When Rebecca Uccello signed her daughter, Izabella, up for the "Little Miss Springfield" pageant, she thought it would be a nice change of pace. Izabella has spina bifida and Rebecca imagined the event would be a memorable day for her.
"I wanted her to have her own thing aside from physical therapy and speech therapy, just something fun for her to do," mom told KY3. But when Rebecca arrived the day of the pageant, she discovered that her daughter wouldn't be able to participate.
The 4-year-old couldn't even make it to the stage.
Despite filling out the paperwork, having dresses made, and checking in with the facility a few days before, mom said the auditorium was completely inaccessible. She was told that there would be 15 steps to the stage. Mom thought that meant, on the side of the stage, that she could quickly carry her daughter up. But instead, she was met with 15 descending steps from the entrance of the auditorium to the stage -- plus more steps onto it. And no alternative ramps in sight.
Mom explained in an Op-Ed for News Leader her disappointment with the Hammons Heart Institute, where the pageant was held and the event itself: "I find it horrifying that HHI is not ADA compliant. I understand that the Miss Springfield organization uses this venue because it is free," she wrote.
A spokesperson for Mercy said that she "feels terrible" about what happened and didn't know about Izabella's needs until it was too late. According to the KY3, the Institute was built before ADA regulations were put in place and Richter said that Izabella was the first special needs child to enter -- in the 15 years that they've held the pageants there.
Pageant co-director Pam Richter told KY3 that special needs children hold a place in the organization's heart.
But while the situation may have come as a surprise to the pageant organizers, it is all too familiar to parents of children with special needs. Ellen Seidman, mother to a son with cerebral palsy, wrote about Rebecca's incident on her blog Love That Max. "It gets tiring. Why does it have to be so hard? you wonder. Am I asking for anything outrageous? No. Don't I have enough on my hands? Yes. Where is my damn fairy godmother? But then you look at your child and you ache for him or her to enjoy the same events and everyday activities other kids do and have total access to life's pleasures and experiences," she wrote.
Although Izabella does plan to compete in the accessible Miss Branson pageant in February, mom is using this experience as a teachable moment. She calls out to others in her letter:
I am calling for other businesses and organizations with ADA compliant venues to step up and offer their facilities for Miss Springfield pageant’s use.
And I am calling for parents of physically challenged children to not be hesitant in insisting that their children have the opportunity to participate in events such as this.
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