KOKOMO, Ind. (WISH) — A Gas City woman called for accommodation policy changes and updated staff training after an incident involving her disabled daughter at Kokomo Beach Family Aquatic Center.
Andrea Debruler visited the city water park Sunday with her daughter, stepdaughter and grandson, she told News 8.
She and her daughter, 21-year-old Jania Debruler, were approached by staff and told to leave the “lazy river” after they noticed Jania had entered the water in her wheelchair.
Kokomo Beach requires all lazy river visitors to be in an inner tube and does not permit the use of personal or park-provided wheelchairs in the river, according to city officials.
“I’ve [pushed my daughter in her wheelchair in the lazy river] here before and nobody has said anything to me,” Andrea said. “[Jania] has been in the lazy river in her wheelchair probably 10 times.”
There were no signs posted around the lazy river outlining the park’s wheelchair policy, according to Andrea.
She was unaware of the restrictions and felt employees were more combative than informative when they confronted her, she told News 8.
“We continued around the lazy river one time and as we were approaching the exit, the manager and some lifeguards were up there screaming at me to get out of the water,” Andrea said. “Why couldn’t they just calmly explain what the problem was?”
The lazy river incident marked her third conversation that day with Kokomo Beach management regarding disability-related issues, she added.
Andrea had spoken with a manager to request refrigeration for Jania’s food; the request was granted. The manager later requested she re-park her vehicle inside the lines in the accessible parking area; Andrea explained she had parked “diagonally” to make room for Jania’s wheelchair ramp.
“I was frustrated and I think they were frustrated with me, too,” Andrea told News 8. “I felt like I was being harassed and I didn’t know if it was because my daughter is in a wheelchair.”
She admitted losing her temper and responding “unprofessionally” when park employees asked her to leave the lazy river.
Kokomo Police responded to the scene to conduct a welfare check involving an “unwelcome guest,” according to an incident report obtained by News 8.
Body cameras worn by responding officers recorded Andrea Debruler saying, “I don’t need the police. Lucky I don’t hit one of them in the [expletive] face,” city attorney Beth Copeland told News 8.
She left without incident, the police report states. The case was cleared and no arrests were made.
Copeland reviewed witness accounts and met with Andrea the following day at City Hall.
“I have no doubt that being a caretaker for her daughter is very hard,” Copeland said Wednesday. “I empathize with her, certainly, for that. Because this was her third time speaking with the manager… she felt frustrated at the situation and her demeanor escalated.”
Staff called police after Andrea made “threatening” comments, she explained.
“When the manager came over, she just expressed, ‘We have a policy — we don’t allow outside wheelchairs or the wheelchairs we provide here internally to be used in the lazy river,'” Copeland said. “She did not like that answer, and became angry and belligerent and upset.”
Andrea was “polite” during the meeting Monday and appeared satisfied with the city’s response, she added.
Kokomo officials are discussing training water park staff to better accommodate visitors with disabilities, Mayor Greg Goodnight said Tuesday in a phone call with News 8.
The city is also researching the possibility of providing inner tubes designed for people with disabilities, Copeland said.
“I just want to know this is being addressed,” Andrea said. “I don’t want this to happen to another family.”