Franklin Institute Bilks Disabled, Pair Claims

     (CN) – The Franklin Institute illegally charges the disabled an extra admission fee for their personal attendants, two low-income men with cerebral palsy claim in a Federal Court.
     Michael Anderson, 31, and Joel Pacheco, 24, receive 24-hour personal assistance with daily living activities through Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program and Vision for Equality Inc. – a Philadelphia nonprofit whose attendants help low-income, disabled individuals “participate in the community to the maximum extent possible.”
     Anderson lives in Merion Station, Pa., with two other disabled persons, while Pacheco resides with his parents, Emilio and Ana Pacheco, who both work full-time.
     Anderson, the Pachecos, and Vision for Equity sued the Franklin Institute in the federal court in Philadelphia on Monday.
     They claimed the museum forces disabled patrons to “pay a separate admission surcharge for their personal attendants, even though their attendants are only assisting the plaintiffs, who could not enjoy the benefits of defendant’s facilities without their attendants.”
     The four-count complaint asserts claims under the equal opportunity, reasonable modifications, methods of administration, and auxiliary aides sections of Title III of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
     “Mr. Anderson has very little control over his body,” the plaintiffs state in their complaint. “He cannot shift his body position and cannot do any weight changes without his personal attendant’s assistance. He has high spasticity that he cannot control. His personal attendants adjust the wheelchair and pull him upright to avoid decubitus ulcers. If Mr. Anderson slides too far forward in his wheelchair or is leaning too far back in his wheelchair, the personal attendants must lift him under his arms so he can sit properly in the wheelchair and can therefore use the wheelchair’s joystick for direction. Mr. Anderson requires readjustment in his wheelchair about two times in every two hours. If Mr. Anderson’s head falls to one-side, the personal attendants must straighten his head.”
     The nonverbal Pacheco uses a feeding tube and can only push his wheelchair short distances, they add.
     Anderson, who received an associate degree from Edinboro University, a Pennsylvania state college, in 2007, “is very involved in politics,” the plaintiffs say. “He has been a team leader and responsible for recruiting volunteers and doing door-to-door activities and phone banks. He has also volunteered at the national convention. Plaintiff Anderson has kept statistics for the 76ers and has written articles for the 76ers paper.”
     They later add “Anderson pays for his own admission to The Franklin Institute, but has been required to pay for the attendant, who must accompany him and whose only purpose of attending The Franklin Institute is to provide personal assistance services for Mr. Anderson, including manually manipulating various devices, reading the signs on exhibits (he has a visual tracking disability that makes it difficult for him to read a multi-line text), assisting with his toileting needs, readjusting his sitting in his wheelchair, and eating and drinking.
     “Without his personal attendant, plaintiff Anderson cannot attend The Franklin Institute and cannot receive the same benefits from The Franklin Institute as nondisabled individuals,” the plaintiffs say.
     The pair say their personal attendants help them enjoy other museums, movies, and restaurants, as well as bowling, shopping, swimming, and casinos.
     Pacheco “was a member at The Franklin Institute for several years,” the plaintiffs say. “When he recently renewed his membership in April 2013, because of the difference in price, plaintiff Pacheco renewed it only for himself.”
     The plaintiffs seek to order the museum to remove the fee, and for attorney’s fees. They are represented by Stephen Gold of Philadelphia.

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