CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — A Georgia man believes he was turned away from staying at an Alabama motel because of his power-chair.
Scott East recorded a video of the interaction with the motel employee after he said he was told he could not stay at the property.
“I was probably more hurt and more embarrassed than anything,” said East.
East told CBS 42 that his family traveled from Villa Rica to visit a water park near Weiss Lake. He said he called the Weiss Lake Lodge to confirm there was an available room for special needs.
“They had already quoted me the price and everything and the guy told me that all floors on the motel are on one level and everything was wheelchair accessible on one level and everything was wheelchair accessible,” said East.
The Georgia husband and father has a form of arthritis that keeps him from putting strength on his knee and he’s been using a power chair for the last year or so.
In the cell phone video, the employee can be seen on the phone with someone else. She returns to the window and tells West that they cannot stay at the property. The family was eventually told to leave and threatened with a call to law enforcement.
“She was talking about that she didn’t want to be responsible, she didn’t need to be responsible to me, I am able to, that’s why when she said that I didn’t understand what she was trying to state,” said East.
East said he had some difficulty understanding the employee and the motel manager told CBS 42 that he believes it was a misunderstanding.
“Miscommunication, that is all that amounts to. I understand and I feel for the man,” said James McDonald, a new manager at the Weiss Lake Lodge.
McDonald said that on the day in question, all of the motel guests had checked out after the busy holiday weekend. He said none of the rooms were cleaned, but regrets that wasn’t what his employee said to East during the recording at the window.
“She’s not being able to speak enough English right now to be able to convey what she should have to him, which was the room was not ready for him, because if you had gave us a little notice, we could have had it ready, but she did not realize this,” said McDonald.
East disputes McDonald’s claim that he did not call ahead. McDonald said he did not speak to East and was not familiar with the details of a conversation with another employee. McDonald said he called East to apologize and offered him a free night at the hotel. According to McDonald, there are two rooms that are designated to be accessible to individuals with special needs. East told CBS 42 that he hopes his story raises awareness of the challenges people with disabilities can face.
“If he would have told me, if you’ll come back in an hour, we need to clean the rooms, that would have been a reason, or I am having problems, but to totally ignore somebody and tell them to get off your property?” East said.
For context, CBS 42 reached out to the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program at the University of Alabama’s School of Law.
There are similar organizations in every state and all are federally mandated and funded to help advocate and protect the rights of disabled individuals.
Larry Canada, an attorney with ADAP, shared his reaction to the video.
“You could have had a situation where there were no rooms available and the owner should have just said that. That would not necessarily be a violation. It could be only a couple rooms are accessible and they should have said that, but in a situation where the disabled individual wants to take a regular room, not to allow them to do that, to me is a violation of Title 3 of the ADA,” said Canada.
Canada said places of public accommodation are not free to deny service to someone with a disability. ADAP offers education for business owners to help ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you have questions about ADA issues, you can contact ADAP through its website or at 205.348.4928.