Monday, April 24, 2023

BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

December 2010

Many of our adventures happen without much drama. Our visit to BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo was not one of those as we got into a situation with staff because our "Mobility Chair" looked like a jog stroller.

Kellisa and I had a few hours to kill in Baton Rogue, so we decided to check out the zoo. As soon as we paid our entry fee and entered the zoo, Kellisa say it...the train. Kellisa immediately asked to ride the train. I bought the tickets and noticed that the last seat faced backwards and thought Kellisa would enjoy that perspective. The train probably holds 100+ riders and we were the 6th and 7th to get on the train as it was about to leave. Therefore, most of the train was empty on a cold December afternoon in the bayou. 

In the picture below, notice a wheel just to the left of Kellisa's head, that no other riders can be seen in the picture, and the conductor in the distance on the left side near the front of the train:

As I'm snapping the above picture, the conductor starts yelling, "you can't put the stroller there" and "you need to leave the stroller behind". 

I yelled back, "it's NOT a stroller and I'm not leaving it"!

The conductor came to the back of the train and explained that strollers are not allowed on the train. I explained that it was not a stroller and that it was a $1,200.00 special needs chair for a disabled 11 year old kid. I wasn't about to budge and the conductor finally offered to put the Independence Push Chair in the front in an area for wheelchairs. I accepted.

We were finally able to enjoy the train ride through the surrounding forest, bayou, and around the zoo's perimeter:

After the train ride, Kellisa enjoyed seeing the animal:

Of course, the snakes were Kellisa's favorite exhibit:

The noisy birds would be a close 2nd:

It was time to leave after a few hours enjoying the zoo and there it was, near the exit...the train. Kellisa wanted to ride one more time and we were in luck, we were just in time to catch the final ride for the day. I purchased our tickets before loading Kellisa on the train and the chair in the wheelchair area as we agreed to do earlier in our visit. This time we were the 4th and 5th riders and the rest of the train was empty.

Kellisa enjoying her 2nd ride of the day:

However, the story does not end here. As I'm unfolding the chair and getting ready to transfer Kellisa off the train, the conductor comes up to explain that she did us a favor since we bought the tickets before she saw us the 2nd time. She talked to her supervisor and was instructed not to let us put the mobility device in the wheelchair area. I was to leave the chair behind or not ride.

I asked if she had the capacity to understand that Kellisa could not walk and even though the chair did not look like a wheelchair, it was absolutely necessary for Kellisa. I explained that it was not a $10 umbrella stroller from Wal-Mart. We went back and forth and I tried to remain calm. 

I asked what would happen if I left the chair and it was stolen? How would I get Kellisa to the car? Back to the hotel? Through the airport? 

"I'm just explaining the policy", said the conductor.

That is not an answer!

I explained that it sounded like discrimination to me. She still did not understand. I told her to let it go, knowing that we would never be back to this zoo. She kept pushing and pushing. Finally, as I was walking away, I told her that I would be back tomorrow bright and early to ride the train 14 times (the number of trips in a day).

We left the zoo and as I was putting Kellisa and the chair in the car, what do I see out of the corner of my eye? The train backing down the tracks on the other side of the fence and it comes to a stop. I hear, "sir".

I responded,  "Please, leave it alone".

The conductor responded, "Please don't do anything, I understand your situation and will explain that it's not a stroller to my boss".

My last response was, "See you tomorrow"!

If we weren't flying back to Jacksonville, I would have gone back to play this out and probably will push it if we are ever in the area again. I just wanted to give the conductor a sleepless night and my guess is she probably called in sick the next day. I also understand it's not her policy, but since she is the front line, she needs to understand so she can communicate our position to her superiors.

How hard is it to see a guy lifting a 75# child out of a chair and struggling to put her on a train is not the same as a baby or toddler in a stroller? Not to mention the gigantic size of Kellisa's chair.

I never ask for anything special, just a fair chance and I get so tired of fighting for Kellisa's rights. It's not like the chair took a row of seats from paying customers. It's no wonder you rarely see kids in wheelchairs out enjoying themselves. It's a struggle, but if I don't fight for Kellisa, who will?

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