Mother calls for more support after daughter, 17, ‘verbally abused’ for not wearing a mask

PUBLISHED: 12:51 04 September 2020

Melanie Steele said more support needs to be given after her daughter Evelyn, who lives with autism, was verbally abused for not wearing a face mask in the Horsefair shopping centre’s Costa branch in Wisbech. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELE/MIKE EGERTON/PA WIRE/PA IMAGES

Melanie Steele said more support needs to be given after her daughter Evelyn, who lives with autism, was verbally abused for not wearing a face mask in the Horsefair shopping centre’s Costa branch in Wisbech. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELE/MIKE EGERTON/PA WIRE/PA IMAGES

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A mother whose daughter has autism and was verbally abused because she was not wearing a face mask said more support needs to be given to prevent similar situations happening again.

Melanie Steele said more support needs to be given after her daughter Evelyn, who lives with autism, was verbally abused for not wearing a face mask in the Horsefair shopping centre’s Costa branch in Wisbech. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELEMelanie Steele said more support needs to be given after her daughter Evelyn, who lives with autism, was verbally abused for not wearing a face mask in the Horsefair shopping centre’s Costa branch in Wisbech. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELE

Melanie Steele and her 17-year-old daughter Evelyn were queuing at the Costa branch in Horsefair shopping centre in Wisbech yesterday morning (Thursday) when they were approached by a man.

“I was wearing a mask, but she wasn’t as she has autism and sensory needs, so she was wearing a sunflower lanyard and badge,” Melanie said.

“I simply asked a man to step back from me as he wasn’t wearing his mask; it was on his arm.

“He then shouted at my daughter ‘she isn’t wearing a mask’. I explained that she was exempt from wearing one, to which he continued to be verbally abusive.”

Melanie's other daughter, Emillia (pictured), also lives with autism. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELEMelanie's other daughter, Emillia (pictured), also lives with autism. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELE

Melanie, who along with her family are regular customers at the café, said the abuse lasted at least five minutes before staff intervened.

“I asked my daughter to step away, as I didn’t want her to hear this vile man. The manager of Costa then came round from the counter and asked my daughter if she was OK,” she said.

Melanie’s other daughter, Emillia, 11, also lives with autism and the family have received several negative comments when in public places on at least a monthly basis.

“It is very hurtful and unkind, and having to explain to them both that some people don’t understand,” Melanie said. “Instead of asking about their conditions, they would rather just shout ‘why are you using that space, it’s not like you can’t walk’.

From left: Melanie's daughters Evelyn, Shiloh and Emillia. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELEFrom left: Melanie's daughters Evelyn, Shiloh and Emillia. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELE

“Other comments include ‘it’s people like you, who abuse the system’.”

MORE: Family left disappointed when they could not go to the autism friendly screening of LEGO Batman at The Light in Wisbech

Melanie, a mother-of-six, has attended the National Autistic Society’s West Norfolk branch for 13 years, which allows parents to talk and provides activities for children without the fear of being criticised by members of the public.

But despite this, she believes more people need to be educated about what she calls “hidden disabilities”, as well as extra support from local authorities.

The lanyard that Evelyn wore when her and mother Melanie Steele were queuing at the Costa branch in Wisbech. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELEThe lanyard that Evelyn wore when her and mother Melanie Steele were queuing at the Costa branch in Wisbech. Picture: SUPPLIED/MELANIE STEELE

“There isn’t the funding from health authorities to give any support. When my daughter was diagnosed, we went on a parenting course, but other than that, support is thin on the ground,” Melanie said.

“I doubt that society will change as most people are uneducated about hidden disabilities, unless they know someone who has one.

“Life is difficult enough with the conditions, without people adding to your stress levels.

“If you see someone who is wearing a sunflower lanyard, it is perfectly fine to ask why they are wearing it. It is not acceptable to be rude, sarcastic and unkind.”

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