Autistic boy distraught after being banned from boarding cruise|
RUTLAND, UK: An 11-year-old autistic boy was left distraught after being turned away from a cruise on Rutland Water last week.
Aaran Stewart had fallen asleep clutching the Rutland Belle brochure the previous evening. His mother Mandy spent all day consoling him after he was refused entry by the boat's captain.
She protested: "Anyone would think I had a raging monster who was going to attack everyone on board. He just wanted to get on the boat. I feel we were totally discriminated against and I hope they are ashamed. We had already queued for 35 minutes when Aaran began getting grizzly and crying, just like a five-year-old would. Then the captain humiliated me in front of the whole queue, saying that my son's behaviour was unacceptable - all Aaran had done was cry," she continued.
"Aaran waited patiently for 20 minutes until someone came and opened the ropes to make it look like we were going to board. Then he went away and we had to wait another 15 minutes."
Mrs Stewart described how she had begged the Rutland Belle captain to let her prove that Aaran would be happy once he was allowed on board. "Aaran was only distressed because they were making us wait. I asked the captain to give us a chance to get on and Aaran would be fine. The captain kept saying that he had made his decision - I believe the decision was taken before we even arrived."
Two weeks previously, Mrs Stewart had phoned to pre-book tickets, explaining that Aaran was autistic and found queuing difficult. She was told to arrive at 12.30pm to board at 12.45pm but they were still waiting in the queue at 1.05pm. "I explained that the worst possible situation would be for us to arrive and not be allowed on the boat. I would rather they told us over the phone than do that," she insisted.
Trevor Broadhead, of Rutland Water Cruises, issued the following statement: "The captain's primary responsibility is safety. Rutland Belle has enjoyed a long tradition of providing access for all and has received awards to support this. However, as the mother admitted that she was unable to control her autistic son in crowd situations - and this was seen by the captain prior to boarding - he felt that he could not guarantee the young man's safety during the cruise."
Mandy Stewart replied: "At no point did I say that Aaran does not like crowds. If this were true, I wouldn't have taken him somewhere crowded but he has been to Rutland Water a number of times. They are presuming things, acting like they know my son."
Mr Broadhead has invited the family to return at a quieter time of year "when it would be less stressful for the young man."
Mrs Stewart said she would not be returning to the Rutland Belle: "The following day, we went on a boat in Newark and nobody even knew we were there. We went straight on instead of being made to queue like school children and Aaran had a lovely time," she explained.
(Source: Rutland Times, August 22, 2003)