Ohio Mom Sues YMCA For Excluding Her Son Because Of Down Syndrome

Alexis Gulino Contributor
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An Ohio mother is suing the YMCA in a lawsuit alleging discrimination for not allowing her six-year-old son to participate in specific programs because he has Down syndrome.

Denise Watts claimed that her son, Steven Heffron was treated hypocritically after the YMCA used his pictures to promote inclusiveness, and then subsequently excluded him from summer camp programs, reports ABC News.

“It’s a slap in the face to use Steven as a poster child and then deny him equal opportunities,” Watts said.

In the lawsuit recently filed in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, Watts accused the Great Miami Valley YMCA in Butler County violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act.

Watts’ attorney, Richard Ganulin, says the YMCA has refused to assess Steven to determine reasonable modifications to its practices and procedures to help the child.

According to the American with Disabilities Act, summer camps and entities accommodating the public are required to make reasonable modifications enabling those with disabilities to participate fully in all programs and activities.

While the YMCA’S attorney Michael Hawkins said that youth development has been a focus of the nonprofit organization for decades, Watts maintains that the YMCA doesn’t support her son’s needs.

Watts said she lost her job as an assistant teacher in the YMCA’s early education program because of advocating for Steven. She continues to claim that the YMCA discriminated against the boy based on his disabilities.

The boy, who completed kindergarten at Middletown public school, was enrolled in before-school and after-school programs during the year.

According to Watts, Steven was removed from the morning program, restricted to a much shorter time than other children at the afternoon sessions and told he couldn’t attend its regular summer camp for typically developing children.

“But he thrives in settings with typically developing children and struggles when he’s placed with only special-needs children,” Watts said.

Both the National Down Syndrome Society and Disability Rights Ohio are monitoring the case.

Kevin Truitt of Disability Rights said, “We monitor pending lawsuits like this to see if they have the potential to create a precedent for other people with disabilities.”