Taking that big trip to the water park is something a kid looks forward to all summer long. For one sweet 8-year-old girl in Oklahoma, her summer fun was met with humiliation when she wasn’t allowed to slide down a water park slide because of her prosthetic leg.
Now Averie Mitchell’s family is accusing Frontier City’s Wild West Water Works in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, of discrimination. Averie, a typical 8-year-old who is active in gymnastics and flag football, was asked to climb down from a water park slide over the weekend. An employee told Averie and her family that she would not be able to ride the slide because her prosthetic leg might scratch it.
In defense of Averie, who had her right leg amputated at birth because of a medical condition, the Mitchells make an excellent point. Frontier City water park policy, a policy shared by most other water parks in the U.S., says that guests with loose clothing or medical assistant devices can’t slide for their safety. But according to Averie’s dad, there were plenty of park guests sliding down the waterslide with accessories like jewelry and watches.
What’s the problem? The problem is that this is a little girl with a disability. This little girl was publicly humiliated by being forced to walk all the way down from the top of the waterslide just because of her prosthetic leg. This policy enforcement by a park employee may seem like an example of yet another big corporation sticking to the rules, but really, it’s done nothing more than reinforce our differences.
The easiest way to process what’s going on here is to understand discrimination and think about how you would feel if this was your child. The bare-bones definition of discrimination is when someone is treated arbitrarily or differently because of their “protected class,” which includes a disability. Averie’s family is right in making their discrimination accusation, because that’s exactly what happened at the water park: Since prosthetics aren’t specifically banned in park rules, an employee made a judgment call, and it wasn’t a good one.
It helps to think about how you would feel if this was your child who was asked to exit a waterslide at an amusement park. Almost any parent would be outraged that their child was singled out. Almost any parent would want to know why a child with a prosthetic can’t ride (and is publicly shamed when asked to leave the slide) when plenty of people with dangling jewelry and watches are sliding on by.
It seems like people are making a big deal out of this slight because they should be. Inclusion starts when our kids are young, and it takes actual effort on our parts as parents. Every time we let another small discrimination like this slide, our kids are learning that it’s OK to highlight these differences. It’s subtle discrimination that is the most dangerous.