Disability Rights

Event of interest: Disabled Girl Denied Access to Museum in Savannah, GA

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...
This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On a recent visit to the Ship of the Sea Maritime Museum, an 11-year old girl was denied access because the docent surmised that her wheelchair would dirty the carpets. You can certainly understand the outrage of the family who visited this Savannah, Georgia museum. The girl’s family did receive an apology letter, which they posted here on Facebook. The staff member who denied access was swiftly fired after the incident. The family says that at this time they do not plan to file an ADA complaint.


However, this isn’t the first time this particular museum has caused a ruckus when it comes to allowing individuals with disabilities into its building. More than a year ago, another boy was not able to view the museum because the historical building was not ADA compliant.


The ADA requires that unless it will cause harm to the structure of a historical building, such buildings must be retrofitted to meet accessibility requirements. Here’s the list of accomodations that must be made:


(3) Historic Preservation: Minimum Requirements:

(a) At least one accessible route complying with 4.3 from a site access point to an accessible entrance shall be provided.
EXCEPTION: A ramp with a slope no greater than 1:6 for a run not to exceed 2 ft (610 mm) may be used as part of an accessible route to an entrance.
(b) At least one accessible entrance complying with 4.14 which is used by the public shall be provided.
EXCEPTION: If it is determined that no entrance used by the public can comply with 4.14, then access at any entrance not used by the general public but open (unlocked) with directional signage at the primary entrance may be used. The accessible entrance shall also have a notification system. Where security is a problem, remote monitoring may be used.

(c) If toilets are provided, then at least one toilet facility complying with 4.22 and 4.1.6 shall be provided along an accessible route that complies with 4.3. Such toilet facility may be unisex in design.

(d) Accessible routes from an accessible entrance to all publicly used spaces on at least the level of the accessible entrance shall be provided. Access shall be provided to all levels of a building or facility in compliance with 4.1 whenever practical.

(e) Displays and written information, documents, etc., should be located where they can be seen by a seated person. Exhibits and signage displayed horizontally (e.g., open books), should be no higher than 44 in (1120 mm) above the floor surface.



According to the mother of the first child, there was no ramp in place to access the museum in the first place. Here’s what the museum lists on its page discussing information about the museum’s accessibility concerns.


Disabilities at the Ships of the Sea Museum

  • At present, we offer limited accessibility. The garden and pavilion (where the collection video may be viewed) are wheelchair accessible. (There are curb cuts and two handicapped spaces in the parking lot.)The basement level, housing our wheelhouse and classroom (where the collection video may also be viewed) is five steps below ground level and may be accessed by foot or by portable ramp.
  • Each restroom has a stall with raised seat and hand rails, with just enough room for a wheelchair to be pulled up head-on to the seat.
  • The main floor, housing the main part of the collection, is eleven steps above ground level, the second floor 22 steps above the main floor. Since the balustrade at the main entrance to the Museum does not have a handrail, many people with difficulties with stairs prefer to enter the Museum by going down the short 5 steps to enter the basement and then access the first floor by means of the inner 16-step stairwell which has a handrail. At present, due to a conflict between city regulations and those of the Department of the Interior regulating historic sites, we do not have an elevator or lift.
  • Persons with disabilities and one other guest are offered free admission to the Museum.
  • Since the Museum is set up for self-touring, there are descriptive placards in all exhibits, as well as scrimshaw, pulleys, rope and other maritime equipment that can be examined by hand.
  • With prior notice, the Museum will make a docent available to a guest with a disability to provide an introduction to the collection, house and garden; set up a video presentation on the collection in the pavilion or classroom; introduce display items in the classroom, and make Museum publications or additional videos available to the guest.
  • The Museum website www.shipsofthesea.org has educational videos, a virtual tour of the Museum galleries and garden, among other features.
  • In order for us to make your visit as pleasant as possible, please call 912 232 1511 or emailcontact@shipsofthesea.org with questions or to inform us of your visit so that we may plan ahead. Tour groups must inform us at the time of booking if we will need to make accommodations.


It seems to me as though the museum might be in the process of upgrading (clearly, from their website, it appears that they are aware of the problem of limited access tothe museum). Nonetheless, the employee(s) who denied access to the museum were clearly in the wrong. The appology was a step in the right direction, and it was good that the employee who denied access was fired.


What would you have done in that situation? Do you think the family was right to decline pressing the case as an ADA complaint given that another family experienced the same treatment?


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