Parents Of Boy With Cerebral Palsy Outraged After Being Told He Can’t Play In IKEA Play Area

The parents of a 10-year-old Utah boy with cerebral palsy are outraged after their son, Noah, was told he couldn’t play in an IKEA play area because of his disability, KSL-TV (Salt Lake City) is reporting.

What was to be a leisurely Sunday trip to the Swedish furniture giant turned into tears for the suburban Salt Lake City family. Crystal Harper said she and her husband, Jeff, and their children, Noah and 8-year-old Ava, went to the IKEA store in Draper. Like many families do when visiting IKEA, they chose to drop their children off in IKEA’s children’s play area, Småland.

IKEA Cerebral Palsy
IKEA's in-store children's play area, Småland. [Image courtesy of Flikr]

For those not familiar with IKEA, Småland is a children’s play area inside every IKEA store. Potty-trained children between the ages of 4 and 10 can play in the enchanted Swedish forest while their parents shop. And if you’re wondering how to pronounce Småland, it sounds more or less like “Small land.”

Crystal took both of her kids to sign them into the IKEA play area when a worker told the mom that Noah wouldn’t be allowed to play inside.

“(The employee) said, ‘Well, she’ll pass (pointing to Ava), but I don’t know if he will (pointing to Noah).'”

Not all people with cerebral palsy are affected the same way, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Some persons with cerebral palsy may require intensive, lifelong care and may be confined to a wheelchair for their entire lives. Others are able to walk with supportive equipment.

Noah, who was born prematurely, uses a wheelchair, although he’s able to walk with the help of a reverse walker.

“He is not a medically fragile child, he can just transfer out (of his wheelchair) and crawl around.”

WOW. @IKEAUSA @IKEA Not allowing a disabled child to play in the play area? THAT’S THE LAST TIME I SHOP AT IKEA.

— hunter lawrence (@Hunt3r_law) January 7, 2016

Crystal tried to explain to the IKEA workers that Noah didn’t need any kind of special treatment beyond help getting in and out of his wheelchair. She even pleaded her case to the store manager, who said IKEA isn’t equipped to provide one-on-one care to the children in the play area – even though Crystal insisted that Noah doesn’t need one-on-one care. They even offered to take Noah out of his chair themselves, to allow him to play in the play area without it, but the store does not allow adults other than employees in the play area.

“They were not budging. We couldn’t go back to help him out and they wouldn’t help him out, so it just felt like discrimination right away like they just didn’t want him there.”

Eventually, after getting nowhere the manager, the family left IKEA in tears. Crystal has vowed that her family will never shop at IKEA again.

In a statement to KSL-TV, IKEA reiterated its policies on children in the play area. Specifically, IKEA said, the only adults allowed in the play area are specially-screened adults, for the safety of all children. Parents are not allowed in Småland except in special situations (which weren’t explained in the statement).

As for children with disabilities, the furniture retailer said, “As for Småland requirements, IKEA has chosen to use toilet training and height as a criterion for admission in an effort to ensure safety and security. Note children with disabilities are exempt from the toilet training requirement and may enter with a diaper or pull-up.”

Do you believe IKEA was right to prevent a child with cerebral palsy for entering the store’s play area? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image via Shutterstock/Vytautas Kielaitis]