Wanted to share this article from The New York Times (Jan.16/2019) that shows us: Victory for Food Allergies by Inclusion over Exclusion!! There are two young hero’s in this story: Mason, who stands up for his rights and Sam, who supports him. Membership denied for a youth with food allergies, based on inconvenience/lack of understanding is difficult, yet often part of everyday challenges. These two young men faced and questioned opposition from the organization management to speak out for the right to participate.
The conflict over accommodating a child’s allergy turned into a legal battle that highlights the isolation that people with food allergies often face.
TURNERS FALLS, Mass. — It seemed like the perfect setting for a shy, thoughtful 10-year-old boy’s first steps on stage: a kids’ Shakespeare program that doesn’t hold auditions, guarantees everyone a substantial speaking role, emphasizes community, and excludes no one.
Unless, as Mason Wicks-Lim and his mother Ali discovered, you have a life-threatening nut allergy.
The conflict that ensued over how the theater could accommodate Mason’s allergy eventually grew into a legal battle that created a rift in the community, highlighting the social struggles that people with food allergies often contend with, even as they fight for equal access.
The turmoil began when the family tried to enroll Mason, now 14, in Young Shakespeare Players-East, a revered institution in this small historic town that takes pride in its arts community and progressive activism. The theater’s director, Suzanne Rubinstein, at first rebuffed efforts to register Mason, citing concerns that no one on staff could be trained to administer an EpiPen, a shot of epinephrine used to treat severe allergic reactions. Then, following months of negotiations, she threatened to close the program if he joined.
As word got around that Mason was not welcome, some of his peers in the program urged Ms. Rubinstein to reconsider. Sam Picone-Louro, who was then 12 and had played a soldier and a senator in the spring production of “Julius Caesar,” accused Ms. Rubinstein of discrimination.
“You said yourself there are no rejections and you are rejecting Mason,” Sam wrote in an email.
Ms. Rubinstein told Sam to apologize or find a different acting program, and then emailed other families warning them that she would brook no criticism. The program, Ms. Rubinstein said, “is not for everyone.” Sam did not apologize and was not allowed to continue in the program.
On Dec. 31, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination concluded that Sam was right. The Shakespeare group may have not only illegally discriminated against Mason, the commission said, but also retaliated against Sam for speaking up. Two years earlier, in June 2016, the United States Department of Justice had reached a similar conclusion, saying that the theater violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to make reasonable modifications to accommodate Mason.
The Massachusetts commission has ordered the Shakespeare group to settle with the families by Feb. 5 or face a public hearing and possible sanctions, said Mary Vargas, the lawyer who represents the two families.
Ms. Rubinstein did not agree to an interview, but YSP East’s lawyer, Frank DiPrima, said that “Mason was always welcome to register.” He said that Sam, who is transgender and uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” would have been welcomed back, had they been more respectful.
“We’re going to try, for the benefit of children past and future, to conciliate,” Mr. DiPrima said. “No other program of this size has done as much to accommodate children with disabilities.”
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