Mom heads to Equality Court after son in wheelchair denied access to superette

Shop owner says there’s no space and he has to protect his store from shoplifters

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Photo of Liezel and Connor Haskin
“I want to give Connor as full a life as I can. Even if it means fighting so he can go to the shop like anyone else,” says Liezel Haskin, whose son Connor has Down syndrome.

A mom of three from Woodlands in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, is heading to the Equality Court after her son, who uses a wheelchair was denied access into a local superette.

“I want to give Connor as full a life as I can. Even if it means fighting so he can go to the shop like anyone else,” said Liezel Haskin.

Her five-year-old son Connor has Down syndrome and some developmental delays associated with West syndrome. Connor requires around-the-clock care and he uses a buggy, a special-needs wheelchair.

Haskin has been visiting Save More Superette for over ten years and she could always access the store with Connor and his buggy. She relied on the store to buy day-to-day items because the shopping centre was far away. “Making use of public transport with a wheelchair is a nightmare. So something simple like going to the mall has to be planne,” she said.

In April Haskin went to the superette for some groceries. She was with her three children, including Connor. Her oldest is 13 and her youngest is still an infant. Upon entry, she was told she could no longer enter the store with Connor’s buggy.

Haskin said that despite explaining to the staff that she was a single mother and could not leave Connor without proper care, she was instructed to either “leave Connor in his buggy at the door or carry him while shopping in the store”.

“I was really angry because I had no one to leave my children with at the time. I refused to leave them outside the shop,” she said. Haskin said she began phoning around to support groups for children with special needs and even contacted the police for assistance. The police explained that they did not deal with discrimination matters but accompanied her back to the store, she said.

“The manager told me, ‘Now you know for next time not to bring your child to the shop’. I didn’t know where to go or what to do but I knew Connor’s human rights had been violated. He should be allowed to go where everyone else can go,” she said.

A few days later, the store owner, Salaudin Khan, and two other staff members made an unannounced visit to her home. Khan apologised and left a slab of chocolate for Connor before taking a photo with him. “He said that people with prams and wheelchairs steal goods. I asked surely it’s not only people in wheelchairs stealing goods?” she said.

“The cashier who was with the owner asked why I’m making a big deal about this. A few days later, I walked passed the store and saw that they renovated it, purposefully placing isles so that wheelchairs and prams can’t go inside,” she said.

Khan told GroundUp that he was under the impression that the issue with Haskin had been resolved. “I went to the lady [Haskin] and apologised. I gave her a chocolate and we took a picture. I thought it was fine … Then a lawyer came with that letter. I asked why must I do these things if this is my store and I can decide who I want to allow inside. No one can tell me,” he said.

Khan explained that he was taking “every precaution” to protect his store from shoplifters. He said in May 2018, he lost almost everything when his store was looted and damaged during protests over housing in Woodlands.

“My store was closed for four and a half months after that. You can see the space in my shop is small, so what am I supposed to do?”

Khan said he has attempted to contact Haskin’s lawyer by phone to no avail.

When Connor was just over a year, he spent a month in ICU at Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Haskin became tearful as she recalled being told by doctors that her son would only have a few hours to live once removed from his ventilator. “I knew when Connor was diagnosed that it wasn’t going to be easy. But I also didn’t expect that people would be like this. I’m not asking for a handout. I am a paying customer like anyone else,” she said.

In the meantime, the incident had made its way to the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities and was referred to the law firm Webber Wentzel.

Attorney Odette Geldenhuys has since taken Haskin’s case pro bono. On 6 July, Geldenhuys sent a letter of demand to Khan, asking him to apologise in writing to Haskin; restructure the store to allow wheelchair access; pay R5,000 to Red Cross Children’s Hospital: Down Syndrome Support group and a R5,000 towards Connor’s next wheelchair.

“Our clients were hurt by the discriminatory conduct as it offended and insulted them … The discrimination violated the Equality Act, in particular section 9, which prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of disability,” read the letter.

Geldenhuys said Haskin’s matter was important because of the manner in which they were treated and the shop owner’s subsequent unresponsiveness. “Soon we will lay a complaint in the Equality Court,” she said.

Haskin said her aim is to spread awareness and educate people in her community about Connor’s disability. “Sometimes parents of a special needs child suffer in silence. We want them to be accepted … I was never guaranteed a day over one or two years old with Connor. I refuse to raise my child hiding inside my house.”

TOPICS:  Disability Rights

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GroundUp Editor's Response

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) criticised the ethics of two GroundUp articles:

- Story 1: Mom heads to Equality Court after son in wheelchair denied access to superette By Barbara Maregele

- Story 2: Grade R learners told to avoid the school toilets and use the field By Yamela Ntshongwana

The full critique is here:

We appreciate criticism of our articles; it helps us to improve. But MMA’s criticisms are wrong.

In writing this response, which we hope you will consider publishing on the same page as your article, we once more sought and received the permission of Liezel Haskin to name her and her son Connor.

Story 1

The first story is about a mother who is taking legal action against a shopkeeper for denying her son, who uses a wheelchair, access to his shop. GroundUp names both the mother and son in the story: Liezel and Connor Haskin. The story states that five-year-old Connor has Down syndrome and some developmental delays associated with West syndrome.

MMA says we should not have identified the child in story 1

The choice to identify the child was the parent’s. Liezel is proud of her child and does not wish to hide the fact that the child lives with a disability.

In the 2000s Gail Johnson’s young son, Nkosi, lived openly with HIV. His name was frequently mentioned in the media and Nkosi spoke on public platforms. Sibongile Mazeka was a young child with HIV whose story was told in the Cape Times in 2001. Her carers gave the newspaper permission to use her name and tell her story. (Sibongile died of AIDS on 11 September 2001, at about the same time that an aeroplane hit the World Trade Centre.)

The stories of these children told openly, using photographs and their real names, helped combat the stigma of HIV and compel the state to provide antiretroviral treatment for people with HIV.

Likewise, the openness of Liezel about Connor helps destigmatize and normalise Connor’s life.

MMA writes, “Identifying the child indirectly is not in the public interest as the story, MMA strongly believes, would still have had the same impact even without the child’s mother’s identity.”

On the contrary, failing to print Liezel’s and Connor’s names would have been unethical and denied Liezel the agency to make decisions for her son. (Incidentally, there is nothing “indirect” about the identification of Connor: he is named and photographed - rightly so.)

MMA writes: “The failure to sufficiently protect the child’s identity may lead to victimisation, further humiliation and ridicule from his peers based on his condition and reported experience of discrimination.”

That is possible. But it may also lead to greater acceptance and an easier, more open, life for Connor. That calculation is not for MMA or GroundUp to make: it’s for Connor’s mother to make, and for us to respect.

MMA writes: “GroundUp missed an opportunity to advocate for children’s rights in the stories”

This is a misunderstanding of what GroundUp does. In our news articles we do not “advocate”. The stories we choose to report are determined by our commitment to covering human rights news. But once journalists are assigned to stories, they have to do their very best, despite their preconceptions and prejudices, to report the story fairly, not advocate for any position. The only time GroundUp explicitly advocates a position is in editorial columns.
Story 2

This story is about Grade R, one and two children --- i.e. children aged five to seven years old --- who defecate in a field because their school doesn’t have safe toilets. The story quotes the principal but no children.

MMA says the story violates Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 7 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children. Why? Because GroundUp “fails to give a voice to the children affected by the lack of proper toilets in the school to share their story and experience”.

The children in question were no older than seven. In ethical newsrooms journalists don’t interview children this young without the consent of their parents or guardians, especially on a sensitive topic such as this in which the children almost certainly are not old enough to understand the issues.

This is why the press code several times includes the clause “taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child”.

MMA writes: “Furthermore, GroundUp missed an opportunity to fully promote and advocate for children’s rights in these stories. A focus should not only have been on the individual child in the first story but the problem at large which is the discrimination that children with special needs face. Advocacy for a lack of proper school toilets and its impact on children in South Africa should have been explored in the second story. GroundUp should have moved from merely reporting what happened to taking an advocacy angle in the reporting so as to help promote the children’s rights enshrined in Section 28 (c) and (d) of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.”

We have already dealt with the misguided notion that GroundUp should do advocacy in news reports. But we agree that the quality of the articles may have been improved by going into further detail, e.g. by providing statistics. The quality of articles is dependent on many factors, including how time-bound the story is, how busy the reporter is, the reporter’s experience, and how much editing time can be devoted to them. But quality is separate to ethics; both articles are ethically reported and do not violate the press code.

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