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Mon Jan 7, 2013, 12:30 PM

Whole Foods Mistreats An Autistic Young Man

Whole Foods says it is committed to the community, but actions by their employees and contractors show that community does not include customers with disabilities.

I recently went shopping with my brother Michael, a 26-year-old with autism, at a Milwaukee Whole Foods store. After briefly walking away from my side my brother got confused between the samples and the hot bar and ate some food from the hot bar. My brother doesn’t speak -- it’s part of his autism -- so couldn’t explain his confusion when he was confronted by Whole Foods security guards.

The Whole Foods security guards then escorted my brother to the exit of the store. When I found out what happened I explained my brother’s situation and offered to pay for the food. The Whole Foods security personnel responded that my brother would never be allowed back unless he was on a leash like a dog. When my mother complained to the assistant manager about how my brother had been treated, the assistant store manager apologized for the specific use of the word "leash" - but he clearly was not pleased with having my brother in his store.

After I created a Change.org petition, took to Twitter, and my family spoke again with the store, the store manager confirmed that the security guard who suggested a leash had been removed from the store. The store manager did not believe the other security guard (who said my brother could not come to the store) had done anything wrong. The store manager agreed to provide some sort of sensitivity training in that store.

I'm not sure what type of training will be offered. My mother's offer to assist in training was not accepted. While I applaud this pledge to provide some sort of training locally, I think that more training is needed in other stores so that everyone who works in Whole Foods is prepared to treat people with disabilities with courtesy and respect.

What happened to my brother is not an isolated incident.

In Dallas in 2011, a 28-year-old man with autism was arrested for trespassing while he was shopping in a Whole Foods store. Police were told to come because the man was “acting odd.” The man stated that he had autism and the information was simply disregarded. We do not know how many other cases go unreported, either because they are less flagrant, or because families do not publicize their experiences.

Whole Foods website touts their extensive staff training and highlights their values including:

Customers are fellow human beings with feelings and emotions like our own; they are equals to be treated with courtesy and respect at all times.

I am asking the Whole Foods corporation to live up to their stated values by implementing formal training for everyone who works in their stores on how to interact with customers who have disabilities.

Unless Whole Foods successfully implements such trainings, we -- the family, friends, and supporters of persons with disabilities -- will choose to buy groceries at a store that shares our commitment to human dignity.

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Reply Whole Foods Mistreats An Autistic Young Man (Original post)
YBR31 Jan 2013 OP
pipoman Jan 2013 #1
YBR31 Jan 2013 #2
randome Jan 2013 #3
elehhhhna Jan 2013 #5
YBR31 Jan 2013 #4

Response to YBR31 (Original post)

Mon Jan 7, 2013, 12:36 PM

1. Whole Foods CEO doesn't believe in illness or need

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Response to YBR31 (Original post)

Mon Jan 7, 2013, 12:42 PM

3. 'Sensitivity training'?

How about training to treat all customers with respect and be flexible when doing so? A hell of a lot of problems between consumers and businesses would be solved with that simple goal in mind.

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Response to randome (Reply #3)

Mon Jan 7, 2013, 01:39 PM

5. "common sense" training and "empathy training" are remedial at best --

although a customer eating fromt he food bar is certainly something to be managed on the spot. The leash talk was totally ignorant but asking him to leave the store unless he's supervised sounds appropriate...

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