By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) – A deaf man has accused a nudist park in upstate New York of violating federal law by refusing to provide him with a sign-language interpreter at an annual festival.
Tom Willard, 53, of Rochester, filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department claiming Empire Haven Nudist Park violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing his requests for an interpreter.
“I am fed up with being turned away every time I try to do something, by idiots who somehow feel the ADA does not apply to them,” Willard wrote in the complaint.
The ADA law requires businesses and nonprofit groups to provide auxiliary aids and services, including interpreters, at no additional cost to users. First-time violations can lead to fines of up to $55,000.
Willard told Reuters that in 2009 he approached a board member of the Naturist Society, which organized the festival, who told him he could hire his own interpreter. But he said the board member denied his request that he and the interpreter attend the event for free.
The six-day event costs $45 overall, plus an additional $17 for each day a person attends.
Willard filed his federal complaint on July 19.
On August 2, the festival’s opening day, the Naturist Society offered to get an interpreter but said it would need three days notice to do so, Willard said.
Willard said he wanted to raise awareness of groups that ignore the ADA. He said he was also filing a complaint against a local comedy club that refused to provide an interpreter.
“I hate that I have to go through these experiences and subject myself to ridicule and derision, but the alternative is to stay home and never try to do anything in the world,” Willard said.
Michael Schwartz, director of Syracuse University College of Law’s disability rights clinic, said businesses often ignore their responsibilities under the ADA because it can be cheaper not to comply.
“Because of the cost (of interpreters), many places choose to say ‘no,’” he said. “They are making a calculated choice that they’ll get away with it.”
A spokeswoman for Empire Haven, which is in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, was not available for comment, and Morley Schloss, the Naturist Society board member contacted by Willard, did not respond to several requests for comment.