In my time here on earth I have both been a staff worker working with adults with disabilities as well as a college instructor in theologies and philosophies of disability.
In both settings you quickly realize that our disabled brothers and sisters in humanity have certain protected rights.
A quick look at our history as a species reveals why. Discrimination, forced sterilization and, you know, Nazis.
Vulnerable populations, being if they are disabled or of another racial or sexual minority, often have to put up with what we could call “the violence of humor.” Someone will make a comment and if called on it will be informed that the offender was “just joking.”
These types of jokes are used to reinforce stereotypes as well as acting as a covert way of deploying biased agendas in a shared, public space.
Let us not fool ourselves that such material is funny or that our brothers and sisters in humanity who often hear these things don’t hear them on a near daily level.
Companies often partner with agencies serving the disabled. This allows them to have a raised image in the community, tax write offs, and their employees to do some good in the world.
The company LuLaRoe is no different. Named after the founder’s granddaughters, the family was gifted with another granddaughter, whose name is not part of the company’s, but was blessed with an extra chromosome.
The company introduced a new product, “The Scarlet,” named after their granddaughter. A dollar from each sale would go to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), and after the initial launch they raised $150,000.
Most LuLaRoe products are sold through independent “fashion consultants,” many using social media. One retailer, selling via a live video stream, decided to trade in hurtful stereotypes.
“I’m Robert,” he says affecting a mocking tone. “I’m special.” This incident followed some confusion about information about online sales.
The NDSS responded quickly, severing its ties with LuLaRoe. The NDSS assures us that as the leading Down Syndrome human rights organization, they must abide by their principles and continue to advocate for the people they serve.
In this instance, it means severing ties with the offending company. Robert, the man in the video, did apologize. In an apology video, he is sitting next to a woman with Down syndrome, who he identifies as his sister-in-law, he tells us he always wanted to have “a Down syndrome” in his life.
LuLaRoe, for their part, issued a statement accepting Robert’s apology. They state that they declined to fire him to maintain the relationship with NDSS.
This is not the first issue that LuLaRoe has faced. It has been suggested that their business structure is a pyramid scheme by which those at the top get wealth and those at the bottom do not. They have reportedly harassed a critical blogger for her sources and stolen someone’s design.
For now, the issue stands and that contractor is still employed. Despite public outrage, it seems that both organizations will hold their stances.
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