Thursday, August 15, 2013

Disabled man files lawsuit against National Air and Space Museum

A disabled flight student and his brother have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the National Air and Space Museum alleging that they were denied access to flight simulators and publicly embarrassed during a museum visit last year.

The suit was filed in Washington’s federal district court Thursday morning against the Smithsonian Institution, which runs the museum, and Pulseworks LLC, the company that operates the simulators.

Max Gold, 21, who suffers from a rare vascular birth defect that has left him wheelchair-bound since his right leg was amputated at age 6, and his brother, Jake, 25, were visiting from New York last August when the incident occurred. They say they were told the simulator “required two legs and since Max only has one,” it was potentially too dangerous. They were then directed to an interactive flight simulator and allowed to purchase tickets.

“Upon me lifting Max to place him to the seat, a supervisor came running over and said I had to put him down,” Jake Gold said. Afterward, the pair say, the supervisor directed all her comments to Jake despite attempts by Max to speak for himself.

“She was yelling that the only way I could ride this ride was if I physically got out of the chair and walked up the stair,” Max Gold said. He said he tried “jumping in” to explain that his brother had been lifting him for most of his life, “but she didn’t understand that I was trying to get involved and state my authority.”

According to lawyer Shawn Heller, of the Social Justice Law Collective, the suit seeks a policy change that accommodates individuals with disabilities, staff training on accommodations and sensitivity and unspecified damages for emotional distress.

Claire Brown, a museum spokeswoman, said there would be no comment on the pending litigation.

Max Gold, who is entering his junior year at the State University of New York at Farmingdale, where he studies security systems with an aviation concentration, says they came straight to the museum from the train “due to my absolute love for aviation.” By the descriptions of the rides, “you were actually able to have a hands-on experience with flying a plane. Once I saw that I thought, ‘I absolutely must try this.’ ”

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