Selectman wants to review policy after disabled girl couldn’t use floatation device
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — Selectman Ray Moritz stands by municipal lifeguards’ decision to turn away a disabled child wishing to use a flotation device at the public beach, but he said he will pursue the matter to see what the town might do to accommodate those with disabilities.
“This issue has never come up before with a disabled person,” he said.
The child’s mother, Melissa DeLeon, complained in a letter to the editor of the Laconia Daily Sun that the lifeguards would not allow her to use the Otteroo float she had purchased to allow Lila, who is nearly 3 years old and has cerebral palsy, to enter the water. The float circles the child’s head, keeping it above the water.
“She is beginning to become heavy,” DeLeon wrote, “so holding her in the water is impractical and doesn’t allow her to be independent.”
Cerebral palsy has left Lila without the ability to walk, sit, or eat independently, DeLeon said, adding that she explained the problem to the lifeguards, but they would not make an exception to the rule prohibiting floats. They said that, if they did, they then would have to let other children use floats, as well.
Moritz said, “I can understand the position the lifeguard took and has to take. It’s the town’s rules, and I wouldn’t want lifeguards inventing their own rules or making exceptions without them being given some guidelines, so I don’t fault the lifeguard in any way.”
DeLeon questioned the rule prohibiting floats, saying, “I would worry about any child in the water. It’s more of a safety issue. We were there with her, but the fact that she cannot support herself is a problem. It’s very necessary.”
Moritz said the rule prohibiting flotation devices is not uncommon among municipalities.
“Most are inflated toys and the conventional wisdom, including from sources such as the Red Cross and the Coast Guard, is that they present more of a hazard than not having them at all,” he said. “It’s fairly common that these are banned.”
He said some places make exceptions for U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation devices.
“On the surface, it makes a lot of sense,” he said, “but it requires lifeguards to read labels and make sure they’re certified, and particularly on busy weeks in the summer, we don’t want them paying more attention to what kind of life jacket it is and not be watching the people in the water.”
He said the town has received complaints about the ban from other parents who want to use water wings and other flotation devices, but the concern is that they relieve the parent of some of the burden of watching children they think are safe.
“I think it’s a good rule, but I do think we should explore an exception for the disabled,” Moritz said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public accommodation for those with disabilities, but Moritz said he has been unable to find any reference to flotation devices at public beaches. “They’re silent on this as far as I can tell,” he said, adding that there was consideration of a requirement for pools to provide lifts to assist in getting people in and out, but he didn’t know if that regulation was ever passed.
“I intend to at least pursue this with our director of parks and rec, to have him look at the issue and see if perhaps an exception for disabled people would be appropriate,” Moritz said, “and what the pros and cons would be.”
Upon learning of his response, DeLeon said she can understand the concern about floating toys, but she said the neck float is not a toy.
“I just feel, in Lila’s case, this is the best thing for her,” DeLeon said. “If she wiggles out of my arms, she’s gone under. It’s really just a safety thing.
“I want to be able to go to the beach with her and have a good time and do what our pediatrician would recommend.”
Melissa DeLeon of Meredith is disputing a rule prohibiting flotation devices at the public beach, arguing that her 3-year-old daughter, Lila, shown, is safer with a floatie due to her cerebral palsy. (Courtesy photo)
- Written by Tom Caldwell
- Category: Local News
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