Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Let's respect people who respect people with disability

Haircare company Beauty & Pin-Ups hired Katie Meade as the face of a product, a first for a woman with Down syndrome
My friend Peg recently had her hair done at a salon. Not a big deal, except that she noticed a man with Down syndrome working there. Peg has a son with DS and autism, and was so grateful that the salon hired this guy that she wrote a letter to the editor of a local paper:
Today I went to Antonio's Hair Salon and not only received a fabulous haircut but also a heartwarming surprise. I saw a man with Down Syndrome and his aide/helper working on folding towels. I went over to say hello to him and let him know what a wonderful job he was doing and he was very happy that I interacted with him.

How wonderful to see a local small business take an interest in making this opportunity available in our community! I applaud Antonio’s for welcoming this man into their salon and I look forward to rewarding their business with my repeated visits there. I would love to see more local small businesses follow this lead and include our citizens with disabilities so openly during the day with opportunities to interact within the community.

If anyone happens to see this young man at Antonio’s please go and say hello to him for a moment!

Peg's letter had a real impact on me. I realized that when I've seen people with disability (PWD) working at stores, supermarkets or elsewhere, I've been grateful but I haven't taken the time to commend the managers or owners. Which is important, because they should know how much what they're doing matters to customers, along with the families of people who are disabled.

It is still not common for stores to employ people with disability. It's gotten somewhat better, and there are more work programs out there, but still: not common. Think about it; how many stores or restaurants in your area have people with disability on staff? Per the most recent statistics from the United States Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for a person with disability in 2014 was 12.5%, about twice the figure of people without disability.

I'm pretty sure I speak for a lot of parents of children with special needs when I say it gives us a surge of hope when we see people with disability on the job. Meanwhile, it's good for stores that are employing PWD to get positive reinforcement from customers, and to know that people will support their business because they are a true equal-opportunity employer.

Last week, the bagger for my line at the supermarket had an intellectual disability. How Deep is Your Love was playing on the store's sound system, and we had a good conversation about the Bee Gees. Neither of us could remember which one of them was still alive, although the cashier did (Barry). After I paid, I headed over to the courtesy desk, found a store manager and told him how much I appreciated the fact that the store hired people with disability. OK, so I also told him that I didn't enjoy waiting 15 minutes at the under-staffed deli counter to get some sliced turkey but, hey, I was keeping it real.

Here's one simple way to pay it forward today: Haircare company Beauty & Pin-Ups has an ad campaign featuring Katie Meade, a 32-year-old who has Down syndrome. It's the first time a woman with Down syndrome is the face of a beauty product, a new hair masque called Fearless. A portion of all Beauty & Pin-Ups sales benefits Best Buddies International—that's how the CEO of the company first met Katie. Send a tweet to @BeautyAndPinups thanking them or leave a message on their Facebook page.

Going forward, when I see people with disabilities working at stores or restaurants, I'm going to make it my business to let management know how much I appreciate and value that. It would be so awesome if people who didn't have a family member with a disability did that, too.

Images: Beauty & Pin-Ups


  1. Ellen....
    You know what? I could not even tell that Katie Meade has Down syndrome!! I had to do a double take!! Literally!! And I have a brother with Down syndrome!! All I could see was beautiful!! ;)
    "Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive" --Lyrics to "This Hard Land", written by Bruce Springsteen

  2. She is beautiful. The makeup is to die for and I love the hair. The pose conveys power and friendliness at the same time. The necklace elevates the outfit. Everything flatters her so well it's perfect without being too perfect.

    1. Hi, Anna!!
      I was hip swaying/dancing/working out/cutting loose to Bruce Springsteen yesterday, when these song lyrics spoke to my heart and made me think of you, Friend.... ;)
      "Some say forget the past, and some say don't look back;
      But for every breath you take, you'll leave a track;
      And though it just don't seem fair for every smile that breaks;
      A tear must fall somewhere for the price you pay...."
      You're an artist.... You're a brilliant poet.... You will understand why these particular song lyrics spoke to my soul.... Right? ;)
      "....for every breath you take, you'll leave a track...."
      "Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive", Raelyn

  3. Hi Ellen! The next time we see a person with disability working in a store, we are going to say something to the manager to let them know we appreciate it.

  4. Hi Ellen. This is something I struggle with. As an adult with CP, I am a managing librarian in my local public library. I've been in the job for 13 years, and have climbed up the ladder if you will. The management responsibility was added in 2014. And, my boss would agree I was hired for my skills and not because of any desire for positive feedback, as it should be for everyone I think. While I know many companies would stand out for hiring a person with a disability, it makes me uncomfortable when others -- namely the customers-- call me inspirational, etc. I've since learned that it's a positive thing for community members to see me in a leadership role, but for a long time, I just wanted (and needed) the same expectations as my peers. It's a tricky balance for me.


Thanks for sharing!

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