Kathryn Embry’s friends think it’s unfair that she’s judged by her appearance, not her abilities.
As WDAF reports, the 18-year-old from Overland Park, Kansas has Down syndrome. But her disability hasn’t kept her from being active in her high school, where she’s a manager for the girl’s soccer team.
Recently, Kathryn was on a class trip to Scheels, a sporting goods and entertainment store. The class pairs special needs students with peer students, and the primary goal of the field trip was to learn about math and purchasing things in the real world. But when the group went to enjoy the store’s Ferris wheel, Kathryn was turned away.
“I tried to go on the Ferris wheel with my buddy, but they said I can’t because I have disabilities,” she told WDAF.
Kathryn’s mother, Karen, spoke to the store manager that evening, who clarified the store’s rule on riding the Ferris wheel. Karen told WDAF:
“The store manager at the time said he hadn’t heard about the incident, but he could confirm they had a policy that everybody needs to be able to understand and follow the rules.”
In fact, that’s the first rule posted by the ride. But it’s not the reason staff gave for barring Kathryn from riding with her field trip “buddy.”
Instead, the staff claimed that anyone with a disability could only ride with an adult chaperone.
Emily Kramer, one of Kathryn’s friends and teammates, told WDAF this was inconsistent with how these trips have gone in the past:
“I’ve been on the Scheels trip before. They’ve let other students with disabilities ride with peer tutors. They told her she couldn’t even ride with a peer, with another student, which is just outrageous.”
Kathryn’s friends are upset that the staff made a judgment about her based on her appearance. As another soccer teammate told WDAF:
“It’s more than just the Ferris wheel. It’s the fact that they looked at her and discriminated against her because of how she looked. She is our good luck charm, so we had to help fight back for her.”
Karen says it’s unfortunate the staff assumed her daughter wouldn’t be able to understand the rules. The truth is that the teen could both read and understand the policy:
“The thing is, Kathryn has Down syndrome, so you can look at her and see that she has a disability. But it says nothing about what her capabilities are. She can read the rules. She can follow the rules.”
In the end, Kathryn was able to get on the Ferris wheel, but only after the 18-year-old found an adult chaperone to ride with her.
Karen says they have no intention of boycotting the store, but they would like Scheels to apologize and reexamine their policy. They would like to educate others about the capabilities of people with Down syndrome:
“We’re about educating — not just the community at large, but business — about how even if it’s unintentional, it’s still illegal and it’s still wrong because it perpetuates stereotypes and it hurts a population, especially who are hitting this young adult stage.”
Kathryn’s friends hope people will learn not to judge the Down syndrome teen by her disability. As friend and teammate Morgan McGruder told WDAF:
“Just because someone might look different than someone else you shouldn’t assume their capabilities. Kathryn can do anything we can do.”