Down’s shop gets unlikely boost from discrimination

GOOD FROM BAD::A food shop staffed by people with Down syndrome has seen its sales slump reversed after a discriminatory incident called attention to the disorder

By Weng Yu-huang and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Thu, Jul 04, 2013 - Page 5

An incident last week in which a McDonald’s employee was accused of discriminating against a young woman with Down syndrome may have been a blessing in disguise for a workshop that employs people with the disorder.

Sales at the Abrazo Sheltered Workshop (愛不囉嗦庇護商店), situated at Exit 6 of the Taipei MRT’s Nangang Exhibition Center Station, had been stagnant since the Republic of China Down Syndrome Foundation opened the outlet in January.

The McDonald’s incident occurred on June 21, when the manager of a franchise in Greater Kaohsiung said the woman was “hampering business” and asked police to remove her from the premises.

Amid mounting public pressure, McDonald’s Taiwan representative Lu Hsiao-hui (盧小慧) issued an apology on June 26.

Kuan Sheng-lien (關勝聯), a social worker with the foundation, said the shop has been unable to break even because of its distance from the main route passengers walk to transfer between the Wenshan-Neihu Line and the Nangang Line.

“However, after the McDonald’s incident, we have seen an increase in the number of customers. Many of them come to the station just to visit the workshop,” Kuan said.

“We have also received orders from Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials for our products as a way to show support for people with Down syndrome,” Kuan added, describing the sales boost as an “unexpected gain” from an unfortunate incident.

The Taipei City Government’s Foreign and Disabled Labor Office commissioned the foundation to operate the workshop. The foundation chose the Spanish word for embrace, abrazo, as the shop’s Western name because the word is nearly homophonous with the store’s Chinese name, aibuloso (愛不囉嗦, “love without words”).

The store sells black bean milk, black sesame paste and a variety of wheat products, including breads and white soy sauce made without artificial ingredients.

It is also equipped with a machine that produces fresh noodles made with whole-wheat flour.

Aside from offering high-quality products, the physically or mentally challenged staff at such workshops are skilled, dedicated workers, the owners of other stores said.

Chang Ying-shu (張英樹), director of the Victory Potential Development Center for the Disabled, said the people with Down’s syndrome the center employed were so good at their jobs that impressed customers brought them souvenirs from trips abroad or gifts during holidays.

Lee Hung-ying (李虹螢), a staff member at a branch of the Kuang Jen Second-Hand Sheltered Workshop (光仁二手商店), founded by the Catholic Kuang Jen Social Welfare Foundation, said customers always interacted amicably with staff.

“Nevertheless, the foundation discussed the McDonald’s case with our employees who have Down syndrome and their parents to ensure that they understand and are not affected by the incident,” Lee said.

Taipei Foreign and Disabled Labor Office executive officer Wu Ming-chu (吳明珠) said the city government has collaborated with private organizations to establish 41 workshops in Taipei, including the Chung Hsiao Sheltered Shop (忠孝庇護工場) and the Sunshine Gas Station (陽光加油站).

The workshops employ 600 physically and mentally challenged people, including more than 60 with Down syndrome, Wu said, adding that people with Down’s are temperate, diligent and competent.

“The public don’t need to keep their distance from people with Down’s, because for every kindness you show them, they will repay you fivefold,” Wu said.