Another disability-related media story has gone viral.
Everyone seems to love inspiring stories about uncommon decency, whether they happened thirty years ago or this month. I hope you enjoy this one.
Common Ignorance and Uncommon Decency
By Jo Ann Simons, Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO, the Cardinal Cushing Centers
The recent story of the Houston waiter who stood up for his beliefs– and for his young guest– has been featured on local television, national networks, the internet, and Facebook. It seems to have struck a chord for thousands of people.
The story is that the waiter, Michael Garcia, seated two groups of regular steakhouse customers across from each other. Suddenly one group moved to a different part of the restaurant; he didn’t think anything of it. The group that remained was a local family, the Castillos. Their family includes a beautiful five-year-old boy, Milo, who happens to have Down syndrome.
Michael’s values become evident when he heard a member of the first group say, “Special needs children need to be special somewhere else.” He told the man, “I am sorry, I can’t serve you.”
This wasn’t a reality TV program where a secret camera is filming people being rude, ignorant or stupid so we can test onlookers’ reactions. This was real life. This was a family out for dinner in a public restaurant being subjected to the kind of humiliation and rejection that I thought was long over.
It brought me back to another time, over 30 years ago, when my handsome son with Down syndrome was playing at the beach: a happy three-year-old digging holes and making sandcastles alongside another local three-year-old. After about ten minutes of side-by-side play, the grandmother of the other young boy came by– a woman whose name I knew– and I was stunned by her shocked and disgusted expression. But I knew that where I saw love, happiness and joy, she saw something else. She grabbed her grandson quickly by the hand and without a word led him far away from Jonathan. She found another playmate for him on another part of the beach.
Well, I didn’t have a Michael Garcia– but I had my mother, Elaine Simons. I told her the story that night and the names of the boy and his grandmother. A month later my mother told me she saw the grandmother when she was with Jonathan at the country club where both women were members.
My mom marched up to this woman and with pride and affection said, “I don’t think you have met MY grandson, Jonathan. Jonathan, this is Mrs. Roberts.” She walked away, and with that taught me never to accept less than complete respect for my child.
Milo Castillo and Jonathan Derr. Michael Garcia and Elaine Simons. Thanks to you– and so many others like you– we are finally learning that people with disabilities belong on the beach, in the steakhouse, and everywhere in between.