“I can’t believe Tommy got an iPad to use at school, for free! That family is so entitled. I don’t care that he uses it to talk; that’s just an excuse. My son should get one too!”
“Jesse’s family is so lucky! They have that handicap parking placard and can park anywhere they want to! They don’t have to search forever to find a spot like we do.”
“I’m so happy that Disneyland finally taught parents with disabled kids a lesson and got rid of those stupid front of the line passes. I’m so sick and tired of these people getting what they want, whenever they want it. If they don’t like it, they should just build their own park and go there.“
“Those ret@#ds always get everything they want while the rest of us have to earn it.”
These comments are all too familiar for families with special needs loved ones. Backlash such as this is unfortunately commonplace, and the latest example has come on the heels of a story about a local girl with autism who was denied the opportunity to meet Santa at The Shops in Mission Viejo over the weekend. Abcde Santos, age 7, waited in line for 30 minutes on Sunday with her service animal, a pitbull named Pup-Cake. According to family friend Julie Miller, Santa – upon seeing the breed of the service dog – refused to allow the child near him. Abcde’s parents informed staff repeatedly that the animal was a trained and licensed service dog, but apparently Santa wasn’t feeling very holly jolly that day and the little girl was denied a visit.
I just wonder what must have been swirling in this little girl’s heart as she realized she would not get to greet the great St. Nick after all. Few things crush the spirit of a child as brutally as being denied the opportunity to meet Santa by Santa himself.
Predictably, social media ensured the story spread like wildfire, and in no time, the asinine comments filled my newsfeed:
“Some people are so spoiled. This family needs to get over themselves.”
“Who do they think they are, bringing a pit bull into the mall?”
“If it were me, I’d just leave and come back another time. Clearly they think they are better than everybody else.”
Logic, objectivity, empathy, compassion and educated opinions are no match for irrational envy, misinformation and ignorance.
Many of us raising children with special needs have been on the receiving end of such flagrant judgment and disrespect; even if nothing is said outright, the looks and stares and eye rolls stay with us long after we’ve returned home and tried in vain to excuse the ugliness and replace it with dejected acceptance that this is just the way things are.
Usually, these comments and assumptions occur within our immediate community: our child’s school, place of worship, local businesses and attractions. We stifle the urge to unravel in public and wonder if it will always be this way; if there will ever come a day when we won’t feel it necessary to justify and explain every accommodation our child may receive.; a day when the jackasses of this world will somehow finally get it and shut the bleep up.
Over and over again, stories in the media about individuals with special needs being denied proper access or appropriate accommodations – the kind that are clear violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – are punctuated with accusations that entitled and spoiled rotten parents are once again throwing tantrums to get their way.
Let me tell you something. Our wish list regarding the treatment of our loved ones with special needs is short:
1. Presume competence.
2. Treat them with respect.
3. Provide them with the means to successfully and safely navigate society.
4. Move over a little and quit hogging all the space. There’s plenty of room for all of us.
There is nothing entitled about wanting your child to thrive; to experience life on terms that address and support their specific impairments and challenges. The things we ask of society, the accommodations afforded through federal laws and regulations, are what most everyone else in this country take for granted on a daily basis.
Service animals aren’t just glorified pets. They provide protection, safety, evidence-based therapeutic benefits, and accessibility to surroundings and environments that may otherwise be out of reach for those they serve. They are, in a word, a lifeline.
This particular situation with Abcde and Pup-Cake highlights the need for more education and training regarding the rights of individuals who use service animals. It also highlights the fact that the internet brings out the very worst in humanity and people will literally say anything behind the comfort of their computer screens. If ignorance was harnessed as the new energy source we’d never have to worry about a power shortage.
I will tell you this. There’s no joy in bringing this kind of discrimination to light; families who choose to voice their experiences often become the targets of malicious assumptions and mud-slinging, yet they do it anyway, knowing it may spare those who come after them the same heartbreak and ridicule. Did you know this wasn’t the first time the Santos family has encountered discrimination due to their daughter’s service animal? In 2013, Mrs. Santos and Abcde were asked to leave Tom’s Farms by an assistant manager, despite Pup-cake wearing his service vest and Mrs. Santos providing paperwork indicating the animal was a service dog. Since the Santos family made their experience public, Tom’s Farms has committed to updating their policies and training their employees properly regarding the rights of individuals who use service animals. Very often change begins the hard way. It shouldn’t have to, but it does.
By the way, how old do you think it gets being told to leave establishments everyone else can access without restriction? How many ways are there to tell your child with special needs that her accommodation – the one that allows her to connect with the world in a safe and meaningful way - is unwelcome? How many times does society have to keep getting it wrong before we finally start getting it right? And more importantly, how many people calling the Santos family entitled and spoiled are the same jackholes who bully their way through the school pick up line every day because the only child that matters is theirs?
Entitled? Spoiled rotten?
More like devoted and dedicated advocates who aren’t afraid to tell anyone - even Santa – that the special needs community matters, that the rights of individuals with disabilities matter, and that accessibility isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law.