People living with intellectual disabilities are too often overlooked in our society. People dismiss them as "slow" or "unable," and they can't open their minds enough to understand that these individuals are just like you and me...they're trying to make it through life the best way they know how.
Amanda Cartagine knows the stigma that those with intellectual disabilities can face, as her son has Down's syndrome. She knows that sometimes these kids need a little more time to get the hang of something, but it's worth the wait. That's why Cartagine makes a point of hiring people with intellectual disabilities at her restaurant, Pizza Inn. It's about giving them the opportunity.
"If you have the patience to let them take their time and learn at their pace, when the light bulb comes on, they are unstoppable," she said.
However, not everyone is on board with Cartagine's hiring process, and one customer made his displeasure very known. The man had asked one of the employees to refill a lettuce bowl that had been emptied in the salad area. The employee, who has autism, wasn't sure what to do, as he wasn't trained on this specific task. You see, each employee is given a responsibility at the restaurant and they are taught only how to do that. It makes it easier for them to pick up the work and not get overwhelmed.
The man didn't like this answer, and he began yelling at the employee, the other workers, and the managers on staff.
"My manager explained to him the situation privately, 'That's not his job. We've trained him to do this and there are special circumstances,' and the customer was still not happy," Cartagine said.
The customer was irate, and began making a scene. Before leaving the restaurant, he shouted at the manager that there should be a "warning sign" on the door, letting people know the restaurant was staffed by people with intellectual disabilities.
"These are like my kids, and it made me angry," Cartagine admitted. "I wanted to do something that was not rude, but got my point across."
Instead of putting a warning sign on the door, she did something much better.
Cartagine decided to hang a sign saying "We are proud to be an equal opportunity employer and hire ALL of God's children."
As for whether or not that's type of sign the man was referencing, Cartagine doesn't care.
"If he is not OK with that, then I'm OK with him not coming back," she said. "That's a dollar that I don't need."
Cartagine doesn't only hire those with intellectual disabilities, either. She makes a point of hiring anyone who needs the work, regardless of their looks or abilities.
"Some of us have different color hair, some of us have tattoos, some of us have different walks or personalities," she pointed out. "But as a unit, we are family."
Angie Mosley's son Ryan, who has Down's syndrome, works at Pizza Inn, and he's had a great experience.
"He loved the first paycheck," said Mosley. "He loved the fact that he has money in the bank and he can actually go buy his favorite video game. We parents with special needs (children) are always faced with breaking down barriers, stigmas, teaching other people that our children are more like them, than different."