Wheelchair-using athlete turned away from Brooklyn hostel
Canadian paralympic athlete Zak Madell has cleared many hurdles in his young life, but getting into a Brooklyn hostel isn’t one of them.
The medal-winning former paralympian was “dumbfounded” after being turned away from the International Students Residences in Williamsburg last week because he uses a wheelchair.
To make matters worse, it was Madell’s maiden voyage to the city.
“I was pissed,” the feisty 24-year-old told The Post. “I’ve traveled the world on my own before. I’m very independent. I’ve never been told I can’t do something or stay somewhere for having a disability.”
When Madell was 10, he lost his fingers and legs to a septic staph infection. The sports-crazy kid was hospitalized for six months and underwent so many operations he “lost count.”
Undaunted, he got involved in sledge hockey, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby to give his life “continuity.”
His hard work and athleticism earned him a spot on Team Canada’s wheelchair rugby squad. Just a year later, he took home a silver medal at the 2012 London Paralympics and a gold at a 2015 Toronto competition.
Madell had booked a five-night stay at the two-story dorm-style residence via HostelWorld.com because the $277 price was affordable.
The Alberta-bred architecture student took a flight from Chicago into La Guardia Airport on Wednesday and hopped an Uber to Brooklyn. He planned to meet his brother and some pals to “do touristy things” like take in a Broadway show and catch a Yankees game.
But when Madell, carrying a backpack and a duffel bag on his lap, rolled his wheelchair up to the front desk, the woman behind the counter “looked confused.” She told Madell he could not stay at the hostel because it wasn’t wheelchair-accessible.
Even though the building had no elevator, Madell said he had brought prosthetic legs and was “more than capable to get up the stairs with or without my wheelchair.”
The woman “made a phone call or two and didn’t do much beyond that” before telling him he couldn’t stay, according to Madell.
“She said, ‘Next time you’re booking — book a hotel,’ ” he said.
It was nearly 8 p.m. and Madell was alone in a strange city without a place to stay.
“I was nervous,” he confessed. “I didn’t want to end up sleeping on a park bench.”
Madell ended up at the Vanderbilt YMCA, where some student pals were staying, for $138 a night.
“I was feeling really bad about this. He was almost crying and I was too,” said International Students Residences front-desk staffer Kamil Utegeve, 24, who admitted she turned Madell away and said her boss underscored, “We can’t accommodate people with disabilities.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public places like hostels to be accessible, according to state Division of Human Rights spokeswoman Rachelle Dickerson.
Madell has filed a complaint with the state, which should trigger an investigation.
Despite the rude welcome, Madell has no beef with the Big Apple.
“I’m not looking to get anybody in trouble, but I don’t want this to happen again,” he said.
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