‘Tis the Season for Discrimination

Today’s post features a personal story and insights on disability discrimination from Isabel Otero. Isabel is a high school friend of mine and routine commenter on this blog. I have featured her keen insight before on this blog; especially on matters of discrimination and race. Having worked with the Department of Justice and currently the Southern Poverty Law Center, she certainly has a lot of experience in the matter. Enjoy.

As one of our political parties drags the fringe of their base –kicking, screaming and brandishing guns– into the mainstream, our airwaves and holiday conversations end up saturated with words like “Trump, “intolerance,” “war” etc. History tells us that our collective finger-pointing will soon move on to the next easy target, so Syrians sit tight –as a Latina — I will tell you some of this may pass. It’s hard to imagine a time when someone will not be stigmatized and treated as second class citizens due to some part of their identity. I’d like to talk about one of those groups now. No, this time it’s not the LGBT community, African-Americans, women, atheists, Muslims, or Jews. I want to talk about people with disabilities. 

My mom is one such person. She is a proud Cuban-American (and objectively more qualified for the Presidency than two more prominent ones). Mami is also an amazing teacher and serves her community in many different ways. This woman is ever the optimist, the life of every party, and a genuine inspiration to many people. She was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in the 90s. She has been legally blind for more than a decade; there is no cure for this degenerative eye condition which causes a person to go blind slowly. This fact has never stopped her for living her life to the fullest.

’s condition is expectedly worse, so she made the tough decision to take a break from teaching this past year. She decided to take on a new adventure. She was accepted into a program from Leader Dogs for the Blind and spent a month in Michigan getting acquainted with her new companion: an affable yellow lab named California, or “Cali.” Honestly, some days it’s hard to remember my mom before Cali. The love and support that these two provide each other is heartwarming. Cali has helped my mom take back some of her independence and mobility. Most days they walk between 2-4 miles around their community.

lsOn December 17, 2015, I received a phone call from my mom crying and embarrassed. She was at the Cherokee County Sherriff’s office filing an official complaint. Mami wanted to make a traditional holiday drink called “Coquito,” which is essentially Puerto Rican eggnog. So, she asked Papi to take her to a local liquor store for the last ingredient: rum. They ended up at TNT Package: Beer Wine & Liquor on Old Hwy 5, in Woodstock, GA. Mami and Cali, in full harness and gear, were greeted with, “Hey, hey, lady! You need to go out with the dog. You leave now!” My parents tried several times to explain to the employee that Cali was in fact a service dog, and that my mom had the right to shop anywhere. The man got increasingly hostile repeatedly interrupting my mom, who tried gracefully to educate this man about her civil rights. Meanwhile, Cali lay quietly on the floor at my mother’s feet waiting for my mom to move. My parents were summarily kicked out of this store.

Despite what some politicians seem to believe, federal law is not optional. For those who don’t know, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. This law protects duos like my mom and Cali; “[u]nder the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. Essentially, my mom is under no obligation to prove her disability but businesses are under every obligation to treat her as though she is an able-bodied person.

Later that day, as she told her story on her social media, her story was met with phrases like: “I’m sorry you too experienced this!” “Please report them to the Justice Department.” “I’m never going to this store again!” It was uplifting to see their mobilization for justice, and I’m glad that this is the result of this situation for my mom and Cali. I am also angry, and at the risk of sounding like a dumb politician, I’m saddened by the state of things in our country.

Solidarity isn’t always the response that people who face discrimination receive. It should be. Mami and Cali are going to be ok. My mom knows where to turn, and she’s protected and privileged in many regards. The business that discriminated against her will hear from the people of her community in a variety of ways –starting with a helpful visit from the Sherriff. ‘Tis the season to reflect and to make an effort to be better, not the season to overreact and ruin someone’s day based solely on what you see or on what you think you see.

So, today I would like to propose a collective-resolution. Let’s be better and let’s start by acknowledging that discrimination is real. Discrimination is not to be dismissed with quips about how annoying it is to afford people their full human dignity, you know: “political correctness.” Questions about discrimination and what to do about it have serious consequences to everyone from the small child that crosses the border fleeing violence to the semi-retired GA teacher and her service dog.

I beg you all to be patriotic this holiday season; practice empathy.

(Thank you, Rob. I appreciate you letting me borrow your blog to vent my lefty perspective. Happy holidays, everyone!)


  1. A very good post and a great line contained within it. “Despite what some politicians seem to believe, federal law is not optional.” It is not just the politicians either. One of the great ironies occurring right now is how a certain group of people want to use the law to get their way, but do not want the laws to apply to them.

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