Woman With Dystonia Writes Perfect Response to Disrespectful Restaurant Employee

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Brittany Adler could have been angry when she was seemingly ignored at a restaurant in Miami, Fla. She could have caused a scene when an employee behind the register gave her a funny look and walked away from the counter instead of making an effort to understand her while she was placing her order. She could have flipped out because that same employee had just taken her friend’s order but seemed disinterested in serving a person with a disability or finding someone who would. But instead, Adler remained calm, went somewhere else to eat and wrote a polite but powerfully-worded letter to the employee. Kindness and education kills negativity, she thinks.

Adler, 24, has dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes her muscles to involuntarily contract, affecting her speech. She told The Mighty in an email that she’d like to keep the restaurant’s name out of the media because she doesn’t see a benefit from throwing its employees under the bus. What she wants in the media is her response to the incident — because she thinks it can teach a lot of people an important lesson.

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Clarification: Adler wrote this note at Hurricane Grill & Wings before returning to the restaurant where the incident first occurred. Adler has assured The Mighty that the staff at Hurricane Grill & Wings did not ignore her.

 

Her letter reads:

Hi, my name is Brittany Adler. I am 24 years old. I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Exercise Science and Heath Science. I plan on getting my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I also happen to have Dystonia, a condition that affects my muscle tone and speech. Just because I have this disability doesn’t mean I should be disrespected. It is a good thing that I am a strong individual otherwise, I would have been devastated. With that being said, everyone, including people with disabilities, should be respected equally… even though it may be harder to understand them. You should never give up on people. Everyone has something to say! Sincerely, Brittany

Adler brought the note back to the original restaurant and watched as its employees took turns reading it. They were all apologetic, Adler said, and one manager tearfully approached her to talk about his own daughter who has a disability.

Carly Greenberg, who was with Adler when the first incident occurred, told The Mighty she’s always revered her friend’s patience.

“Brittany believes that if everyone is as patient with her as she is with them, they will understand her,” Greenberg said.

“This is not disability awareness but human awareness,” Adler told The Mighty. “Just like no two fingerprints are the same, no two individuals are the same. Each one of us is special and unique. We each have something to offer one another. If all of us were the same, the world would be a boring place.”

Adler isn’t letting the incident weigh her down. She’s used to people staring at her and asking about her condition. She’d rather answer questions than let people make their own judgments. Today, she’s busy preparing to attend D’Youville College in Buffalo, N.Y., this June to study physical therapy.

“Dream big. Never give up,” she told The Mighty. “Don’t judge. Accept all people. Be the best you can be. Inspire.”

Check out Adler’s Facebook page, “Brittany’s Message.”

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It’s a 2-year-old story. A community rallies around a neighbor with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Six swimmers take on the English Channel to raise money and ALS awareness in his honor. One of those six is diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer four months before that swim but completes the challenge, anyway. A world record is broken.

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Bob Schoeni & Gretchen Spreizter

How would he live his now certainly shorter life? Exactly as he had been.

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“I kind of thought she was joking at first,” Schoeni recalls. “Over time it became clear to me that when Amanda sets her mind to something, it gets done. This was going to happen.”

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“That word — ‘cancer.’ You hear it, and it just scares you. The unknown scares you,” Mercer says. She was tempted to surrender to self-pity. Then, she stopped herself.

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When Speitzer found out about Mercer’s diagnosis, she called her neighbor up.

“I just can’t believe the timing in all of this,” Speitzer said, assuming Mercer would have to surrender her spot on the relay team. “It’s all so ironic.”

“Isn’t this actually the best timing?” Mercer replied. Speitzer was a little bit shocked.

“I was in the best shape of my life, and I had hope,” Mercer explains now. “I had hope that Bob didn’t have when he was diagnosed. And now I had this goal that I could focus on instead of my disease. If I was going to get cancer, that was the time to get it.”

On July 27, 2012, those six women swam the 42-mile English Channel in a world-record time of 18 hours and 55 minutes — a feat captured in the documentary below, “One Step Ahead.” They raised $120,000 for ALS research.

Channel for ALS Team (1)
Amanda Mercer, left, with the relay team who conquered the English Channel.

“When we initially broke the record, for some reason I wanted it to feel bigger,” Mercer recalls. “It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized it wasn’t about the record at all. It was about hopefully making a difference in Bob’s life and in the lives of people with ALS. It was about giving them hope.”

When Mercer returned home to finish her radiation, her eyes began to bother her. As a precaution, her optometrist sent her to an ophthalmic oncologist who suggested a cat scan, which later revealed the lining of an aneurism. They scheduled Mercer for a craniotomy, where they found that aneurism ready to burst. But they’d found and removed it just in time.

“In a strange twist of fate, breast cancer saved my life,” Mercer says. Today, she has a clean bill of health.

It’s been two years since that swim, but Schoeni uses its memory to remind him that he and his family will always have support. He’s lucky, he says, because his symptoms have progressed slower than doctors anticipated. He’s learn to accept help — something he found difficult when first diagnosed.

“I live a quote, unquote, normal life,” he says. “I certainly can’t do things that I used to be able to do, but I can do things and have developed abilities that weren’t there before, too.”

Schoeni will always tell his story to anyone who asks, but he’s hesitant to compare himself to others with ALS — he doesn’t want to be mistaken for the voice of the disease or to generalize the experience of having it.

“But I believe in openness,” he says. “If others can learn from my situation in some way, I see that as a good thing.”

“I guess we feel like if our story can help give others a sense of hope when they’re in difficult situations, then it’s worth sharing,” Spreitzer adds. “It’s empowering. It’s about facing challenges and helping others. That makes it worth telling.”

Watch “One Step Ahead” below. These 28 minutes are worth your time.

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