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Mom of special needs toddler asked to leave Panera Bread over orthopedic shoes

The family was asked to leave the restaurant because a customer claimed the shoes, even though they were therapeutic in nature, were disruptive.
Grant Cochrane/

A family is in shock after the mother of a two-year-old girl with developmental delays was asked to leave a Panera Bread restaurant in Savannah, Ga. because a customer was bothered by the little girl’s therapeutic shoes, ABC reported on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014.

“The employee and the manager knew what we’d been going through with Emma because she and my wife go there so frequently,” Stephen Duke, the girl’s father, stated. “They knew why she had the shoes so that’s the thing that shocked us the most.”

Emma has an undiagnosed disorder which has left her with developmental delays, including the inability to walk.

“She just started to try to walk at 23 months, which is very late, so the orthopedist recommended special shoes to her for better ankle support,” Duke added. “The shoes squeak as an incentive when she walks heel to toe, so she’ll hear it and know that she’s walking properly.”

But apparently the squeaking of the girl’s orthopedic shoes was unacceptable to another customer, so an employee told the toddler’s mom, Catherine, that she would either have to remove the shoes or leave the restaurant.

The distraught mother left the restaurant, in tears, with Emma and her other daughter, Ana.

“On Saturday, Catherine and Emma met at the restaurant with corporate staff, the employee and the franchise manager,” said Stephen Duke. “They apologized and said that is not something Panera does and that they want to be a welcoming store.”

Nonetheless, the family says that they will probably not be returning to the restaurant.

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Jennifer Cruz can be found on Facebook , Twitter, and Google+.

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