Rock Island mom demands accommodations at city pool for disabled son, threatens lawsuit

ROCK ISLAND--During the summer Cassandra Cleveland and her daughter and 5-year-old son, Gus can always be found at Whitewater Junction enjoying the water.

“I came in the pool every day in the summer before I had kids, so it was kind of natural that the kids would come every day too.”

But lately the family is spending more time in the shallow end of the pool just to make sure Gus stays safe because finding a proper life vest is getting more and more difficult.

“(Gus is) over 50 pounds so he has to wear a bigger life jacket but because of his dwarfism he’s got a little of a lower muscle tone and shorter arms and shorter legs. So to keep him upright in a life jacket is really hard,” says Cleveland.

Gus was born with a dwarfism known as hypochondroplasia and an arachnoid cyst in his cerebellum which can sometimes impact his coordination. In the past, Gus used his inflatable ring in the water to accommodate his disability, but a new pool manager is cracking down on the rules not allowing him to use that floatie.

Parks and Recreation Director, John Gripp says the floatie is not Coast Guard certified.

“If it can blow up, it can deflate. If (the inflatable rings) are not coast guard certified, people can slip out of them. They make coast guard certified life jackets that come in various shapes and sizes and can be adjusted,” says Gripp.

Cleveland is calling the back and forth debate as an act of discrimination against her son.

She’s filed a complaint with the state accusing the city of violating the American Disabilities Act. The state is now conducting an investigation which, Gripp says is standard protocol.

“He’s disappointed. It’s really hard to make a 5-year-old not want to go to the pool, and he would like to go to any other pool than Whitewater Junction," says Cleveland. "However, we know if we go somewhere else, the next kid that comes along and needs something different, they won’t get it.”

Gripp says the city offered Gus’ family free swimming lessons and a different styled life vest, but Cleveland says none of those helps to accommodate her son. Instead, she says she bought a Coast-Guard-approved flotation ring, but was later told by staff at Whitewater Junction that it was still in violation of the rules.

“They told us that he couldn’t use it. I asked why because it’s Coast Guard approved, and then they said they only allow types 1.2.3 and 5.”

Gripp says the kind flotation ring Cleveland bought is only used for emergency water rescues and are not designed to be used as a life jacket.

“It’s not designed to hold you in place. It’s not designed to stay attached to you and keep you in the upright position,” says Gripp.