Mullis, Bryan

A BOY, A TICKET, NO RIDE. WHY? – PARENTS BELIEVE IT WAS BIAS THAT KEPT SON, WHO HAS DOWN SYNDROME, OFF

Charlotte Observer, The (NC)

October 15, 2006

Edition: THREE SOUTH MECK

MELINDA JOHNSTON, SPECIAL TO THE OBSERVER

Section: SOUTH MECK

Page: 10S

Record Number: 0610150277

When Mark Mullis and Beth Schmidt and their son Bryan attended Mint Hill Madness several weeks ago, they were looking forward to the outdoor, family-friendly festival.

But their day didn’t turn out as planned.

When given a choice of rides, 8-year-old Bryan chose the teacup spinner. He had a ticket and he waited his turn. But when he got to the front of the line, he wasn’t allowed to ride.

“Mark handed the man tickets for two – he was going to ride with Bryan. The man took the tickets, then looked at Bryan and wouldn’t let him on the ride. And he wouldn’t tell us why,” Schmidt said.

As the other children were spinning in circles, Bryan’s parents tried their best to find out why their son was only allowed to watch.

He wasn’t too short, although the operator refused to measure him. He wasn’t afraid – he rode almost every ride at Matthews Alive just a few weeks before. He didn’t have a medical condition.

Then it occurred to them that it likely was Bryan’s Down syndrome that set him apart. Their puzzlement changed to anger.

“They didn’t question us or ask if it was OK for him to ride. They just looked at him and decided for themselves. That’s discrimination,” said Schmidt.

They looked for someone in charge to help.

A representative from the Mint Hill Business Association listened to their complaint, but said there was nothing he could do.

The manager of Your Event Source, the event planning company in charge of the ride area, also denied responsibility, saying they had contracted the mechanical rides to another company.

While being denied access to a ride may not seem like a big deal, to his parents, who work so hard to get Bryan what he needs, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

They got their ride ticket money back by evening’s end, but lost the festive spirit that started their afternoon.

“We face challenges wherever we go,” Schmidt said. “We can’t even go shopping without someone coming up to us and saying, `Bless your heart. You are so wonderful taking care of a child like that.’ I don’t know why anybody should feel sorry for us. If they had a question about Bryan, I wish they’d just ask me about him, not stop and stare or give us sympathy.”

They’ve since filed complaints with the Justice Department under the Americans With Disabilities Act against the Mint Hill Business Association and Your Event Source.

If proved true, those complaints would require both organizations to undergo training so that their workers would better understand discrimination and how to prevent it.

A spokesman for the ride company, MGR Rides from Greer, S.C., says their operator acted properly.

“There are restrictions involved for the safety of all people. If the operator didn’t feel like he could handle it, he’s not supposed to let him on,” said MGR Rides manager Kevin Bridwell.

Spokespersons for both the Mint Hill Business Association and Your Event Source say they’re not responsible for what happened because they weren’t operating the rides.

Connie Hawkins, executive director of Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, disagrees.

“I would hope this would become a learning experience for everybody. It is truly the responsibility of the host organization to ensure that all subcontractors do not discriminate against people with disabilities,” said Hawkins.

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