Culture

Why You Don’t Hear about Discrimination against Persons with Down Syndrome

Anna Winnicki with her father (Image via WNCN)

It sure is funny what makes news and what gets ignored.

Have you heard about the Christian bakers who refused to make wedding cakes for gay couples? Of course you have. But I’ll bet you didn’t hear about the dance studio that refused service to a little girl with Down syndrome.

Last week, Tricia and Jason Winnicki tried to enroll their eight-year-old daughter, Anna, in classes at a dance studio in Lancaster, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo. The Winnickis told a local television station that the owner of the studio refused them.

“I really don’t think we would be comfortable with that,” he reportedly said. “We don’t have any way to manage her in our studios. There are special schools for people like her, and she should go find those schools.”

He’s right; there are special schools. But girls like Anna are under no obligation to attend them. The Americans with Disabilities Act couldn’t be clearer. If you run a business, you can’t discriminate against people based on disability.

The whole episode is an outrage, but I’m guessing you’re hearing about it for the first time. The New York Times hasn’t picked it up. CNN hasn’t done a segment on it. A story like this stays a local story when the victim is not a member of one of the “right” oppressed minority groups.

For my money, here’s the most outrageous detail of Anna’s story. The television station — News4, WIVB — refused to disclose the name of the studio that sent her away because “they couldn’t be reached for comment.” In a follow-up, News4 noted: “We’re still waiting to hear back from the owner of the studio that didn’t accept Anna as a student, and we’re not reporting the name of that business until we have their side of the story, too.”

I find this journalistic restraint curious. It’s far more typical for media to withhold the names of victims than it is to protect the identities of alleged perpetrators. Surely broadcasting the name of the dance studio would damage its reputation. The backlash could curtail business.

The Americans with Disabilities Act couldn’t be clearer. If you run a business, you can’t discriminate against people based on disability.

When has that ever stopped media from naming and shaming someone deemed to have transgressed acceptable standards of behavior? I guess some transgressions are more transgressive than others.

I’m sure you remember the “anti-gay” pizzeria that was targeted by online bullies after its owners expressed support for Indiana’s religious-freedom-restoration law. A media-led rampage eventually forced Memories Pizza to shut its doors. The press loves a good lynch mob so long as the victims are on the wrong side of the culture war.

You know Brandon Eich’s name. The Mozilla CEO was hounded from his job after someone figured out that he’d exercised his First Amendment right to political speech by donating to a group that opposed gay marriage. You don’t know the name of the person who outed Eich as a supporter of traditional marriage. No one in the media ever expressed interest in finding out who it was.

You’ve heard of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Both died after interactions with law enforcement went tragically wrong. You’ve probably never heard of Robert Ethan Saylor.

Saylor was 26 years old in 2013 when he died after being manhandled by off-duty sheriff’s deputies at a movie theater in Frederick, Md. His crime? After watching one showing of Zero Dark Thirty, he’d reentered the theater without a ticket. When the deputies were called to remove him, he refused to leave. They threw him to the ground and sat on his chest.

Saylor’s death — by asphyxiation — was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. But while you’ve heard plenty about Brown and Garner, you’ve never heard about Saylor. Why? Because Robert Ethan Saylor had Down syndrome. Outside disability-advocacy circles, the story has never gotten the national attention it deserves. The media are bored by it.

I don’t mean to single out News4, WIVB. I really know nothing about it. But in refusing to broadcast the name of the dance studio that turned away a little girl with Down syndrome, it is not being journalistically neutral, it is playing the same old liberal media game of granting special privileges to preferred classes.

All lives matter, but some evidently matter more than others.

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