British Columbia

Girl with disabilities forced to leave Playland over mask policy

Bobbie Dube says she and her daughter, 7, who has autism and uses a wheelchair, were forced to leave Playland when staff insisted her daughter wear a mask. B.C.'s mask mandate includes an exemption for people with physical, cognitive or mental impairments.

Officials at Playland apologize to the family but say park needs to meet WorkSafeBC guidelines

Bobbie Dube says she and her daughter, 7, who has autism and uses a wheelchair, were forced to leave Playland when staff insisted her daughter wear a mask. (Bobbie Dube)

What was meant to be a fun day at Playland for Bobbie Dube and her seven-year-old daughter, Mikayla, turned out to be a big disappointment when the pair was forced to leave the park because Mikayla can't wear a mask. 

Mikayla is non-verbal, has autism, and her mother says she needs to use a wheelchair.

Dube, who lives in Burnaby, B.C., had called ahead to book tickets and says when she asked about Playland's mask mandate, she was told her daughter would not have to wear a mask given her disabilities. 

But after one ride, where the ride operator allowed Mikayla on without a mask, Dube says an attendant at the Vancouver amusement park told them they would be barred from any more rides.

"They proceeded to tell us that no one in the park would allow us to go on any rides because my daughter, who is seven, has special needs and can't wear a mask," said Dube. 

The pair's experience highlights how challenging it can be for people with disabilities to get out and enjoy the simple pleasures in life that those without disabilities enjoy regularly, without planning ahead or worrying about accessibility. 

'Happens all the time'

Heather McCain, the executive director of Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods (​CAN), says phoning ahead does not always ensure a hassle-free trip. 

"It's exhausting to have to try to do homework before every trip. And even when you phone a business, such as in this case, you are not given the appropriate information," McCain said. "And this happens all the time."

Heather McCain is executive director of the non-profit group Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In addition to the miscommunication about Mikayla's need to wear a mask, Dube discovered when they arrived at Playland on Sunday that the park's ride accessibility program had been suspended due to COVID-19 protocols. The program allowed people who use wheelchairs to access rides using the exit so they didn't have to wait in line and so they could store their wheelchair. 

But when Mikayla and her mom arrived at the kids' roller coaster, Dube's friend had to carry her. 

McCain says when businesses make changes such as those made at Playland, the onus is often placed on people with disabilities to find the flaws in those changes and fight them. 

"Unfortunately, the only way disabled people have power against businesses is to have a human rights complaint," McCain said. "But that process is expensive, takes several years and is not accessible to many disabled people."

Dube says she asked the ride attendants to explain why Mikayla was being asked to wear a mask when rules on Playland's website say exceptions are made for infants or those with medical needs.

She said she was told there is "absolutely no exception."

Laura Ballance, PNE spokesperson, said Playland does in fact make exceptions to COVID-19 rules that require guests over the age of two to wear a mask on rides and when waiting in line-ups. 

But she added that Playland's COVID-19 safety plan requires all guests, regardless of whether they have a medical exemption, to wear a mask for the short period of time when an operator is in close contact with the guest while they check restraints and ensure proper riding position. 

Mikayla enjoyed one ride at Playland before she and her mother were told they weren't allowed on more rides. (Bobbie Dube)

Ballance apologized for the "unintentional stress and anxiety" caused for the family, but said Playland is following COVID protocols. 

"We must adhere to both WorkSafeBC and the provincial health orders for both the protection of our guests as well as our staff," Ballance said. 

B.C.'s mask mandate exempts people with physical, cognitive or mental impairments who cannot wear a mask.

Dube recalls that nobody stopped them or told them that Mikayla had to wear a mask when they entered the amusement park, went on the first ride, or when they were simply walking around. 

Dube says Mikayla has missed out on so much during the COVID-19 pandemic. While she thought Playland was something fun her daughter could do, it too has been crossed off the list. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kiran Singh is an associate producer with The Early Edition at CBC Radio Vancouver. Reach him at kiran.singh@cbc.ca or @vancitysingh.

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