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A Staten Island family said the Disney Store in the Staten Island Mall discriminated against their disabled daughter by refusing to allow her inside.

The store cited its policy of requiring ear loops on all face coverings, but Alexis LaGrega, 8, was wearing a double ply Neck Gaiter.

She was born with a condition called Microtia; her right ear is small and misshapen and she is partially deaf in that ear. She said when she has attempted to wear a face covering with ear loops, it often slides down her face and is painful. She wears a Neck Gaiter to school, to dance class and cheerleading without any objections from anyone .

Holly LaGrega, Alexis’s mother, said she spoke with the salespeople and store manager about her daughter’s condition.

“Even after I pointed it out and explained, it was like they could care less what I said. They just kept saying store policy is she has to have a mask on with ear loops,” she said. The family was turned away.   

They contacted What a Shame at PIX11. We spoke with Alexis, who is a huge Disney fan. She’s been to Disney World five times, often wears Disney costumes on Halloween, and has a large collection of stuffed Disney characters.  

We contacted Disney’s customer relations office. Here are the Walt Disney World face mask guidelines, which apply at its stores and theme parks:

Face coverings are required for all Guests (ages 2 and up) and Cast Members. Please bring your own face coverings and wear them at all times, except when dining or swimming. 

All face coverings (whether disposable or reusable) must: 

  • Be made with at least two layers of breathable material 
  • Fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin 
  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face 
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops and allow the Guest to remain hands-free 

At this time, based on guidance from health authorities, neck gaiters and open-chin triangle bandanas are not acceptable face coverings.

A Disney spokesperson added: 

“We are always focused on the health and safety of our Cast Members and Guests. At all of our Disney stores we have implemented a number of enhanced measures, including a face covering requirement. During these unprecedented times we all have a shared responsibility to do our part. We regret if Guests are disappointed.” 

However, the prohibition against Neck Gaiters is not supported by recent studies. A University of Georgia study published last fall found the effectiveness of a face covering is determined by the number of layers of fabric. Therefore, Neck Gaiters can be as effective as cloth masks. 

Even more conclusive evidence to support the effectiveness of Neck Gaiters came in November, with the publication of a government study. Below is an article describing its findings: 

joint study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) revealed that neck gaiters are as effective or in some cases even more effective than cloth or surgical masks in preventing transmission of aerosol particles that may spread COVID-19. While informal experiments early in the pandemic caused some confusion as to the efficacy of neck gaiters to stop the spread of germs, this peer-reviewed study demonstrates that single-ply gaiters are effective, and that simply doubling the fabric on a neck gaiter pushed it ahead of medical procedure masks and 3-ply cloth masks in effectiveness.    

The LaGrega’s question the basis for Disney’s anti-Gaiter policy.

“They say follow the science, listen to medical professionals,” Alexis’s father, Justin LaGrega, said. “So why didn’t Disney listen to medical professionals and follow the science?” 

PIX11 asked a Disney spokesperson if the company is aware of the recent findings regarding Neck Gaiters. The spokesperson did not answer any of the questions we submitted, referring instead to its written policy. 

However, after being denied admission to the Disney Store, the LaGregas immediately filed a complaint against Disney with the Justice Department, under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Two weeks later, a representative from Disney’s Presidential Services called the LaGregas’ home. According to Holly LaGrega, “She said you know, Disney does need to make it better and make it right and do better in the future. And that I could expect a call from corporate, but she couldn’t give me a timetable.”

Holly said the rep admitted she was not aware of the recent studies on the effectiveness of Neck Gaiters. What a Shame! 

What would Alexis like to see happen?

“They should be changing their guidelines and doing something else to help other people” she said.  

While she is understandably disappointed about not being admitted to what was once her favorite store (pre-pandemic), Alexis is encouraged by all the support she has received. Family and friends flooded the Disney customer relations hotline with complaints about her treatment.  

And one recent morning, when she arrived at St. Charles School in Staten Island, the 8th grade graduating class presented her with a Wonder Woman Neck Gaiter, along with a note saying “To us, you’re a Superhero!”  

Disney recently announced it is closing 60 of its 400 Disney Stores. The Staten Island Mall store will be closing at the end of April. However, the company’s Face Covering Policy remains in effect at stores that remain open and at all it’s Theme Parks.