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18-year-old says she was discriminated against because she has Down syndrome: 'Really mad'

An 18-year-old high school student says that she was labeled disabled and told she could not join in on a Ferris wheel ride during a school trip to a popular sporting goods store in Overland Park, Kan. because she has Down syndrome. But she and her friends refused to be silenced, taking to social media to raise awareness of discrimination.

Kathryn Embry, the manager of the girls' Blue Valley North soccer team, attended a field trip to Scheels with her class, which is composed of students with special learning needs and peers who work with them. Typically, the field trip to the store, which is used to educate students about shopping and money, involves a ride on the indoor Ferris wheel.

“I tried to go on the Ferris wheel with my buddy, but they said I can’t because I have disabilities," Kathryn told WDAF-TV.

Quick to help Kathryn were two of her friends, and members of her team, Emily Kramer and Morgan McGruder. Emily states that Kathyrn "keeps the team in line," while Morgan described her as an "amazing girl." Together, the three shot a video where Kathryn explains what occurred at Scheels and then shared the footage on Twitter.

People applauded both Kathryn and her friends for raising awareness that having a disability does not mean a person is incapable of being independent.

“Just because someone might look different than someone else, you shouldn’t assume their capabilities. Kathryn can do anything we can do," Morgan said.

The same night of the field trip, Kathryn's mother, Karen Embry, called the store. “The store manager at the time said he hadn’t heard about the incident, but he could confirm they had a policy that everybody needs to be able to understand and follow the rules," Karen said. According to the outlet, that is also the first rule on a poster by the ride. However, no rules are listed online, and Scheels did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment nor provided a written copy of their policies.

Karen claims that the employees never asked Kathryn if she understood the rules, and they never explained that that was the reason why she could not ride. Allegedly, the students were told that anyone with a disability would have to ride with an adult chaperone.

"The thing is, Kathryn has Down syndrome, so you can look at her and see that she has a disability," Karen said. "But it says nothing about what her capabilities are. She can read the rules. She can follow the rules.”

While Kathryn and her friends understand the sporting goods store has safety concerns, they also state that in previous trips to Scheels, other students with disabilities were able to ride with their peers. "They told her she couldn’t even ride with a peer, with another student, which is just outrageous," Emily said.

Kathryn was able to ride alongside an adult chaperone despite being 18 herself — technically an adult. But for the student and her friends, this incident is more than just a missed Ferris wheel ride.

"It’s the fact that they looked at her and discriminated against her because of how she looked," Emily said. "She is our good luck charm, so we had to help fight back for her.”

Kathryn's family does not want anyone to turn their backs on the business, but they do hope this attention will help educate others about discrimination, even if it is seemingly unintentional.

“We’re not here about a boycott and shut down a business that’s been very generous in our community," the Embrys said. "We’re about educating — not just the community at large, but businesses — about how even if it’s unintentional, it’s still illegal and it’s still wrong because it perpetuates stereotypes and it hurts a population, especially [those] who are hitting this young adult stage.”

The family will be satisfied with an apology, and a change of policy.

Blue Valley School District released the following statement following the incident that occurred during the field trip: “We are proud that Blue Valley employees have the best interests of our students at heart. The physical and emotional well-being of our students is always a top priority. We appreciate the efforts of our community partners to keep our kids safe through equitable practices.”

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