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Although awareness is important, some days you just need to advocate like a mother to get action. Our family decided to take a camping trip this summer – the only place we’ve been since March.
Choosing the Vacation Destination
We decided to go to a commercial family campground, equipped with tons of activities to choose from. [Learn more about camping as a special needs family here]. Primarily, we go to this location for the waterpark because it’s the one activity that my kiddo is independent with. She loves it, and I do too, because it’s one of few activities that I don’t have to fully participate in. I can sit at an umbrella table and supervise.
We Adapt and modify
I’ve been open about the additional needs in our little family, and how we adapt and modify to live our very best lives. I like to think we are pretty darn good at coming up with creative solutions. But, sometimes, you need to advocate so that others adapt and modify too, or at least show a little sensitivity.
In the waterpark, due to COVID-19, there is a gatekeeper allowing only a certain number of kids to go up to the slides. My kiddo (is now) a rock star at standing in line to wait her turn. In my supervisory role, I don’t intervene until I have to, allowing her to navigate situations on her own as much as possible. Watching, I see kids maneuver around her one after the other and head up to the slides.
Non Verbal cues can be confusing
Each time, I notice the gatekeeper employee motioning with his head toward the slides. Walking over to assess the situation, I said, “Nats, don’t you want to go up to the slide?” Before she could answer the teenaged gatekeeper pushed his long bangs to the side and snarked, “I TOLD her to go already!” That’s when it hit me. She didn’t understand his slight-head-to-the-side motion as explicit permission to head up.
I thought about explaining it to her so she could adapt; that a head motion means a whole bunch of words and actions, but anger hit me like a ton a bricks. Perhaps it was the snark that got me. Why should SHE adapt to unclear direction? My kid has just as much right to participate as the others. In fact, we paid the same daily rate as everyone else to be able to use the amenities. Yes, she has additional needs, but in a place labeled by the establishment as ‘accessible,’ why couldn’t this employee verbally tell her to go ahead? Or simply ask why she was standing there, blocking the way?
advocating is NOT complaining
As she finally went up the stairs to the waterslides, I addressed the employee calmly, and explained that my kiddo doesn’t understand non-verbal gestures and that telling her, out loud, it’s her turn to go to the slide will solve the issue. “OK, thanks Karen,” is what came out of his mouth. Seriously. No. He. Didn’t.
Knowing my kiddo, I knew she’d be in an endless loop of sliding, getting in line, and sliding again. I decided to stand nearby to watch the next interaction. Again, Mr. head gesture nodded, and the kiddo behind mine was about to go around her, when I said, excuse me, but you’ll have to wait your turn. As the line got ridiculously long with squirmy kids being told they needed to wait, he expressly said to my kiddo, “You can go ahead.”
Since when does voicing a problem (or in this case, educating for a solution) automatically qualify a woman as “Karen”? Google tells me that Karen is a slang term used as an antagonistic female character in memes. “Karen” is generally characterized as an irritating, entitled woman. How does that fit into those asking for a reasonable accommodation? To simply change a small behavior in order to allow everyone to participate?
Speak up for action and change
Although the situation was resolved, I did go to the front office to let them know what transpired, and that I was disappointed at what seemed to be a lack of training on their accessibility program. The manager apologized, and did offer us a private party on the beach (with the gigantic inflatables) for an hour. This allowed both my kiddos an opportunity they would have not otherwise gotten (this mama was not about to try and work around dozens of kids zipping around us as we try to safely navigate the inflatables one verbal direction at a time). They had a great time.
Since coming home, I’ve sent a certified letter (yep, good ol’ paper and stamp) to the President and COO of the company too. Just as we choose to spend our money at places where accessibility is a priority (and let those businesses know we appreciate them), I want to let this one know how they can do better. I’m hoping for a thoughtful reply.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – and a time when your inner mama bear came out to advocate for change.
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