Saturday, November 8, 2014

Awareness to Acceptance: discrimination by a Bath and Body Works employee

In October, many of us with children with Down syndrome promoted awareness.  Yet, I believe that most people are aware that there are people with Down syndrome in the general population.  Are there still misconceptions, yes.  Because of this, we need to shift our focus to acceptance.

Discrimination towards those with special needs is still running rampant.  Whether it be calling them r*tarded, bullying them in school, not making public places handicap accessible, denying childcare to my daughter, or refusing to service customers who have special needs, discrimination still exists.

Sadly, these incidents are rarely reported in the news.  They take a back burner to discrimination towards those of a different race, gender, or sexual orientation.  Yet, those with special needs are often unable to stand up for themselves and those who do, are rarely heard and taken seriously.

This little girl has ALREADY faced discrimination based off her having Down syndrome.

This past week, an employee at a St. Louis Bath and Body Works in a mall refused to allow a life skills class into the store (Guess what? I actually worked at this mall as a teen) claiming that it would affect their sales percentage. There are so many things that I can say about this:

1. The employee was discriminating against those with special needs.

2. What is different about people with special needs being in the store not buying anything vs. myself being in the and not buying anything?

3.  Why did she assume that the students wouldn't purchase anything? Life skills teaches just that, skills needed to navigate society--this involves learning what things cost and how to pay for them.

4. She is not a corporate owner, nor does she earn an commission so why should she care about sales percentages? (or maybe it is corporate culture where she must keep a certain percentage of sales to keep the store open?)

5. Why isn't compassion inherent?  Why isn't it embedded into our hearts?  Why must it be taught?

I do not know the answers, but what matters is that she passed judgement on a group of people without warrant.  All because they are different. She made a judgment of her own, not the company, to refuse service to those special needs.  She made assumptions and was ignorant.

Was she is in the wrong?  Yes.  Was she ignorant?  Yes.  Would better training and education help?  Maybe.

A few good things:

This story made the news.  While I wish that this incident never happened, the news actually thought this was worthy for the public to read.  The journalist was appalled by her behavior.  One can hope that by bringing light to this incident in a public forum will show others in society that discrimination towards those with special needs is wrong.

Bath and Body Works took immediate action.  Rather than ignoring this incident or giving a half-*ssed apology, a sincere apology was made as well as a plan to implement employee training to prevent this from happening again.   Sadly, this was the 2nd incident at a Bath and Body Works store (there was one in Alabama in March) in less than a year.  Why didn't they implement training back then? None the less, the apology both times was swift, which I didn't see with the murder of Ethan Saylor.

I will never stop advocating.

I am frustrated, angry, and sad that these things still happen to those with special needs.  It breaks my heart that my daughter, Ellie, will have to face this horrendous discrimination throughout her life.  That she may be bullied in school, made fun of in public, and now, denied a chance to even shop or learn how to live on her own! How can I help my daughter to become independent and contribute to society when society will not allow her to learn the tools to do so?! So while it is all fine and good to promote awareness, we need to obliterate common misconceptions that start as a fetus all the way through adulthood, but to also teach what it means to accept those who may be different from us.

While I may be tired of fighting, I will never stop.


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