Many of you have heard the disturbing news about Bede Vanderhorst, a 16 year old boy with Down syndrome, who was traveling with his parents when they were denied permission to board an American Airlines flight from New Jersey to California despite having paid for their first class tickets.
Much has, rightfully, been said in the media about this injustice. When you hear about the Vanderhorst family being rebooked onto another flight in the last row of the coach section with, reportedly, no other passengers allowed to sit within two rows of them, it is nearly impossible not to draw a parallel to the days of racially segregated buses.
For many, it might seem shocking that injustices like these continue to persist. Yet in Special Olympics we hear about way too many similar occurrences. Fortunately, like all civil rights movements that fight to create lasting change, our dignity revolution is finding its’ voice and demanding that voice be heard.
Hundreds of people with special needs and those that love them continue signing a petition on Change.org calling for American Airlines to immediately change any policies that allowed this particular injustice to occur.
Our Special Olympics athletes are taking to email and social media like never before – empowered to speak their minds, stand up for their rights and demand fair treatment and equal opportunities as valued members of society.
One such example is the email that I received below from my friend Martha Hill, a Special Olympics athlete in Wisconsin:
I was watching the evening news last night as I always do at my house to see what’s going on in other communities and around the world or to see what the weather is supposed to be the next day.
I heard a story about a family with a young boy who took their son who has an intellectual disability to a concert. And while they were in the airport waiting to board the plane with their son who was sitting in a chair quietly waiting to get on the plane with which he was causing no trouble at all. And when it came time to for everyone to board the plane the gate agent told the family that they couldn’t get onto the plane because of their son who has an intellectual disability and it was all taken by video with this mother’s cell phone.
And they tried to get their way but couldn’t and to me that is so discriminating and disrespectful and the parents of the young boy plan to sue American Airlines because of what happened and it’s a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and people who have a child or an adult with a disability should be allowed to travel on an airplane because as a person with an intellectual disability I have never been told that I can’t be on airplane and go somewhere with family or with someone I know.
Because this family was not granted permission to board the plane because of their own son and the fact that the mother was in tears because of it all and that really made me angry.
We all have rights and they will not be taken away from us.
Thanks for listening to me,
Let Martha’s voice inspire each of us to use our voices in this dignity revolution! Fight on!
Editor’s Note: Martha’s original email was modified slightly for clarity and topical conciseness, but not for content or voice.