Inclusion, Equality and Respect….It Isn’t Too Much to Ask?
On a student free day before term started, Frankie and I dropped our dog Daisy off at the groomers. The groomer was going to be a few hours, so we decided to go to McDonald’s for lunch and use the playground to fill some time.
On route to Macca’s I saw a large group of approximately 13 young teenage boys, on bikes heading in the same direction as us, and I immediately felt cautious, and thought we should go somewhere else, but Frankie was so excited to go and I risked a meltdown of biblical proportions if I change direction or told her we can’t go. So I decided against my gut that we should go regardless of my fears that boys might tease or make fun of her because of the way she looks and her disabilities.
We went into the restaurant, Frankie ordered her meal at the self service kiosk proudly and we waited patiently for her Happy Meal to be delivered to our table. I noticed the boys that I had seen earlier outside in a group, eating and laughing loudly, and some coming inside to reorder additional items. I thought they might move on soon and we can avoid any engagement with them.
Standing up for Frankie
Frankie wanted to go into the playground. There were two teenage boys inside the area, and one outside pegging ice cubes at them as they poured water down a children’s slide. I was concerned that a small child would get hurt, so cleaned up the water, and I politely suggested they leave the area and that they might be a little too big for this playground. They gave me some smart comments, but left willingly and without incident.
From within the play area Frankie noticed that these boys were wearing helmets and had bikes, she has a fascination with both, so she leaned up against the glass fence and looked at the boys with pure happiness and joy. One boy just started laughing at her, and the others soon joined in, I immediately said to them to stop laughing and teasing my daughter, as it was very disrespectful to make fun of anyone with a disability. They just gave me some excuses that they were not laughing at her and they were merely making fun of each other. I walked away and continued to watch Frankie, who was blissfully unaware of any drama and was just so happy to be playing and enjoying her time in the park.
I then hear the one boy who instigated the teasing start impersonating a person with intellectual disabilities verbally, and was now making fun of me for standing up for my daughter. I again approached the boys calmly, and told them that they were being so hurtful and rude, and that their teasing was paramount to bullying and they should be ashamed of themselves. I got out my phone and took photos of the boys, just so they knew I was to report them to the restaurant manager. I again received back talk and laughter. I couldn’t leave the play area as Frankie was not ready to go, but shortly saw the boys ride off, but decided we should to go, as I was so upset that I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
I did call the restaurant manager when we got in the car. He informed me that the boys were asked to leave as they had disrupted other patrons in the outdoor seating area. And stated due to the fact they were considered minors, he couldn’t share the video of the incident that involved Frankie, but suggested I call the police if I wanted to make a formal complaint. I decided not to take this route.
Reaching out to the community
I did, however, go to the Everything Sutherland Shire Community Facebook page and write a post about our encounter. I always try to come from a place of education when it comes to these situations, as I feel by creating awareness and sharing our experience, that at least one parent will go home and have a talk about diversity, inclusion and equality with their kids.
The post had over 3.1k engagements, 100’s of comments and I received at least 50 private messages, but one message was from a Mother, whose daughter had seen a chat started by a boy who said “the lady from McDonalds today had posted on ESS Facebook page and was talking about how we had teased her disabled kid”. The mum asked if I would like the name of the boys and the school they attended. I said yes!
I contacted the principal of the named school with details of the incident without naming the boy who was the instigator, he promptly replied and asked for the boy’s name and any photos I had. To be honest I was in two minds of sharing the boy’s names and images. I didn’t owe them anonymity or privacy, but I did owe them the opportunity of redemption and I had the responsibility to my child that they learn a very valuable lesson about how words can hurt, how pulling faces, staring, pointing and making fun of someone less able than you, that looks different, speaks different is not ok.
The Principal spoke to the boy and his parents, who then asked to speak to me. I decided I should call the boy’s father. He was apologetic and compassionate; I knew from speaking to him, his son wasn’t a bad kid, he just got caught up with the pack mentality that he found himself in that day. He’s a 13-year-old boy who just started high school, trying to be liked, thinking the other kids would like him more if he made them laugh. Yes, he was definitely old enough to know better, but he was also young enough to learn. I appreciated having that conversation with his dad and knew that my words would be passed on and would have some impact on this teen’s future.
I chose not to let it go, I tracked that boy down through community support because I felt that wasn’t fair for Frankie and all the people with disabilities or special needs that get treated disrespectfully every day because they were born different or became different to what neurotypical people decide what is ordinary or accepted.
My advice, seek and you shall find, educate, advocate and continue to spread awareness.
Author: Kym Gleeson
Kym has had a career in media sales, marketing, communications and commercial outcomes over 25 years. A mother of a child with disabilities, special needs & rare disease, Kym strongly advocates for equality, inclusion and accessibility and a fair go for every child regardless of ability.
Kym is a passionate, driven Mother who recognised the need to help families just like hers. This led her to start The Frankie Foundation, offering small grants to help bridge the NDIS gap between funding and therapy needs for many Australian families.