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Emma’s Squeaky Shoes: A Disability Awareness Business Story

Posted by on January 28, 2014 - 8 Comments

An article titled “Restaurant Apologizes After Child With Disability Asked to Remove Shoes” written by contributor Kirthana Ramisetti, January 14, 2014, tells of a mother standing up for her child.  Catherine Duke and her two daughters, Ana and Emma, recently went to Panera Bread in Savannah, Georgia.  Emma and Catherine went to get a refill of coffee.  An employee from Panera Bread went up to the mother and asked her if she would remove her daughter’s shoes because they were squeaking and customers were complaining.  Catherine explained that her daughter Emma wears orthopedic shoes, which were prescribed by her doctor because she has a spinal abnormality. Ana, Emma’s old sister, asked her mother “Mommy, why are they being mean to our family?”  Catherine contacted the local press and franchised officials from Panera Bread made a formal apology stating, “ Panera Bread does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.  The last thing we would want to do is make anyone feel uncomfortable.”  Catherine stated that she felt the apology was adequate but she doesn’t know whether she will go back to Panera Bread anytime soon.

As a person with a disability I can understand where both parties are coming from.  However, I would like to think that in today’s society, we have accepted that people with disabilities are different and that we as a society must embrace differences.  As Catherine explained to the staff of Panera Bread, her daughter was wearing special shoes due to her disabilities.  The staff member responded, “Oh we don’t want to lose your business.” Catherine and her two girls left Panera feeling discriminated against and in tears.  The issue that this brings is the staff didn’t handle the situation well.  The fact that Ana who is 3 years old could pick up that something was wrong is worrisome.  Staffs of businesses are on the front line dealing with customers.  Staff should have some training on how to interact with people who have disabilities.  This whole situation could have been avoided if the staff member was trained property.  People with disabilities have a discretionary spending power of 200 billion dollars annually. Now add their family members, friends and supporters.  People with disabilities will go to businesses where they feel comfortable and welcomed. was created as a resource to help businesses be disability-aware, which means being welcoming, flexible, and friendly to individuals with disabilities.  We teach businesses how to interact comfortably and confidently with people with disabilities through our Disability Awareness Training.  We believe that Emma should be welcomed in any public place with her shoes.  We applauded Catherine Duke for standing up for her daughter and raising awareness of this issue.

Her is a link to the full article. Please post your own thoughts and/or similar experiences you may have had.

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About the Author:

Sarah Armour is the Business Assistant at  She enjoys managing the website, bookkeeping, coordinating the Disability-Awareness Trainings and organizing the Hop on the Bus to Independence Program. She graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, IA, in 2008 with a BA in Sociology. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Sarah Armour says:
Feb 03, 2014

Dear Resorts, Hey thank you so much for your comment! How did you find blog? Take care!

Bridget Isaia says:
Jan 31, 2014

Sarah – you made a great point – “The fact that Ana who is 3 years old could pick up that something was wrong is worrisome.”

It’s hard to know how these situations actually went down by reading about them, but that fact makes it clear that the business side was out of line.

Sarah Armour says:
Feb 03, 2014

Bridget, Thank so much for the comment, we sure miss you in Evanston. Yeah the fact that Ana picked up it was worrisome to me too. But when Emma gets older she will know that her mom and sister fought for her, and that is so huge I think as a person with a disabilities:-)

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