The U.S. Department of Justice’s statements to a theater group that denied a boy’s participation in a production have been seen as groundbreaking. The DOJ issued a statement saying that it regards the theater group’s claim that it could not accommodate the boy’s food allergies to be a violation of his civil rights and of the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The “letter of finding” issued on June 10 by the DOJ says that the 11-year old boy, Mason Wicks-Lim, has a disability as defined by the ADA and his rights appear to have been violated when the Young Shakespeare Players East (YSPE) of Massachusetts refused to alter practices to accommodate the boy to allow him equal access to the program.
A formal complaint by the boy’s family to the Justice Department was answered early this month.
The request from the boy’s family was that the theater program offer a nut-free environment for the boy to participate in and a trained staff member in the use of an epinephrine auto-injector should the boy enter anaphylactic shock.
The theater responded to the parents saying that the program was not always adult-supervised and that providing said trained supervision would be a financial hardship for the theater group.
The DOJ’s findings included no financial hardship to the theater as “any lay person” can be trained to use an auto-injector. The DOJ also found that the theater director’s responses to the parents and the boy’s friend Sam were “coercive and intimidating.” The theater group has been ordered to pay an undisclosed amount to the boy’s family and to cover their legal fees.
The key point made, however, is that the boy’s severe peanut allergy is considered by the Department of Justice to be a disability under the ADA.