Updated: September 21, 2020 06:18 PM
Created: September 21, 2020 06:10 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A local family says their disabled son was unfairly turned away from the ABQ BioPark Zoo for not wearing a mask despite having a doctor’s note.
The Peterson family decided to go to the zoo for a family outing on Sept 19. They were all wearing masks at the time, except for 14-year-old Nicholas who is severely disabled.
“We just feel like he was definitely mistreated,” said his father, Robert Peterson. “He was refused because he was not wearing a mask…. By the time my wife got him back to the car he was in tears and just upset. He’s non-verbal so there’s really no way to explain to him the reasons he wasn’t being allowing in opposed to his sisters.”
Nicholas is wheel-chair bound and suffers from deafness and autism. His doctor provided a letter which indicates “he is not capable of wearing a face mask for a sustainable time.”
“He has a medical exemption from wearing a mask,” said Peterson. “It’s extremely stressful for his autism and sort of makes him freak out and have episodes.”
Peterson has since filed a complaint with the federal government via the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
“The people at the zoo wouldn’t even look at the doctor’s letter… they refused to bring him in,” said Peterson.
Outside the zoo’s entrance a poster indicates “Masks are required for all guests” and that “No Medical Exemptions” are allowed.
It’s a policy that seems at odds with what’s posted online at the City of Albuquerque’s website regarding the face covering mandate. The city’s website read: “Exceptions to this order are individuals with medical exemptions issued by their doctor and children under the age of 2 years old.”
The BioPark’s website does not mention medical exemptions specifically.
As for Robert Peterson, he wants both clarity and a fix to the zoo’s policy.
“The main point is if this is happening to Nicholas we feel it could be happening to other people as well… and we don't want anyone with a disability to be treated like a second class citizen,” said Peterson.
A spokesperson for the BioPark issued the following statement:
“Mask requirements, timed ticketing, and capacity limitations at the BioPark protect public health and animal health, and contain the virus so we can safely stay open for everyone. We are sorry the family had a bad experience, but there are no medical exceptions, and that information is on signs at the park."
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