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How People with Disabilities Are Confronting Harsh Discrimination Amid Pandemic

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Woman in a light blue shirt with "Jusita dhamma Earth" written on the back, pushing a man in a wheelchair outside.

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought out many inequalities in the United States, including disability discrimination. People with disabilities are expected to adapt to strict rules and regulations.

This is an unfair standard because different mental conditions may make the rules difficult or even unfeasible. In the midst of the pandemic, several instances of disability discrimination have occurred. Let’s address the incidents and focus on what we can learn from them. 

In Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, Boston Market employees called the police on Nadina Newman and her 10-year-old son Colin because Colin was not wearing a mask. Colin is non-verbal and has both Down syndrome and autism. With his disabilities, he cannot wear masks. 

The conflict arose when Newman’s car broke down on a hot, 91-degree day. The mother and son went inside the Boston Market to cool off, then asked the employee if they could stay until their ride arrived. Newman explained why Colin couldn’t wear a mask, but the employee brought over the store owner.

The owner told Newman and Colin to leave because they weren’t adhering to CDC guidelines. Newman refused to leave under the circumstances, knowing that her son wouldn’t be able to withstand the severe heat. After the refusal, the owner called the police on Newman and Colin. 

Fortunately, the police officers handled the situation as “problem solvers and peacemakers,” according to Abington Deputy Chief, Kelley Warner. After talking through conflict resolution with the Boston Market staff, the police drove the mother and son home. Warner declares that no charges have been filed. 

In light of this incident, Newman wants to spread awareness about disability discrimination during these challenging times. She wants others to realize that people with disabilities should be exempt from wearing masks.

The 4 disability symbols - animation of a person in a wheel chair, a head and brain, 2 hands signaling ok, and a person walking with a white cain.
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According to Newman, laws against discrimination should remain in place during the pandemic. Societies should promote awareness by educating people and treating all human beings with kindness and respect. We must remember that people with disabilities deserve to be treated the same as anyone else. 

A similar incident happened on a Southwest Flight. Alyssa Sadler and her 3-year-old son were removed from the plane after the boy with autism couldn’t wear a mask. The mother had a medical note explaining his sensory processing disorder, and how he dislikes having his face touched.

Nevertheless, the flight didn’t allow for an exception. When asked about the incident, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Gary Kelly, emphasized the no-exception policy. In contrast, Sadler believes that individuals with disabilities should be exempt from wearing masks on flights for their own mental wellness. 

A lesson learned from these events is that people with disabilities must be accounted for by understanding that their boundaries may be different from ours. We cannot expect them to obey rules that cause them distress and can adjust to make things comfortable for them.

We must remember not to make them feel persecuted and be sensitive to their needs. People with disabilities always deserve to be treated with care and basic consideration. We have to protect them instead of punishing them for being who they are.

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