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To the Store Manager Who Left an Employee With Disabilities Out in the Cold

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To the store manager I watched disrespect his employee who happens to have disabilities:

You are my mom’s worst nightmare. And you’re mine, too. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Yesterday afternoon, my mom was shopping at your store (as she often does.) With six children waiting at home, a busy holiday season with many tasks to be done, and a schedule that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for flexibility, my mom easily could have shopped at the closer grocery store down the street. But instead, as a mother of a child with a disability, my mom consistently makes the conscious effort to drive a few extra miles to shop at the store you manage because she believes in your mission to employ people of all ability levels.

However, yesterday was very different. All morning my mom and I watched news anchors warn of the subzero temperatures that we’d see the rest of the day and a few of the coming ones, too. “Being outside for more than a few minutes will cause frostbite,” they cautioned. It was even suggested that we don’t let our dogs outside to relieve themselves. I’m sure you heard that, too, or maybe even experienced it for yourself walking into work in the morning.

You should have been the first to understand when one of your employees who happens to have a disability came in from pushing carts outside, shivering. With a beet-red face, most likely numb all over, he told you he needed to take his break to warm up. But instead of understanding and encouraging this man to do what he needed to do to stay safe, you stripped away his dignity, yelling at him to “get back outside” to gather more carts while you proceeded to sit in a well-heated store and probably go take your own lunch break.

You see, I have a brother. He’s nearly 8 now. He loves to play sports and he’s learning to read. He likes art and counting and watching “The Polar Express” no matter the time of year. He’s so excited for Christmas this year, but I think more than anything, he’s anticipating giving my other brothers, parents, and me the gifts he picked out for us. Now I don’t know if you have children, but for an 8-year-old, that’s pretty amazing. He sings songs and has a ton of friends — in fact, at his school, they call him “Mayor” because his heart is so big that it’s physically impossible for him to walk by someone and not give them a huge hug and a warm greeting.

My little brother happens to have Down syndrome, and as his big sister, I used to feel consoled that your store hired people like him — that you saw ability rather than disability. But to be completely honest, my mom’s experience at your store yesterday has me questioning whether you hire people with disabilities because it looks good for your store, or because you really see their value to society and are committed to helping them grow.

I am not writing this to get you into trouble or make you upset. I don’t want you to begin to feel sorry for people like my brother, and I do not want your pity. What I do want from you this holiday season, though, is for you to open your heart. Be a little more patient. Strive to understand a bit better. Behind each and every person is a unique set of gifts and talents, shortcomings, failures, and a family who loves them to the ends of the earth and has worked extremely hard to get their sons and daughters to where they are now.

My trust is shaken today, but it is not broken. It will take more than one heartless act from you to do that. I have faith that your store, as an entire institution, can work on this problem and reevaluate how you talk to and treat your workers with disabilities. Above all, they are human. Just like me. Just like you. Maybe you had a bad day, or a bad week, and believe me, we’ve all been there. But would you have demanded that employee to go back out in subzero weather yesterday if he did not have an intellectual disability?

This is about power, sir. Please don’t abuse yours.

Merry Christmas,

A Loving Sister

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 Image via Thinkstock.
Originally published: December 21, 2016
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