WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - Shea Emanuel says she was shopping with her two sons at the Lehigh Valley Mall. One of her sons, who has autism, was not wearing a face mask. Having a disability is an exemption under the Pennsylvania mask mandate, but the Disney Store didn't think so.
"I told the woman my son cannot wear a mask because he has a disability and she says you're not welcome inside the store," Emanuel said.
She left humiliated. Emanuel says her seven-year-old son has autism, is non-verbal, and has a sensory processing disorder.
"His doctor explained that something on his body can feel like knives on him, which is why he won't wear a mask," Emanuel said.
Emanuel believes her child should have the same opportunity as any other child. So she hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit.
"This has nothing to do with money, we're not even asking for Disney for money and I'm not only standing up for my son, but other people with disabilities," Emanuel said.
Emanuel and her attorney argue Disney violated federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses to reasonably modify their policies for people with disabilities.
"Our position here is this iron-fisted mask policy that Disney has in place has a tendency, does exclude individuals with disabilities who cannot wear a mask because of that disability," said attorney William Mansour.
In a statement a Disney spokesperson says: "Disney stores operate in accordance with the ADA, and we will respond to the plaintiff's allegations in court at the appropriate time. We are always focused on the health and safety of our guests and employees, which is why we implemented a number of enhanced measures, including a face covering requirement, at our stores during this unprecedented time."
Meanwhile, Emanuel hopes this case will make others realize the importance of inclusion.
"My son is non-verbal, but I will be his voice," Emanuel said.