Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Why This Latest "Heartwarming" Story Isn't So Heartwarming

Behold!  The internet has exploded with a viral story about a disabled person again!  A customer's interaction with an autistic employee is being called "heartwarming" and "amazing".  As you may guess, I'm not impressed.  Let's break this down, shall we?

The photo shows a typical sheet cake with a pink curlicue frosting border and the words "Happy Birthday Mandy" written in purple frosting.  The words are sloppy, but still easily legible.  The story that goes along with the photo is as follows:

"Picked out a cake at Meijer. Asked bakery-looking-employee if she could write on it for me. She said she would, and after a long time, she came and presented me with this cake. I looked her In the eye and said thank you before I even looked at the cake. After looking, I nervously laughed and headed to check out- it didn't really matter to me that it looked so bad- I thought people would think it was funny. The cashiers at the self check out didn't think it was so funny though, and called a few more cashiers and a manager over to look, even taking pictures. To my surprise, after they discussed it, one cashier put her arm on my shoulder and said "the girl who wrote that has Autism. Thank you for smiling and thanking her- even though she's not supposed to write on cakes, you probably made her day." So I guess the moral of the story is that kindness is important!"

*deep breath* Okay, there's a lot to unpack there!

So the customer asks an employee to do (what she thought was) her job.  Employee does the job, and customer thanks her.  Nothing unusual there, polite customer/employee exchanges happen millions of times a day.

Customer looks at the cake, realizes the handwriting is messy, and instead of politely asking for it to be re-done or politely asking for a manager, decides not to say anything because SHE THOUGHT IT WAS FUNNY.  She thought a somewhat substandard cake decorating job was funny.

Because of my CP, my motor skills are somewhere in the neighborhood of a kindergartner's.  This very well could have been me, in fact, I'd venture to say this is a BETTER job than I would've done.  I was extraordinarily proud of myself when I managed to address an envelope by myself, because it requires neat handwriting and the precise centering of the address on the envelope.  I'm 23 years old and this was recently, mind you.  I would be extremely upset if people laughed at my best try.  I've had college professors tell me that my best try was "not okay" and I "had to try harder", and guess what?  It made me cry.  Sure, this customer didn't TELL the employee she thought it was funny, but she also didn't realize the cake was messily decorated until after the exchange with the employee was over.  And since it's all over social media, I think the cat's kind of out of the bag now.  

That's the first thing wrong with this story.  You don't laugh at someone doing their job.  That's just mean.

The customer says the cashiers and managers "didn't find it so funny", yet they all gathered around to "discuss" and take pictures.  That sure sounds like mocking to me.  If I was that employee, I would have been mortified that my work was causing such a big deal.

Finally, we get a plot twist.  A cashier reveals that the employee who decorated the cake is autistic! She outed a co-worker's diagnosis without her permission.  That wasn't her place.  You don't out someone without their consent.  The cashier and managers made a big deal out of the fact that the customer was polite to an employee who did something for her - something that's ridiculously unremarkable - because *gasp* the employee had autism!

"You probably made her day." Why, exactly?  Because she was polite to an employee who did her job?  That's a normal, ordinary interaction.  No one gets to speak for me.  No one gets to tell other people what could "make my day" except for me.

"She's not supposed to decorate cakes." Regardless of whether or not the employee should have done something that technically wasn't part of her job, the phrasing of this - "she's not supposed to decorate cakes" - gives me an uncomfortable feeling, like the employee was a puppy being scolded.  Not to mention, disclosing what is and isn't part of a co-worker's job description to a customer is rude, at best.

The moral of the story is that kindness is important!  The customer wasn't kind.  The customer was polite.  She wanted to laugh at the employee's work.  That's not kind.  But all of a sudden, after it was revealed that the employee was autistic, the idea of "kindness" suddenly occurred to this customer.  The fact that the employee was disabled should not have had any impact on this situation, and yet, after the disability was revealed, the customer suddenly decided that she had been "kind" to the poor disabled employee and decided to go home and post it on social media, without permission from the employee or anyone involved.

And now that it's all over social media, it's almost certain that that employee is going to see it, and see that a customer is patting herself on the back for being a decent human being to her.  Because disabled people use social media, too!  Even if the employee herself doesn't use social media, the nature of a viral story like this means that someone connected with her will see it.  And if I was that employee, I'd be furious.

This is a prime example of inspiration porn - using and objectifying a disabled person to advance your own purposes and ideas.  The disabled person in this story has no agency or characteristics of her own, besides her disability, which is not even disclosed by her.  She is simply used for a moral lesson about kindness.  Sure, kindness and politeness towards people is important.  But it's important for EVERYONE, not just disabled people.  A normal customer-employee interaction wouldn't have gone viral.  It probably wouldn't have even made it onto social media.  But because the employee was autistic, the customer suddenly thinks she did a good deed by being outwardly nice to the employee.

Disabled people don't exist so that you can feel all warm and fuzzy about doing a "good deed" or being "kind".  We're human beings.  And next time, think before you post.  If you wouldn't make a story out of it if it happened to be centered around a nondisabled person, don't make a story out of it when it centers around a disabled person.  Simple as that.

(And if that employee happens to be reading this....I applaud your cake decorating skills, which are probably better than mine.  I'm sorry you were outed without your consent and I'm sorry the whole internet seems to think it's heartwarming for you to do something that was asked of you.  If it helps, I think you're perfectly, wonderfully ordinary, autism or no autism.

Love from a fellow motor skill impaired ordinary person!)


NightTrain said...

The cashier who outed her co-worker as autistic was in serious violation of HIPAA laws.

JoyMama said...

Thank you, Cara! What a wonderful job of identifying and explaining everything that's the antithesis of warm and fuzzy in the cake-story.

Last night I was looking for something this good to point people towards. I'm so glad to have it now.

Again, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for educating me! I was uncomfortable with this story when I first heard it a few days ago, but couldn't quickly understand why. Thanks for dissecting all the parts of the story and helping me understand the issues with it. Your blog has enlightened me once again!

Anonymous said...

Right? They had no right to disclose that information regarding that employees health to anyone

Anonymous said...

That cashier isn't bound by those laws. He's just a jerk.

Anonymous said...

I love your approach to this.

Having run a retail chain with 14 stores and over 150 employees, I am also sympathetic to the retail organization. I tried to hire as many people as I could with all levels of ability.

I applaud the cake decorator for seeking to please the customer. (By the way, I have gotten similar decorated cakes from fully mobile employees). In our stores we always said, The answer to every retail question is YES. This employee answered that question.

I do applaud the customer for her initial response. My daughter on her way to her career, worked at the deli counter/ bakery at the world's largest retailer. She had customers throw products at her, scream and berate her for much less on a daily basis.

The proper response at the register would have been, "would you like us to redo the cake? Your decorator is still training". This response is one of years of customer experience, not a cashier working a job to help pay the rent. On some level, I am sure the cashiers were uncomfortable and trying to put it together as to what happened. Sadly it became unprofessional and perhaps unintentional malicious.

I myself would request her to decorate my cake, not out of pity or patronization, rather because I love employees who choose to please the customer. If I had a store near her current employment, I would hire her away.

Your insight is always challenging. I admire you wisdom and spirit. I encourage you to keep looking at the world and sharing your perspective. I also hope you are writing a book, you have much to offer all of us. By the way, you should submit this to Huff Post.

Anonymous said...

thank you for your thoughts. I did not know about the original story, just read your article.
And the word "inspiration porn" sticks and I will gladly use it on many occasions.

Regards from Berlin (from an autistic or not autistic person - who cares?)

jillsmo said...

This PERFECTLY explains the ickiness of this story. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't HIPPA just apply to the medical community. I don't think someone can get in trouble unless its with their own management. She's a private citizen. Not involved in medical care at all.

debtwins said...

Stop being offended by everything. You need to step back and look at the big picture that in life we are all different. For the record, saying your coworker has autism is NOT a violation of HIPAA laws because it is not a doctors office and not releasing medical information other than a effect the of the disability a person is challenged with.
I wish all of our kids could get jobs where someone didn't NOTE their issues and didn't attack their efforts but saw beauty in their attempt to help them.

Shanti said...

She has no obligation to follow HIPPA laws as a co-worker and grocery store employee. I agree that it is wrong to do so, but not a HIPPA violation.

Shanti said...

I think you nailed it!

Casieopea said...

Actually, no. Your cashier has no access to documentation or medical records - so they are not bound by any confidentiality requirement at all. Was it wrong? Yes. Was it mean? Yes. Was it illegal? No.

Unknown said...

For NightTrain:

From the HIPPA website:

Who Must Follow These Laws

We call the entities that must follow the HIPAA regulations “Covered Entities”.

Covered entities include:

Health Plans, including health insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans, and certain government programs that pay for health care, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Most Health Care Providers—those that conduct certain business electronically, such as electronically billing your health insurance—including most doctors, clinics, hospitals, psychologists, chiropractors, nursing homes, pharmacies, and dentists.

Health Care Clearinghouses—entities that process nonstandard health information they receive from another entity into a standard (i.e., standard electronic format or data content), or vice versa.

In addition, Business Associates of Covered Entities must follow parts of the HIPAA regulations.

Often, contractors, subcontractors, and other outside persons and companies that are not employees of a covered entity will need to have access to your health information when providing services to the covered entity. We call these entities “Business Associates.” Examples of business associates include:
Companies that help your doctors get paid for providing health care, including billing companies and companies that process your health care claims.
Companies that help administer health plans.
People like outside lawyers, accountants, and IT specialists.
Companies that store or destroy medical records.

Covered Entities must have contracts in place with their Business Associates, ensuring that they use and disclose your health information properly and safeguard it appropriately. Business Associates must also have similar contracts with subcontractors. Business Associates (including subcontractors) must follow the use and disclosure provisions of their contracts and the Privacy Rule, and the safeguard requirements of the Security Rule.

Who Is Not Required to Follow These Laws

Many organizations that have health information about you do not have to follow these laws.

Examples of organizations that do not have to follow the Privacy and Security Rules include:

life insurers,
workers compensation carriers,
most schools and school districts,
many state agencies like child protective service agencies,
most law enforcement agencies,
many municipal offices.

In short the employee is not bound by HIPPAs laws and is therefore not in violation of them.

Anonymous said...

My son is 16 and autistic. I read the story to him...He thought it was cool that this employee was representing!...see...the work she did...was acceptable. Just like anyone else. The employee got to feel the same as, respected, and in control of something at her job...that would otherwise a NO!. The telling of the autism by the other employee....SHE ALSO MEANT NO HARM. People need to stop being so sensitive. do not relate your own experiences, as theirs. Apparently...This story was meant as a feel good story..NOT A PUT DOWN...jeesh...the law of attraction people...start looking at the positive...not looking for all negative...we have enough of it in this world.

Anonymous said...

get over yourself - I would think that the employee was quite thrilled that the woman liked the cake. I would agree with the above comment, she meant no harm. Great that the employer is hiring people with disabilities. Maybe there could be some more sensitivity training but really the original act of this was with positive intent.

Anonymous said...

I'm DONE with everyone flipping out over this! Yes the person who decorated the cake is on the Sprectrum. Yes she did the BEST JOB she could. She was overly happy to do her job and please the customer. All this BS over HIPPA violations, because EVERYONE is an expert in this field needs to also stop! The person who decorated the cake has declined SEVERAL requests for interviews and Meijer is refusing to release their name. Just drop all the negative hoopla over this. It IS a great story all around!

Anonymous said...

Posting misinformation does damage. Understand HIPPA laws before you comment. Ironic considering the OP.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I read it as one step worse than "inspiration porn" but rather self-promotion. Rather than feeling good about herself having done a supposedly good thing and saying nothing to anyone, she had to go for the self-promotion across social media. I'd be very interested to know if this story actually happened exactly as portrayed.

All too often people are quick to jump to conclusions and make cute little stories up in-between the cracks in order to promote a "lesson" for everyone with themselves at the top of some odd social gratification tree...

Either way this article is spot on.

crystal said...

I really do not like the idea that in this argument you are staying that she thinks the employees work was funny ? How exactly did you come up with this conclusion ? It states she thought that it was very funny ?? It could of meant a lot of different things including they way it made the cake look was funny not that the work itself was funny !!!!

Dr. LenaJeanne said...

I think people are assuming it looked the way it did because she has autism. People's misconceptions about autism is frightening especially since so many parents try to cure their kids by putting bleach up their anuses. I hated this story when i read it. Inspiration porn explains it. She didn't do anything good she posted it just so she could feel good it had nothing to do with the employee it was all about her.

There's also many websites dedicated to pinterest fails or basically the concept that average people can't decorate or bake worth a crap. It's considered an artform. The handwriting may not even be due to her autism. My daughter has gorgeous handwriting, calligraphy, and other art skills as an autistic female. My son doesn't but he hates writing like me and he has autism.

I am diagnosed with autism. I am an PhD oncologist and am CEO of a cosmetic company that I own and create all of the products. However, if you went and read my lab notebook you would ask yourself 'what the hell is wrong with this person she can't even write". Perhaps not, but you definitely want me to be the one doing oncology research just not writing your thank you notes or decorate your cake.

I love your site. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Sense at last,well put

Maddy said...

This is the most important point for me--The disabled person in this story has no agency or characteristics of her own, besides her disability, which is not even disclosed by her.

Anonymous said...

I'm autistic and I approve the message by debtwins. Come the fuck on. Can we cut the PC bullshit out? Anon 2:37 I'm w your 16 yr old son. It's cool and touching. The employee is loved there.

Cactus said...

The law of attraction is just victim-blaming bullshit, Anonymous.

Cactus said...

This is probably the best and most informative response I've read to this whole thing.

Stella-Sofia said...

My thoughts exactly debtwins. What a ridiculous dissection of something very sweet. People always have to find something wrong with good hearts and a sweet story. Good God, worth all of the killing going on, THIS is what bothers people....?..... Jesus......

threenorns said...

Regardless of what the letter of the law is, the spirit of the law is that you keep your yap shut when it's none of your business.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, HIPPA only applies to medical professionals guys...

Anonymous said...

What I really find offensive about the posting is that the OP is patting herself on the back for being a decent fucking human being. The rest can be written off as happenings without any real malice behind them.

Anonymous said...

I 100% disagree with his post. I have a special needs child. She is the sweetest person in the world and would do something like this If you asked her to. And a thank you would make her whole day. Hippa is only a hospital-doctors office requirement. And you have to sign a waver for that to be in affect. Just mean to be honest

Annora said...

Going through the comments:

While it is not a HIPAA violation, it is an utterly crappy thing to do to out someone without their consent. Is it illegal? Well, no. Is it unethical? HELL YES.

By saying "you made her day", you are implying that, well, people generally aren't nice to her and she is SUCH A GOOD PERSON!!! for being nice to a poor disabled person.

Anonymous said...

It looks and reads as though the entire situation could have been handled better in its entirety, including with this particular blogger's post responding to the story.

First, as has been pointed out numerous times, HIPPA pertains to medical professions.

Second, disclosing another person's medical or private situation without consent is a crappie thing to do. However, there is no indication as to whether or not the worker gave consent, or otherwise made public their condition.

Third, the "She's not supposed to decorate..." statement. Meijer hires union workers. As such, certain duties are outlined and restricted within their operation. For instance: A deli worker would not be allowed to work in the bakery. Also, as is common with companies whom hire both union and non-union workers, there may be certain duties wherein the employee is not supposed to partake if she were non-union. As per the company's CBA.

Fourth: "She thought it was funny." The customer found humor PRIOR TO and knowledge of disablilty. In a world full of parody websites (see, people have made a habit of lampooning sloppy work. While it van give a good chuckle, it is nothing more than glorifiex cyber bullying.

Fourth-B: The customer found humor in the situation. I ask you: Is that really more offensive and obtuse than had she lambasted the employee, or the staff, for doing a sloppy job? Had the customer spouted off angrily, I'm sure this author would still have written a piece which vilified her.

Fifth: "Inspiration porn." Authenticity needs no spokeperson. If the intention was to be self-serving, most of you have already sniffed it out. Why bother calling the OP out for it? In essence, that's no different than had the cake wound up on the aforementioned website.

Should humab beings act decent, always? Yes! Is it bad that we celebrate someone who is acting like a decent human being? NO! In fact, it's because this world is so full of cynics, skeptics, and people whom make it their calling to find the gray in every silver lining (yes, I typed that correctly), that common decency often goes unrecognized.

In childhood education, if you want to seeore of a good behavior, you praise it when it occurs, no matter how common or expected it is. It's called POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT.

I think all adults need to revisit this concept.

How about this: Let's all stop finding something to be offended about; stop acting average; suck it up; but our big-boy and big-girl britches on; and quit effing complaining on what's wrong.

Focus on what's right for a change.

(keyboard drop)

morguegirl said...

Nothing that was done in the store is really so terrible, however, you have to question the psychology of the person who posts things like this. I think many people would react the same way in person. I would, but wouldn't think to post it on Facebook. I'm with the author. There is something exploitive and self serving about this story. Nothing tragic, just kind of irritating that people need to proclaim their "good deeds" in such a one dimensional way.

Margot said...

I find this post interesting Cara. I don't think this women meant harm but the situation described by the costumer does sound a bit irky. I love it when my professors tell me I have done something improperly because it means I am held to the same standards as the other students. 4 weeks ago one of my professors had a brain injury and you know how we treat him: like a human being. He likes being told if he is wrong whether or not said issues are related to the new disability. So I completely get where you are coming from in that respect. If she thought the cake was done wrong she should have said so. She seems to have only thanked the employee because she did not see the mistake right away. We don't need to be treated like delicate pieces of glass because we have a disability. Yeah the taking of the pictures was rude and talking about the disability without the person there was a bit disrespectful but it happens to me all the time because my CP is so visible. It's not a consent thing…it happens out of circumstance. I don't mind if people tell others I have CP honestly.
Your friend

Anonymous said...

So many people are so happy about this, my thought was well she simply didn't do it well because of the fact, like she doesn't know how to write on cakes. It doesn't matter that either of us are Autistic, though yes in my case it does effect my motor skills. I remember being told by a teacher that I just had to try harder when it came to writing (left handed plus motor skills issues).

The thing is though we don't know if this woman has motor skills problems she might not, and then would still be acting like this? I think so as a Autistic she is considered less than the normals.

Cort said...

This is a tricky post to address. I read it, and read it again. The moral I think I got out of it was, "unless everybody involved handled every aspect of the story absolutely perfectly, don't try to encourage others with it as an example," because it's offensive to some people. That seems like an awfully high bar don't you think? Consider the laughing: "After looking, I nervously laughed..." Nervous laughter is a well recognized way humans try to come to grips with an unexpected situation (remember: she has no idea the employee is autistic at this time). Would we prefer the lady instead touch up her story to turn her superhuman, with some unique ability to immediately see the best in everything? No. She's human, and she's trying. That's part of the story too, because the reader needs to relate to someone who's trying, not someone who is already Jesus walking on water in a grocery store.

Now consider what you have done with your post. You have clearly identified what you consider to be a handicap in the lady's personality: she "uses" disabled people to advance her ideas. So what did you do? You lay into everything that could possibly have been wrong with what she did. If you were in her position in the story, the equivalent scenario would be you smiling, saying thank you, then turning around and verbally reaming out the poor employee for her thoughtlessness in not doing everything perfect, and how she should think about the people she hurt.

That in mind, let me attempt to bring this around to a positive note:

The moral of the original story is recognizing the value of kindness to those who did their best. Their "best" may vary from person to person. Its trivial to see the "best" in people who are "healthy." We see it every day on TV with sports stars and great actors, and we are reminded constantly as to how amazing their "best" is compared to what we mere mortals can do. It takes a different skill to see the "best" in others, even when that "best" is substandard by what would otherwise by the "average best." On that day, an employee did her best, even though she potentially wasn't supposed to. Later, the lady does her best, trying to inspire people to be kind.

So what's your best?

CeeDeeKay said...

HIPAA is bound by the medical profession such as doctors, hospitals or health insurance who has access to your procedures, diagnosis codes etc. An employer is not bound by HIPAA. Please see for more information (and to be educated).

Anonymous said...

The problem with this sort of view is that it doesnt actually help those with a just makes people feel awkward about actually asking questions or making a comment about someone who is disabled - because they are frightened of getting it wrong and putting thier foot in it.........just allow people to ask questions/get it wrong/educate them and stop with the negative responses to their views.....being more open and honest about disabilities is only going to educate people - so allow them to ask and yes to get it wrong - just dont be so hard on them when they do! I speak as the mother of a disabled child and I always taught him to explain to people rather than keep his condition as a closed book - educating those who ask is beneficial to both sides - dont make people feel awkward.....disability doesnt need to be all cloak and dagger and hidden away - those times have gone - taking the mystery away from it all will gradually help us all to understand/include/ and accept those who have a disability which is a bonus to everyone!

Anonymous said...

Brava! Well written, thank goodness for some critical thinking.

The disclosure of the employee's condition was right out of line, even if not strictly illegal. I suspect that is why Meijer is keeping quiet right now.

Best wishes, Alessi.

Miss Lexiloo said...

I think this would have been easier to swallow had this been a post pointing out someone ELSE's niceness instead of her own. It's very, VERY self-serving. Posting the location of the girl's employer so that random people can go gawk at this girl or request cakes from her (and yeah, people are posting on the Meijer pages that they think that's a good idea) is a gross violation of privacy. Does it break laws? I'm not a lawyer. I dunno. Does that really matter? What's done is done, and it's really, really crappy.

I find it telling that many of the people commenting to "get over it" are then immediately making assumptions about this employee's feelings. YOU DON'T GET TO DECIDE HOW SHE FELT. You don't get to say she was happy or whether it made her day. She got dragged into this whole viral bullshit mess without her consent, and that is the worst part of this.

Why can't somebody do something nice (or think they're doing something nice, whatever) without having to objectify someone else to get credit for doing something nice? It's awful. It's not just this post. They're all over the place, objectifying the marginalized. "Oh, I bought food for a homeless person. I'm so awesome. Then I put their picture online so everybody can see their misery and acknowledge how awesome I am for pitying them!"

People. Suck.

Anonymous said...

I love this so much. As a Social Worker who works with people with developmental disabilities, I try so hard to combat this thinking. Folks who do not work with people with disabilities don't seem to grasp that everyone just wants to be treated equally i.e. not be given super special treatment because of their disability. Explaining that this is is condescending and harmful behavior always makes me out to be the bad guy who doesn't want to see someone with a disability get something special. Everybody wants to feel that they are special because of who they are as a person, not because of a disability. Thank you for sharing your experience!

Anonymous said...

Ok. So let's analyze the facts here: some RANDOM PERSON YOU DON'T KNOW, posted a photo, JUST A DAMN PHOTO OF AN UGLY CAKE, with a cheesy story that doesn't even make sense, and you people believe it? Seriously? How do you know this story isn't made up? Where is the proof? How can so many people be THAT naive and look at a photo and blindly believe all the bs written under it? Especially when the story is so silly! The person who wrote that story didn't think much before she did it, that's obvious. And reading the story, to me it sounds like "thank you for petting my dog" because the disabled person was treated like that, with slight empathy but no respect! Should we start praising customers for saying "thank you" when receiving their order? If so, get ready for millions of this kind of stories.
And where is the kindness?? Do we really need to be KIND to respect a disabled person? Are they inferior to the non-disabled so the only way to respect them is by being kind? How about just practicing manners and respecting everyone equally?
And why should I feel heart warmed by a person who is bragging over the internet about saying thanks for a cake(ugly or not, some people including myself can find it cute because it looks so clumsy).
It's sad that we live in such an ugly world, that we throw parties and celebrate when people are just being polite...

Please, please stop being so NAIVE! Get your critical thinking down from the attic of your mind and dust it off, it's very useful!

And just be kind without flaunting it all over the internet, do it for yourself and the others and the warmth it brings in your hearts. ♥

Unknown said...

Agreed. Autism is so misunderstood. It is also not a "disability" for many people.

Katherine said...

I appreciate your position and where you're coming from, but I think you're overreacting to a few points of the story.

She wasn't laughing at someone for doing their job. She thought it looked a bit funny and might amuse people with how it looked. She didn't think the fact that the employee wasn't very good at her job was funny, and didn't laugh at her.

I completely agree that it was wrong of the cashier to 'out' the employee, but I can sympathise with the somewhat awkward position the cashier was put in. It was unnecessary for such a fuss to be caused when the customer wasn't making a complaint about the cake, and that needs to be dealt with by the store so nothing this unprofessional happens in the future.

I disagree with your opinion that the employee wasn't kind. It's kind to not cause a scene when you're given a substandard piece of work, and it's kind to agree to pay full price for it when the circumstances of the work are explained to you. She probably thought paying full price for the cake would make the employee happy, as she saw someone be more than willing to pay for some work she carried out. A situation like this would be awkward, regardless of whether the employee was disabled or not, and people act as they deem appropriate at the time, which may not be the perfect response.

I also completely disagree with your notion that you shouldn't be told that your best try isn't good enough, and I completely agree with Margot's comment above. It would be better if everyone was treated equally and the same standards of work were expected of everyone. Unfortunately, this cake wouldn't be deemed acceptable in the majority of cases, and the employee would need to be told this. Perhaps they can train her properly to decorate cakes and she can move on to this as her job in the future, but this isn't her job, and she hasn't done it well, so she would need to be told that. Obviously, this should have been done with discretion, rather than crowding around and taking pictures (which is horrendous, really), but employees should absolutely be told when their work isn't good enough, whether disabled or no. How else are they to improve? It's utterly patronising and unhelpful not to give constructive criticism where it's necessary.

I do think it's self-indulgent to post 'good deeds' like this online, but perhaps the customer genuinely wanted to inspire others to be kind. I don't think she meant any offence, and I find it quite harsh to pick apart her actions and criticise her personality like this. I can see the problems with the story, and I'm surprised it's had this level of response, but it's not nearly as nasty as your response would suggest.

vanesaurus said...

I disagree with you in most points. She didn't know the girl had a disability, ergo the story is funny. There is a website called cakewrecks, I love it because they portray cake disasters, and it's funny just for the fact that the cakes are ugly, and it doesn't matter who made them or why. She is not making fun of the girl, she just found the cake funny (because it is ugly, we can all agree on that). She didn't react as most of the people would, which is bursting into a rage (not very different from what you did here) and demanding her money back or a new cake or whatever, she just took the cake and tried to pay for it. I recently tried to do this famous Pinterest watermelon cake to give as a present, and after almost 3 hours of work, my husband took a look at it and said: lol, it looks like a very neat steak, and laughed. When I looked at it I realized that this had to be the ugliest cake ever made, and it is still a funny story, even to the poor person that got it. What I mean is that not everyone is an expert, not everyone gets it right at the first try, and not everyone has the capacity to do everything even if you want to do it, with or without disability, we are all bad at something and I am sure that the girl that wrote over the cake is good at many other things. I am also sure that I will never be able to use a sewing machine for example, I just can't. I also cannot do most of the diy projects, I cannot for my life keep any kind of plant alive for more than 1 month, but I can draw! So, that's something :)

One time, I accompanied my husband to get a haircut. The guy that was assigned to him did a mess, it took forever, the hair was not symmetrical, I am no expert but this was a hairwreck. When he was about to finish, the little comb of the electric trimmer felt down and it left a huge white rectangle on the back of his head. The guy went pale, I think that he was about to faint. He got so nervous that his hands started to tremble. My husband, completely unaware of what had just happened, looked at him puzzled. I walked over, smiled at him (but I was about to burst out laughing), and told him to cut the hair to the minimum with the trimmer, and to stop worrying: hair grows back. I was about to cry from how much I wanted to laugh at the moment. I looked at my even more puzzled husband and gave him "the look", (the "trust me" look) so he just sat back and allowed the guy to finish the job of leaving him almost bald with a faint white square on the back of the head. We paid, thanked the guy, gave him a bit of a tip (not much, lets be honest), and went away. That might have been the worst day of this guy's life, I think, it was his first day on a new job (which we found out later because the cashier asked us how he had done. We said: "It was ok, he is very polite!"). When I explained to my newly bald husband what had happened, I could barely breathe from laughter. My husband didn't find it so funny at the beginning but after a while he was laughing too and this became a funny anecdote. I wasn't being mean to the guy, but the situation was so funny that I couldn't help but laugh, we all make mistakes, I have been in this position too, and once the terrible moment has passed, the memory, with the right attitude, can be funny. Specially if you don't find yourself with an hysterical client screaming at you for not making it right.

But I do agree with you in two things: one is that the people of the store do have a bit of a patronizing attitude towards the girl, although there might be a story behind that that we don't know. I also think that sharing the status in fb as a lesson of morality and goodness sucks. People should be good because they are good, not because some post in fb inspired them. But then again, I just shared my hairwreck story here just to make a point, so maybe I am wrong in that too.


Anonymous said...

You seem to forget that a lot of people are totally F'nBS Heads, as my Grandmother used to say. I've seen people flip out over less and really lay into someone. I imagine I'm not the only person to have made this observation. What makes it heart warming (or whatever - my heart is ice cold) is that someone acted humanely, several people in fact, when another could have been total friggen mule orifice about it. Maybe the moral here is to let it go, is it (generally something trivial) really worth causing another person emotional distress?

MichiganGirl said...

When I first heard of this story, I too was uncomfortable about it. Thanks for putting this out there. God bless that girl, and for doing her very best! That's all you can really do in any situation, either someone who has full motor skills or someone who is handicapped.

Unknown said...

Oh geeze. It's 2015, so let's get offended by everything! I bet the fact that this customer accepted this cake and thanked her made the employees day. How do you know her nervous laugh was just a tic of hers when she's trying to not make someone feel badly about themselves. I have social anxiety, I hate saying or doing anything to make anyone feel badly, so I do the same thing. I think it was great that she acted like this was normal and treated the cake like any other professionally decorated cake. I hate how PC everyone is now. It's just getting ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Even though my husband did not have to he went by the HIPPA laws when dealing with workman compensation cases at his job. His feelings are that he does not want his information out there he is not going to give other peoples information out. He does not really tell his employers that I am disabled, just that I have doctors appointments that he goes to and that I come before his job no matter what.

Chrissie said...

You just perfectly explained all of the reasons why this story annoyed me which I couldn't quite put into words. It's like they are dealing with a naughty pet or something not a person who happens to be disabled.

Chrissie said...

I'm more appalled by the shops staff than the lady that politely accepted the cake, to be honest though.

Anonymous said...

What's CP?I'd google CP,but...well,best to just not.Almost guaranteed to not learn anything new about chronic disorders.

Unknown said...

I am an autistic flutist, arranger, and composer. I don't want to receive "special favors" just because someone wants to "make my day." I want to have earned the solo, arranged or composed something that bands want to play because it is high-quality music, and to make the judges cry with my vibrato and intonation, not a sob story. This employee tried her best to execute a task and succeeded. She received extra hubbub for it because she is autistic. This story troubles me because, if she were not autistic, an event like this would go overlooked. I have met many people who obviously had little experience with their fields, who could not yield the same results as their experienced counterparts, but who received no such thanks, perhaps even receiving ridicule from the customer. If this story did not highlight the employee's disability so much and if her cake did not elicit the reaction it did and if it were told by the employee, I would not have minded so much. However, the way this event is presented more sickly sweet and processed than grocery store frosting, so that is why it troubles me.

Anonymous said...

You do not have to sign a waiver for it to be in effect. It is always in effect regardless. The "waiver" is documentation that you have been notified of your rights. The co-worker in this situation was not bound by those laws. I found this story unnerving. People watching a "cute puppy" fail. Yes they also love, but it's degrading to "discuss and take pictures" of a normal activity because she is handicapped.

Anonymous said...

It's crappy that the photo and story needed to be posted on social media. The disclosing of the employee's disability was probably to provide an explanation to the customer for the messy cake. No harm there- but taking pictures, unnecessary. Finally, it's important to be inclusive and non-discriminatory when hiring staff. However, NONE of us are hired to do jobs that we are not qualified to do or incapable of completing with any quality. No one would hire me as an architect.... Cakes cost money. People want to present their loved ones with an attractive product. They're paying and have a right to expect quality. I would have found the cake peculiar myself. Management needs to quietly and respectfully remind the staff person to seek assistance for decoration requests.

Unknown said...

An employer is absolutely bound by privacy laws, especially if medical info is part of a personnel record. If the person disclosed publically, it's fair game.

Unknown said...

I would prefer to do my job and not have my disabilities plastered all over the internet. Would you enjoy being thrust into the spotlight by, say, a health issue you have? What if it was without your consent? Is that actually ok with you?

Anonymous said...

Aren't we always advocating for inclusion into public life for people with all types of autism and separately, developmental delay? Aren't we asking everyone to abandon their perceptions of what is expected to see that there is room for people who don't "fit" the pattern? That the unexpected and outside the norm can have value and beauty? Your are 100% correct that the original poster said nothing originally bc she found the writing humorous and probably just didn't care that much. However, the sharing of information allowed her to see the "funny" writing in a different way. People are so scared of "autism" and other "disabilities". It's kept hidden. Well, this silly post might make someone think twice about how they speak to the employee in the supermarket who's "different". Disability reports that the unemployment for persons with disabilities is on a sharp uptick. 12.1% in November. The shift comes as figures show fewer people with disabilities were employed and more sought to join the workforce. We need more stories about persons with different abilities seeking and finding successful employment. Does every time a person with different abilities succeed have to become a FB post? No. But if this post helps more companies decide to hire and treat persons with different abilities equally then it's a success.

Margot said...

To the person who wrote:
"Anonymous said...
What's CP?I'd google CP,but...well,best to just not.Almost guaranteed to not learn anything new about chronic disorders."

CP is short for Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is a brain injury that occurs before, during or after birth, that effects the movement center of the brain. I wrote a description of it on my website here
if you want more details. See the part of the page that says "more".

Anonymous said...

An employer with access to medical info is one thing, but if you happen to know that a coworker is austic (like this case) you aren't legally required to keep it private. yes it's a jerk move to tell a random person "oh that persons autistic" but there's no legal action that can be taken. to me it's similiar (not exactly the same) to telling a customer a coworker is gay -> it's not their right to tell a customer that and yes it's immoral but not illegal.

Mjit said...

After 11 years as a cashier, I'll give this yutz a gold star for being polite, but not much else. It's too noteworthy to go unnoticed.

Anonymous said...

The bakery employee said she/he had CP. Cerebral Palsy. If the cashier wants to tell the customer of the disability, he/she should know the correct disability.

Anonymous said...

The cashier in this story says the employee is Autisic, according to the employee in the bakery says CP those are 2 very different disabilities. It doesn't change the outcome of the story, other than if the cashier was telling the customer of the disability he/she should know the facts.

Anonymous said...

I think previous posters are thinking of the Americans With Disabilities Act instead of HIPAA (love the admonishing "that's only health care professions!" posts that say HIPPA), which it sounds like Meijer might very well have violated. The situations in which an employer can disclose an employee's disability are extremely limited under ADA; legally, they can't inform coworkers, except for supervisors/managers if necessary.

Both of my twin children have autism, and if something like this happened -- where the right to disclose their diagnosis was denied them and overwhelming attention focused on them because of a thoughtless Facebook post -- I would be devastated. I'd also be calling a lawyer. And anyone who told me I needed to see the heartwarming side, or lighten up and see the funny side of a customer first laughing at and then promptly condescending to my child on social media, after my child's diagnosis was shared with that customer by one of her coworkers, could go straight to hell.

Thank you for your reasonable and thoughtful blog post. I'm more disturbed by the percentage of people who have read this story and see no problem with it than I am by the story itself.

Unknown said...

Thanks for writing this. I made similar comments on that story when I saw it a while back on some Feel Good type website that shows in my FB newsfeed. Well intended, but so patronizing. And did it not OCCUR to them that the woman in question or her family may in fact read that story. Cripes. Wake up. Do good and keep quiet about it. Don't objectify and talk about her and then expect to be applauded for it. We are not talking about a cute puppy.