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Herriman boy with cerebral palsy not welcome at IKEA play area

By Nicole Vowell

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 7 2016 5:20 p.m. MST

Jeff Harper helps his son, Noah, out of his wheelchair. The 10-year-old has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair and a reverse walker to help him get around. On Sunday, Jan. 2, the family went to the IKEA store in Draper, but Noah was not allowed in the play area. Noah's parents feel he was discriminated against. In Herriman, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016.

Steve Breinholt, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

DRAPER — Upset and unwelcome.

Jeff and Crystal Harper, of Herriman, say they will take their furniture business elsewhere after their son was turned away from the IKEA Småland play area.

“They're obviously making us feel unwelcome there, so I don't want to go where I'm not welcome,” Jeff Harper said.

The couple, along with their two children, Noah, 10 and Ava, 8, went to the IKEA in Draper on Sunday.

“It wasn't busy, so that's why I thought, 'I'll take the kids in there,'" Crystal Harper said.

When attempting to sign Noah and Ava into the Småland play area, she said the employees informed her they "couldn’t allow Noah inside."

“(The employee) said, ‘We'll, she'll pass (pointing to Ava), but I don't know if he will (pointing to Noah),'" she said.

Noah was born prematurely and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair and a reverse walker to help him get around.

“He is not a medically fragile child, he can just transfer out (of his wheelchair) and crawl around,” his mother said.

After consulting with a manager, the IKEA employee informed her that her son would not be allowed in.

“(The employee) said they cannot provide one-on-one care,” Crystal Harper said.

She explained to the employee that Noah does not need one-on-one care, just help out of his wheelchair. She said she was told employees are not allowed to touch the children, so they couldn't help him out of his wheelchair.

“They were not budging,” she said.

Noah’s parents said they offered to take him out of his wheelchair themselves but were told it’s against store policy to allow parents into the play area.

IKEA spokeswoman Mona Liss said it's corporate policy that "only authorized IKEA co-workers are allowed in the Småland/playroom. This policy protects the well-being and safety of all children in Småland."

"However, there are situations in which a parent is granted access to retrieve their child," Liss said in a written statement. "As for Småland requirements, IKEA has chosen to use toilet training and height as a criterion for admission in an effort to ensure safety and security."

She noted, however, that "children with disabilities are exempt from the toilet training requirement and may enter with a diaper or pull-up."

But the statement doesn't explain why Noah wasn't allowed in the playroom.

“We couldn't go back to help him out, and they wouldn't help him out, so it just felt like discrimination right away, like they just didn't want him there,” Crystal Harper said.

After what the couple called a dead-end discussion with the store manager, they left in tears and said they won’t be back.

“All he needed was some simple help out of his wheelchair," Crystal Harper said.

The Harpers say they have been to the store many times before and Noah has been allowed in the play area with no problems. They say if this is the store's new policy, IKEA may want to reconsider to accommodate all children and families.

Liss followed up with another statement Friday.

Children are the most important people in the world, and diversity is a natural and important part of IKEA. Because of this belief, we are glad to offer our customers children a safe and fun place to play while they are in our stores. We regret that IKEA did not welcome these children and their families, and we are sincerely sorry. The safety of all children is our priority and we strive to make our policies inclusive. We will reach out to the community to help us re-examine our policies to ensure our Smaland play area is a welcoming and safe place for all children.

Liss also indicated that the store manager would be contacting the parents and inviting them to the store and their children to play in Smaland.

Email: nvowell@deseretnews.com

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