A picture is worth a thousand words or so the saying goes. This picture is worth so much more. This picture fills me with emotion. This picture reminds me of our reality. This picture shows that as a society we have a long way to go. I sent this email to Universal Orlando in 2011.
I visited Universal Orlando on Wednesday, February 5th with my family. Our specific reason for visiting the park was to see A Day in the Park with Barney at Universal Studios. My eight year old daughter, Camryn, has Autism, an Intellectual Disability and ADHD. To say that she loves Barney is an understatement! My husband, his parents and my three other daughters left the Disney resort where we were staying to visit your theme park. After our amazing visit with Barney, we spent the second half of the day at Islands of Adventure. During our visit to Islands of Adventure, we visited the Mystic Fountain. Camryn and my other daughters decided to “talk” to the fountain. One of Camryn’s self-stimulatory behaviors that is a major characteristic of Autism is to flap her arms. When the girls approached the fountain, the man voicing the fountain referred to her as bird-girl. He stated things like, “Bird-girl, why are you flapping your arms?” and “Hey, why is your sister a bird?” The voice behind the fountain asked those questions several times. This was humiliating for my family. This form of public discrimination and bullying CANNOT be tolerated anywhere, especially at a Family Resort! This destroyed the overall climate of the rest of our vacation and embarrassed us beyond words. We are very aware of Camryn’s differences and find it unacceptable that they are pointed out in such a public way.
Universal follwed up with us and stated that they would do a better job with sensitivity training. Have they? Sensitivity training? Really? You need to tell an adult at their job not to bully an 8 year old with Autism. This all still makes no sense to me. Have things changed there? I may not know for a long time. We have yet to revisit. Our kids have no clue what happened there, but Dave and I were humiliated and filled with such dispair. We couldn’t protect the child that we had made a vow to protect. How could we let her down?
This is one of those moments in life that if I could go back I would handle it so much differently. Why didn’t I find out who was voicing that fountain right away? Why didn’t we immediately express our concerns with Guest Relations? I continue to replay this in my mind. It is one of those moments where I can recall every detail and feel like I am still there. I was a crappy advocate. I stood there and let it happen. I want to go back and show Camryn that I have her back ALL the time. I want to show the other girls that we will not stand for bullying in our house. I can’t go back though. I can only move forward.
Every year Camryn asks to revisit Barney and every year we tell her we will and every year we fall short of the promise. Sometimes even the littlest things in the grand scheme of life mean a whole lot and hurt more than you could even imagine. This is still one of those things.