Franklin Institute accused of violating ADA by charging separate admission for disabled persons' assistants

By Jon Campisi | Sep 17, 2013

Philadelphia’s famed Franklin Institute is facing a lawsuit by Pennsylvania nonprofit agency that aids individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities over claims that the science institution is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in requiring a separate admission surcharge for personal attendants who accompany disabled patrons on their visits.

Ana and Emilio Pacheco filed suit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Sept. 16 on behalf of their son, Joel Pacheco, a 24-year-old man who suffers from cerebral palsy along with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and who requires personal assistance 24 hours a day for all of his daily living activities.

The other plaintiff who signed onto the litigation is Michael Anderson, 31, who also has the debilitating condition known as cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair for ambulation.

He, too, requires personal assistance services on a daily basis.

The third plaintiff in the case, Vision for Equality Inc., provides training, outreach, support and information and referral services to people with disabilities and their families.

This includes working with aging parents whose adult children have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The plaintiffs in the case and others who take advantage of the nonprofit organization’s offerings receive such services through the Medicaid program run through Pennsylvania, the record shows.

Without the aid of those working for Vision for Equality, the lawsuit says, Anderson and Pacheco would not otherwise be able to enjoy the programs and offerings at the Franklin Institute.

The plaintiffs pay the defendant’s admission fee just as any nondisabled patron would, the suit states.

The complaint, however, challenges the Institute’s policy of charging an additional entrance fee to the personal assistants who aid the ailing men and other disabled visitors who come to the Franklin Institute.

Requiring such a separate admission fee violates Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the suit maintains.

Anderson, who the suit says has very little control over his body, is a Merion Station, Pa. resident who was able to graduate from college and, with the assistance of his personal attendants, has been able to become active in politics, write articles about the Philadelphia 76ers professional basketball team, and visit area institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anderson takes issue with the fact that his personal attendant gets hit with a separate surcharge at the Franklin Institute since the assistant’s “only purpose … is to provide personal assistance services … including manually manipulating various devices, reading the signs on exhibits … assisting with his toileting needs, readjusting his sitting in his wheelchair, and eating and drinking in the dining area,” the complaint reads.

“Without his personal attendant,” the suit states, “Plaintiff Anderson cannot attend The Franklin Institute and cannot receive the same benefits from The Franklin Institute as nondisabled individuals.”

Similarly, Pacheco, who is completely nonverbal and uses a wheelchair for ambulation, requires the use of personal attendants seven days a week, especially due to the fact that both of his parents work full-time.

Pacheco is able to engage in certain activities outside of the home, but only with the aid of his personal attendants, the suit states.

Pacheco enjoys attending various exhibits at The Franklin Institute, but can only do so if aided by his assistants, according to the complaint.

Pacheco was a member of The Franklin Institute for several years but had to pay for two people, himself and a guest.

When he renewed his membership this April, the lawsuit states, he did so only for himself.

The defendant discriminates against Anderson and Pacheco, as well as other Vision for Equality clients, the complaint states, on the basis of disability in the “full and equal enjoyment of its goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations,” in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The reasonable modification called for in this case is not charging a separate admission to the attendants for Mr. Anderson, Mr. Pacheco, and Vision and its clients,” the suit reads.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment along with an order requiring the defendant to modify its policies to afford people with disabilities a “full and equal opportunity” to participate in its services and offerings.

The lawsuit was filed by Philadelphia attorney Stephen F. Gold.


The federal case number is 2:13-cv-05374-JD.

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