tampabay.com

Man in wheelchair sues Lowry Park Zoo

He says his visit became frustrating because attractions were inaccessible to him.

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published February 24, 2007


TAMPA - A handicapped man and his family filed a federal lawsuit Friday accusing Lowry Park Zoo of failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Travis Smith, a Tampa resident, suffered a brain stem injury in 1994 at age 23 after falling on a construction job. He has used a wheelchair ever since. He and his brother, Donald, visited the zoo together last summer. But the experience quickly grew frustrating, Donald Smith said.

"We had terrible difficulties," he said. "Because of all the problems, he didn't want to stay there."

Donald Smith, 40, said the counters at the gift shops and food vendors were too high, the restrooms were difficult to use and the rides and interactive exhibits were inaccessible.

Even the hedges along the guardrails were too high, he said.

"If you go to the zoo, you want to see the animals, right?" Donald Smith asked.

Zoo officials gave Travis Smith a refund, but refused to do the same for Donald Smith or his girlfriend.

Rachel Nelson, a zoo spokeswoman, said she hadn't seen the lawsuit. But she said the zoo is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The suit was filed by Travis and Donald Smith, as well as their mother, Eleanor Smith, 61.

They aren't asking for any money except attorney fees and costs.

"We just want them to bring it up to code," Donald Smith said. "That way, handicapped kids can enjoy it."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.