photo of a young teen pointing to a colorful carousel

Ableism at the County Fair

Last week, I received an email from Amber, who has three kids, including Cal*, her son with a rare genetic difference. Amber is also my unbelievably talented and faithful social media coordinator, but today I’m featuring her as a mom. Here’s what she wrote:

We don’t often take Cal to events with big crowds, but we decided to try the county fair last night.

I paid for rides/admission, but the gatekeepers refused to give me Cal’s ride bracelet to carry for him (there’s no way he would wear it or have it attached anywhere to him). Their rule was that if he wouldn’t wear it himself, he couldn’t have it at all.

There was no compassion or exemption for a teen with intense sensory challenges. I wanted to be more assertive in asking them to give us the bracelet since it was included in the admissions price, but he was distraught over the tone of the ladies’ voices, so I made the choice to leave the ticket booth before he became even more distressed.

He probably had more fun watching the rides than he would have had riding them. But still…

Sometimes you get the kindness of a Taylor Swift concert employee. And sometimes you get rigid county fair rules. Not knowing what we’ll get keeps us home more than I should let it.

Three thoughts I want to offer in response to ableism at the county fair:

  1. The way we act towards individuals matters. Big time. Even if the county fair workers couldn’t override the system and give Cal an exemption, they could have engaged with care and patience, and they didn’t. 
  2. People with disabilities and their family members experience bigotry and discrimination on a daily basis. These slights are often small and subtle, but they add up, and they take an unjust toll. Which brings me back to point #1: kindness to individuals matters.
  3. Moms like Amber shouldn’t be the ones who have to fight for their kids’ welcome and inclusion, both because it is exhausting and also because it might be impossible. In this case, Amber chose not to become more assertive as a way of caring for Cal.

We can all be on the lookout for ways to care for the ones who are most likely to be overlooked and disregarded. 

*Name changed

More with Amy Julia:

Penny Got a Job
Why Go to Hope Heals Camp | Penny in Her Own Words
Down Syndrome, Teenagers, and Holy Limits

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