Yesterday, I received a link to a story on a young girl who was discriminated against in a Savannah, GA Panera Bread. We eat at Panera semi-regularly, as I am a fan of soup. Having worn what I used to call my “special shoes” as a kid, I understood what this young girl must have been going through.

First, for many of us forced to wear such shoes, it isn’t a choice. Mine were for severe foot drop, which rectified as a result of these shoes. Without them, I could have had to have had my heel cords severed at a young age, but thanks to these shoes I have avoided such fate. The foot drop has returned years later, and I now wear Prafos, daily, to prevent from having my cords cut again and to keep my feet comfortably as straight as they will go. People constantly ask me what happened to my feet, but I just reassure them the Prafos make my feet feel better than without wearing them.

Second, these are not a stylistic choice. These are because this child needs these shoes to walk. My shoes were ugly. They were efficient, but they were downright horrendous to look at. I endured a lot of teasing for them. The young girl in question has probably endured a lot of staring and even pointing and being made fun of because of her shoes. Her shoes squeak, but the benefit of being able to walk in them far outweighs the sadness felt from teasing.

People get annoyed at those of us in wheelchairs. I’ve heard comments on the bus about my chair taking up too much space. I’ve had people annoyed with my presence. They need to get over it. All of us have a right to be in this world. This little girl is no different.

I wrote to Panera and told them of my displeasure:

I was very disappointed to read about the blatant discrimination of a young girl with a disability in your Sav annah, GA store who was asked to leave because her shoes were squeaky and bothering someone in the restaurant. This young girl didn’t choose her shoes. She needed them as a mobility device. They were, no doubt, very expensive shoes that nobody would want to willingly wear, but I’m sure her parents (and her) are grateful she has them as they allow her to walk. As someone with a disability who had special shoes to help me, as a child, and who now uses a wheelchair, I find it disheartening your restaurant did not accommodate her.

Not only does it go against the ADA, which allows public access with reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities, but it also sent a message of exclusion to this child. People in this world can be cruel. They stare, point and laugh at such mobility aids and your restaurant just reiterated this antiquated idea she was not normal or welcome because of that.

I eat in your restaurants semi-regularly, but with this behavior, you have lost a longtime customer. If one person with a disability is not welcome we must all not be welcome.

Dominick Evans
Dayton, OH

I then went on Twitter, urging people not to go to Panera if they were going to treat customers this way.

I was initially happy to receive a response within a day from them in my email:

Dear Dominick,
Thank you for contacting Panera Bread and for sharing your concerns.

Please be assured that we have contacted the customer directly and are actively reviewing the situation. Panera does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We’re committed to maintaining our warm and welcoming environment in neighborhoods across the U.S. and Canada.

Thanks again for contacting us. We appreciate your business and value your comments.
Customer Comments, Panera Bread

But…then I went on Twitter. I saw the same exact response from on my Twitter, nearly verbatim.

I understand PR wanting to contain a situation, but this copy and pasting of the exact same response miffed me a bit. Sure, we’ve all c&ped when sending out the same emails, but this is a different medium. If I, as a customer matter, I’d have appreciated something more personal than the same message copy and pasted to me in two different formats. It makes me think Panera is just trying to cover their tracks however they can.

I am glad they have reached out to this girl and her family. I hope it is true, but not sure how I feel about Panera’s PR.

So my question to all of you is simple. Am I being too sensitive or is it ludicrous of a business like Panera to have a ready made response to cut and paste to everyone who emails them about their concerns on this issue?

Leave a comment and let me know.

I do have to give them credit for contacting the girl and handling things so swiftly. For that, thanks Panera.

[tags]Panera Bread, restaurant, customer, disability, email, company, response[/tags]

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