A museum in New Hampshire has apologized for refusing to allow an 8-year-old blind girl named Abby Duffy to use her white cane inside the museum, WMUR News 9 reports.
The incident was first brought to light by Abby's mother, Penny Duffy, who posted about it on her blog earlier this week. Abby started losing her vision at age 6 due to a condition known as Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, and she is now legally blind.
Duffy explained on her blog that her husband, Chris, brought their two children to the Museum of New Hampshire History but was told by an employee that Abby could not bring her cane through the museum. When Abby's father told the employee that his daughter was blind, the person reportedly responded by saying that there had been "issues with kids in the past."
Because the children were excited about the trip, Duffy said her husband didn't press the matter, paid the admission and handed over the cane to the employee.
"I couldn't really walk on my own and go anywhere by myself," Abby told News 9.
Bill Dunlap, executive director of the museum, has since apologized to the Duffy family. He emailed News 9 to explain that the incident was a misunderstanding.
"We sincerely regret what happened to Abby and her family when they visited our museum, which was the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding," Dunlap wrote. "The New Hampshire Historical Society is committed to equal access for all individuals. We are proud of our record over many years of providing access to our facilities to persons with disabilities."
Dunlop further explained to the New Hampshire Union Leader, that the employee felt terrible about the incident.
“The employee involved is a good employee, a longtime employee, who has worked that job before. She just misunderstood that the girl had a legal impairment. It was a terrible misunderstanding, and we have apologized to the family,” he said.
Misunderstanding or not, Duffy still raised questions about the rationale behind the worker's explanation on her blog and expressed concern that something similar might happen to another family in the future.
"Perhaps she didn't hear when Chris said Abby was blind. Lets decide for just this argument she didn't hear him. The issue is regardless what did she think it was? Who are these kids she spoke of? I envision an ninja army of blind children with white canes trashing the museum," she wrote. "We have already gotten an apology and I belive it was genuine but I am very concerned it may happen again. No one should ever have to through what happened to my family."
What happened to the Duffys calls to mind a recent incident involving a lack of sensitivity toward a child with a disability.
Earlier this week, reports surfaced that a school in Nebraska asked Hunter Spanjer, a 3-year-old deaf boy, to change the way he signs his name, because the gesture resembles a gun.
Bloggers and Facebook users quickly rose to the boy's defense, in addition to Howard Rosenblum, the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, who offered legal assistance should the family need it.
The Stir's Julie Evans Ryan argued that both incidents highlight the need to raise awareness about children with disabilities.
"Though it feels like we have come so far in some respects, children with disabilities unfortunately do not always get treated with the respect, dignity, and consideration they should. Hopefully by sharing [Duffy's] story and others like this, people will see that this isn't okay, and that ignorance isn't an excuse for discrimination," she wrote.