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Mom Posts on Facebook That Autistic Daughter Was Kept From Entering Forbidden Caverns

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After her autistic daughter was asked to leave the Forbidden Caverns tour in Tennessee, Melissa Beebe took to Facebook to tell others about the “blatant discrimination” her family faced. According to Beebe, the tour guide asked her if he could ask her a question. Anticipating the question, Beebe told him her daughter Stella was autistic and was just excited. The tour guide then told her that they could leave and get a refund.

“I started crying because I’ve never experienced blatant discrimination or been kicked out of anywhere,” Beebe wrote. “I had to walk past everyone on the way out while I was confused and crying.” Editor’s note: The Mighty is not linking to Beebe’s post as it shows her daughter’s face, and she is not old enough to consent to widespread use of her image. A screenshot of the post is below.

Melissa Beebe's Facebook post states, "I wish I could recommend this place to anyone in the Gatlinburg ,TN area vacationing , but I can't because I was asked to leave as soon as the tour started because Stella was excited , laughing and clapping .The tour guide asked me in front of about 30 people if he could ask me a question and i knew what he was about to ask , so I just answered “ She's autistic and just excited “ . He then told me we can leave and go get a refund for the tour. He kicked us off the tour before it even started because my kid WAS LAUGHING AND CLAPPING !!!! Bridger didn't understand why we had to leave and started crying , I started crying because I've never experienced blatant discrimination or been kicked out of anywhere. I had to walk past everyone on the way out while I was confused and crying , my kid crying and one still happy and excited and had to go ask for a refund to the lady at the front who just handed my money back . No apologies ... NOTHING. ETA - Apparently people calling are being told by Forbidden Caverns that special needs children AREN'T ALLOWED ON THE TOUR because they “ can't be controlled “ . Though there's nothing posted there stating that or I would have saved myself and child the humiliation and turned around and left when we walked in . Since we were only at the entrance of the cavern , I'm sure there's some type of security camera at the entrance /exit that would show exactly what my daughter was doing since management is claiming my child was “ freaking out and crying “ ? Also, maybe the footage in the front by the cash registers where I supposedly yelled ? Please tell me you have this footage"

According to local news station WVLT, Forbidden Caverns told the reporter the child was “screaming in terror” instead of “laughing and clapping.” Beebe responded saying she’d like to see surveillance footage of her daughter doing this.

Beebe’s post has garnered over 20,000 reactions and over 2,000 comments since it was shared on Tuesday. Forbidden Caverns also released a statement on its Facebook page, noting it is its policy to “make every effort” to accommodate guests with disabilities.

Forbidden Caverns' Facebook post states: "Forbidden Caverns first opened its doors to visitors in 1967 and since then we have taken over two million visitors on an underground adventure to see nature's handiwork at its best. The enjoyment and safety of our visitors is always a our first priority. Keeping with this policy, it is paramount that before each journey underground we conduct a safety lesson by a trained guide for the group. During this talk it is important that everyone be able to understand all instructions and be able to complete the tour, and if any guest feels that they cannot comply with the instructions or feel uncomfortable they may get a full refund. This is rare, but we want to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all our guests. It is also our policy that we will make every effort to accommodate our guests with special needs as we have taken thousands of guests with varying abilities and disabilities into the cave so they can have the best experience. Forbidden Caverns does not and will not tolerate discrimination of any means. It has come to our knowledge that we were accused of not allowing children with special needs to enter the cave, this could not be further from the truth, as every year we escort thousands of children from schools across the region many of whom have special needs. We are a family attraction and take accusations of this nature to heart and truly want to be an experience that all can enjoy. Sincerely, The Management Team"

Discrimination or lack of accessibility for children on the autism spectrum and others with disabilities is a common problem. In order for businesses to be more accessible, Krystal M., a parent in The Mighty’s community, said employees should help accommodate her family instead of “coping attitude or making excuses.”

“A smile and helping hand goes a long way, after all our kids are little warriors fighting there own battles,” she said. “Accessibility shouldn’t be another battle we have to fight.”

While children with disabilities face accessibility issues and discrimination, this doesn’t end when they grow up. Alia G., a member of The Mighty’s disability community, said employees should be trained to maintain accessibility instead of just making sure businesses comply with the bare minimum.

“The most frequent mistakes I see are placing obstructions in front of what would have been accessible features such as placing furniture like changing tables in front of a handicap bathroom stall or blocking ramps and pathways with merchandise or displays,” Alia said.

Originally published: August 3, 2018
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