The Morgan family's story
A case study illustrating why we need to change the law
Harassment outside employment
"The worst experience we had was going through airport security. As Thomas walked through the scanner the alarm sounded. The security guard said "He has to be searched". I said I know he has to be searched but he is autistic, he does not understand what you are trying to tell him.”"
John Morgan tells their story
John and Carmelita are married and have four children, two of whom, Thomas (16) and David (14), have been diagnosed as having severe autism and significant learning difficulties. Thomas has very limited speech and language whereas David has much better communication skills, but they both have similar types of behaviour patterns which are common in people with autism. These include lack of social awareness and no inhibitions, especially around other people and their personal space.
"Getting the boys through the scanner can be difficult. We try to make sure that the boys have nothing that will make the scanner beep and we also put the boys through first. On this occasion, Carmelita took David and I took Thomas, as he is the one that is always likely to object to something. I always set off the scanner as I have a metal hip, but on this day Thomas set the scanner off. My first thought was to get through to Thomas before the guard started to search him. I shouted to the security guards, “Hold on, Thomas is autistic.”
I was ignored, so I walked through the scanner, which agitated them no end because of course I beeped as well. I asked them again to stop, but they ignored me and were instructing Thomas to put his hands out to be searched. Thomas did not understand and I tried again to explain to the security guards but no one acknowledged what I was saying. Instead they decided to search me and I tried to explain the situation to them. Eventually I put my hands up and said very loudly “Stop!” I then asked for a supervisor to be fetched and then I had their attention. I said, “I have told you several times he is autistic, please leave him alone. Sort me out and then we together can sort him out.”
I feel it is important that people understand what it is like to be disabled and to look after someone with a disability. I strongly believe that a change in the law is needed to tackle attitudes. If the legislation was changed then at the airport I could have said to the security guards, ‘Excuse me, you do realise that you are supposed to behave differently?’ Quite simply, you have to have legislation in place to protect vulnerable people like Thomas and David and the people who look after them like me and Carmelita."
If the law were changed in Northern Ireland, the Morgans would have greater protection against harassment. In particular service providers would have to ensure that their policies and practices, including staff training, met the legal standards.
Currently there is no protection for disabled people against harassment related to their disability outside employment and the provision of further and higher education. Changes to the law would result in an increase in protection for disabled people from harassment related to their disability when accessing goods, facilities and services, or private clubs.