The following is a letter I wrote and hoped to have printed in the Sacramento Bee newspaper. Unfortunately, I have no contacts there and haven’t been able to get them to run it. So instead, I’ll just share it here. It’s in response to a business that opened in Galt called Special Ed’s Brewery. Click here to read an article in the Bee about it.
I’d like to express my frustration about a business opening in Galt—Special Ed’s Brewery. In addition to the name—an offensive slur against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome—the company’s branding further pokes fun at this diverse and important segment of our population. Their slogan “Ride the short bus to special beer” and their logo of a small yellow bus typically associated with transporting students with special needs to and from school are outright offensive, as are their beer bottle labels reading “’tard tested, ’tard approved.”
It is my understanding that the owners of the business, Edward and Cheryl Mason, have changed the name, altered their marketing materials, and apologized. The apology, though, is indicative of the larger issue at play. In a Sacramento Bee article published on June 14, 2016, Cheryl Mason was quoted as saying, “The T-shirts are gone. We cut them up and put them in the trash this morning. The pictures are gone. Everything is gone so we can say, ‘OK, you got your way.’”
While I appreciate the step the Masons are taking in changing the name and altering their promotional materials, Mrs. Mason’s statement perfectly illustrates the real problem here: a lack of understanding that the business name and promotional strategy and materials are incredibly offensive slurs to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. It isn’t about us “getting our way”—it’s about members of the greater public gaining an understanding that people with disabilities deserve the same respect and dignity as everyone else. As stated in the National Down Syndrome Society’s official statement on this statement, “All people with Down syndrome are valued members of society and deserve to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.” And I think I can safely say that sentiment extends to all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
I am very disappointed to see that the Masons have been the targets of violence and vandalism over this issue; as a passionate advocate for the rights of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, I would never advocate for violence, vandalism, or any other such aggressive response to a situation such as this. What I would like to see, instead, is education. I would like to see the Masons and anyone associated with this business who didn’t step up and point out the offensiveness of the name and branding open their eyes to the value of people with disabilities. I would like to see them spend time with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and with organizations that work to provide opportunities for this population in our state.
I would like to see a formal, public apology from the Masons—not just a statement that we “got our way,” but a real acknowledgment of their lack of understanding of the impact of their naming/branding strategy and their promise to remedy that.
And what I’d really like to see is the Masons turn around this deplorable situation and do some good with it. How about undergoing extensive training in employing people with disabilities and making your fledgling brewery into an inclusive workplace where people with disabilities can work alongside others in a true competitive integrated workplace?
And from the mayor of Galt, Mark Crews, I would like to see this become an opportunity for community education. You, Mr. Mayor, are in a position to make a real difference here—to show your community that you appreciate the value people with disabilities bring to your town.
So how about it, Ed and Cheryl Mason and Mayor Mark Crews? Our disability community may not be huge in numbers, but we are mighty in spirit. We’d like to turn this unfortunate and ugly situation into an opportunity for education, inclusion, progress, and support. Are you with us?
Medical Outreach Alliance Coordinator and Legislative Advocate for Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area
Co-Chair of the California Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition