April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day.
It is a day recognized worldwide with the ‘Light It Up Blue’ campaign by Autism Speaks, where thousands of iconic landmarks, businesses, communities, schools, and homes unite by shining bright blue lights in honor of the millions of individuals and families across the globe that are affected by autism.
So on April 2nd, 2015, a Starbucks partner (employee) in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, whose child was recently diagnosed with autism, wanted to show her support and celebrate World Autism Awareness Day at her workplace. She decorated the store with blue balloons and blue pompoms to help bring autism awareness to their customers and their community.
Later that day, their location had visitors from Starbucks Canada head office. After the visit, she received a phone call from the District Manager informing her that the Regional Director Operations told her to take down the decorations:
It looks tacky. It wasn’t done properly. Take it down.
The blue was for World Autism Awareness Day’s Autism Speaks ‘Light It Up Blue’ campaign and our store wanted to show support for myself and my son who was recently diagnosed with autism, as well as show our support for our community.
District Managers response:
You’re not listening.
No. I heard you. I’ll take it down.
How could someone, let alone someone from a company that is “all about community” and “being good neighbors” have the nerve to say that autism awareness is tacky!?
The definition of tacky is ‘showing poor taste and quality.’
Here’s a picture of the decorations she put up. Does this look like ‘showing poor taste and quality’ to you?
I am sorry that the blue balloons and blue pompoms didn’t match your décor, Starbucks, but this was about bringing awareness to autism in your community, in your neighbourhood. Isn’t that what you’re company claims to be all about?
Every store is part of a community, and we take our responsibility to be good neighbors seriously. We want to be invited in wherever we do business. We can be a force for positive action – bringing together our partners, customers, and the community to contribute every day. Now we see that our responsibility – and our potential for good – is even larger. The world is looking to Starbucks to set the new standard, yet again. We will lead.
- excerpt from Starbucks Canada’s Mission Statement
And to say that “it wasn’t done properly”? The reason we ‘Light It Up Blue’ is because it starts the discussion about autism.
The customers have been asking questions [about the blue decorations] and we have been getting great feedback!
- a Starbucks partner (employee)
Well guess what, Starbucks? I guess it was done properly and successfully because the blue decorations did get your customers talking about autism.
Are the blue balloons for autism? This is great! I’ve been teaching children with autism for 12 years.
- Starbucks customer
Why the blue balloons? World Autism Awareness Day? This is wonderful! More people need to know about this!
- Starbucks customer
As a mother who loves someone with autism and as an autism advocate, I was completely disgusted and furious when I heard this from my sister who lives in Squamish.
I wanted to meet this mom and show my support. So I contacted her and she agreed to meet and share her story. I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone, that this was wrong, and something had to be done. This is exactly why autism awareness is needed.
I really believe that Starbucks owes an apology to all the families, in Squamish, their community, living with autism, to all of the families, in the World, their neighbourhood, living with autism, and especially to their partner (employee) and her child with autism, who spent the remainder of her day at work in silence and sadness because they took away the one day that we get to shine a bright light on autism.
Autism awareness is not “tacky.”
Starbucks, make this right.
Thanks for reading,
Edit: I’d like to add that this store often participates in local and world wide events, fundraisers, and awareness causes, and the partners (employees) have the flexibility to support and decorate the store to promote such campaigns so this wasn’t about permission.
UPDATE (April 23rd, 2015): The District Manager of this location left a comment at the bottom of this blog post denying everything:
Wanting to hear his side of the story, and get some questions answered, I took him up on his offer. I sent him an email that same day and posted it as a reply in the comments below as well:
When I didn’t hear from him after a couple of days, I sent a follow up email from a different e-mail address incase my original e-mail went to his junk folder. I received an auto-reply response that he was out of the office until X day. So after that day, I followed up again, and got another auto-reply response that he was out of the office until X day again.
As of this update, I have not received a response from him.
UPDATE (April 23rd, 2015): The store is hosting an autism awareness event Friday, April 24th, 2015 from 2pm to 5pm in honour of Autism Awareness month. I’m not sure of all the particulars because they haven’t publicized it very well (no offense), but from my understanding there’s going to a representative from Autism Society of British Columbia to answer any questions people may have and provide information about autism to the community as well as some children’s activities and face painting.
I hope this is Starbucks making this right.
UPDATE (April 24th, 2015): Thank you, Starbucks, for hosting this event and bringing your community together in support of autism awareness!!!!!
I want you to know that it is absolutely beautiful that you were willing to TEACH your community about autism awareness, acceptance, and understanding. How much you LOVE and support your community enough to do this for them and hopefully INSPIRE many more autism awareness events throughout your community. And I personally HOPE this is something you will continue every year.