A Response to the IHOP Incident Involving Summer Campers With Disabilities

An incident at an IHOP in Wichita, Kansas, occurred the other day. In short, a group of 40 from a YESS Camp, a summer camp for people ages 5-21 with developmental disabilities, was told they could not be seated at the pancake establishment. The incident was shared all over social media, with many outraged. More information has been released since then. Here is the post The Arc of Sedgwick County made about the incident:

​Many of you may have seen a Facebook post about an incident at a local IHOP this week. We wanted to provide a little clarification. One of our YESS groups did call and make arrangements to visit on IHop’s 58th Anniversary for their 58 cent pancakes. The staff member was very welcoming on the phone and took the reservation. When they arrived they were told they could not seat them. The group shared they had made reservations, but again were told they were not going to be …able to serve our group.The issue was the restaurant was full and our group of nearly 30 would take a significant portion of the restaurant. It is unfortunate that the issue was not clarified more clearly or that another option was not shared, but the manager and owner have both extended an invitation to our group to come for pancakes as their guest. IHop has always been very welcoming and we look forward to other opportunities to return.

We do appreciate the overwhelming level of support from those who were concerned that our students may have been discriminated against. We are blessed to be in a very supportive community and know that awareness and acceptance grows as we help integrate our students in our community.

​​The group was able to go to a different IHOP and get the 58-cent pancake deal. In fact, a few of our groups did that around Wichita. So no, I do not intend to place shame on IHOP. As someone who was a YESS staff for years, it is hard to feed our group in any restaurant.

It has nothing to do with disabilities; it is an issue of seating 40 people.

It is an issue of how many options we are able to give to our students so we can balance them being able to get what they want, while also taking into account how much time it will take for each person to get a personalized meal.

It’s an issue of having 20 kids still waiting on food, while the other 20 are done and ready to go because the kitchen just can’t cook chicken that fast.

It’s an issue of our staff needing to eat but having to wait until the end to make sure our kids eat first, and then not having enough time.

It’s an issue of being able to sit together so there is only one section of a restaurant that busy.

It’s an issue of trying to be as kind and respectful as possible because although the wait staff have been absolute gems, our strict budget is only going to allow us to tip them a certain amount.

And if you think these issues only affect our group or staff, that just isn’t the case.

At these restaurants, that manager had to call in extra staff to accommodate for the group. The kitchen had to take careful precautions while making a massive order because someone in the group has a food allergy. There’s four wait staff on the case working hard, but the small tip we can leave will have to be split between them. The mom with five kids not with our group will have to wait a little longer to be seated because our group is still clearing out and the tables from our section will have to be cleaned.

​All of these issues affect any camp trying to eat at a restaurant. Our staff are incredible and work serious magic in public with our kids. There are hundreds of incredible restaurants that have worked so well with our groups… and that includes IHOP.

​To everyone who was upset about the group being turned away, thank you for being angry.

Thank you for caring so deeply about these kids and staff. Thank you for wanting justice for those with disabilities and the staff who help take care of them. Thank you for advocating on their behalf and posting to spread the word. Because this is a true issue. There really are places in this world who don’t want to “deal” with “these people.” It’s heartbreaking and it’s wrong. Thank you for seeing that. But I encourage you to take action in a new way.

Shaming restaurants doesn’t do enough. We need real change. Shaming businesses gets people to pretend they will never give that place their business again. It gets people to post on social media about it but still have prejudice in their own hearts to some other group. Instead of promoting our anger with the injustice in this world, let’s promote inclusion. There have been so many times when I have wanted to scream at someone for a comment they made about my friends with disabilities, or simply their careless use of the R-word. However, so much good has come from me inviting them in instead. Instead of fighting, I invited them to events with my friends with disabilities. I asked them to volunteer at the Miss Unstoppable pageant, I invited them to my house when I know a group of our kids will be over. I encourage them to meet my friends. Some of the best volunteers and friends I have are the ones who at one point had a sad view of my friends with disabilities. You won’t be able to guess who these people are because they are not the same.

​The best way we can see our friends and family with disabilities included in society… is by including society in our community. Invite someone to the pageant, let them see just how unstoppable our girls are. Bring them to volunteer at YESS camp. Hearts change when our eyes are opened. Let’s not shame others for not seeing what we see in these individuals… just help them take the blindfold off.

Image by RoFra / Wiki Commons

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