years ago.  He had cerebral palsy, and was rocking and singing to the music.  They decided not to ask him to leave, and when the people in adjacent seats understood the situation, they were less upset.

“Our operations manager knew and felt strongly that our mission is to foster love and appreciation,and we couldn’t ask this family to leave because he could not control his reaction,” Condit said.

Sadly this situation could have been handled in a more sensitive fashion.  If It had been, a special needs child would have been able to enjoy “Beauty and the Beast.”

James Turnage

The Guardian Express

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