Mar 26, 2023

Man claims Indiana business denied entry due to wheelchair

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NEW ALBANY, Ind. — A complaint about a New Albany business has caused some uproar on social media and possibly some positive change.

Jim Bulleit said he was denied access to ‘The Enchanted Forest’ at the Floyd County Brewing Company because of his wheelchair.

"I wasn't witnessed as a human being. I was witnessed as an obstacle in a wheelchair that was just there for some sort of agenda," Bulleit said. "My agenda was I wanted to get down and sit with my friends and watch band just like a human being."

Bulleit visited the venue on Saturday with friends for a concert.

He said he was told he could watch the band from the overlook, a passageway where attendees can see the performance without going downstairs.

When he expressed that he wanted to go downstairs and watch the band up-close with his friends, Bulleit said he was told the fire exit on the side of the venue served as an entrance for wheelchair-bound patrons, but it was soldered shut because of the gravel near that entrance.

"And quote, ‘people like me would get stuck in there and they were afraid of having lawsuits,’" Bulleit recounted of the interaction with a manager.

When he pressed the topic further, Bulleit said he was told, "that's the way the owners wanted it."

Ultimately, Bulleit said he was explicitly told he would not be able to view the show on ground-level.

However, Brian Hampton, co-owner of the Floyd County Brewing Company, said that isn't true and there must have been some misunderstanding.

"We've had regular wheelchairs through here. We have mobilized wheelchairs that have been right at the stage," Hampton said. "The night he was here, a friend of ours was there; he was with a walker right up the side of the stage."

Hampton said he personally helps disabled patrons cross the fire entrance threshold because there's a curb, but said he was busy helping run lights and video at the time.

Hampton said his wife, Julie, pictured on the phone in Bulleit's Facebook post, was calling him to help Bulleit.

Three minutes later, Hampton said he got to the gate, but said Bulleit was gone. Bulleit said he was still there 20 minutes later, waiting for a ride home.

The two haven't had any face-to-face contact; Hampton said it's a missed opportunity for a deeper understanding.

"It breaks my heart to put so much effort into trying to make this place accessible for everybody and anyone to have anyone feel that way and I'm really sorry that that has happened," Hampton said.

Bulleit says he felt belittled and treated like half a person.

"Handicapped people have just as much a right to wheel themselves about or make themselves about without having any kind of assistance," Bulleit said.Now, another ramp could soon be added that would fix that problem.

The issue is being taken up next Tuesday in a Public Works and Safety board meeting in New Albany.

Stefanie Griffith, a new council member in New Albany, pushed for the agenda item Monday night during a meeting. As a small business owner herself, Griffith said she felt obligated to make the city act quickly.

"Some things are out of our control and there's no one to blame," she said. "It's just what happens in life sometimes, unfortunately."

Hampton said he's been asking for the addition for years.

"When it was constructed, we were pushing at that time to get it properly fixed. And then recently in the past 10 months, we've requested again, at higher levels," Hampton said. "But I think the city's got their hands full right now with other construction projects. So, I don't know that it's just been a top priority, mainly because we've been taking a risk and getting people over the curb and all that."Bulleit says the ramp for the fire exit isn't the only needed addition. He points to lack of wheelchair access to other areas, including the Brew House.

Hampton says businesses are not required to be 100% ADA-compliant but said he's proud of how accessible his facility is.

He says if the ramp is added, the yellow area will be green as well.

► Contact reporter Bobbi McSwine at [email protected] or on Facebook or Twitter.

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