Disabled Toddler Kicked Out of Restaurant for Noisy Orthopedic Shoes

Catherine Duke was hanging out at a family-friendly restaurant recently with her young daughters, 3-year-old Ana and 2-year-old Emma. As a stay-at-home-mom, she frequented the restaurant as a way to get out of the house (raise your hand if you’ve been there, done that!) and was friendly with many of the employees there. Which is why what happened next is totally weird and not a little bit disconcerting.

Emma suffers from an undiagnosed medical condition that has led to developmental delays -- including walking. She didn’t walk until she was 23 months old. Her orthopedist recommended shoes with extra ankle support, which squeak when she walks correctly from heel to toe. The squeaking bothered another customer -- and Catherine was asked to remove her daughter’s shoes or leave the restaurant.

My first reaction was something along the lines of -- oh, I’m sorry Tiny Tim, the sound of your crutches clacking on the floor is bothering others so you have to leave.

OK, I get that squeaking shoes may be slightly annoying, but there are certain things people just need to be compassionate about. For instance, how much cooler would it have been if the customer had offered some support to Catherine and Emma instead of just complaining?

Here’s how the conversation should’ve gone:

Customer: Your daughter is so cute! I can’t help but notice -- are her shoes squeaking? Is that the newest style for kids?

Catherine: Thank you! And actually they’re special orthopedic shoes that help her walk correctly. They squeak to let her know she has the correct foot placement, so she can get steadier on her feet. She didn’t walk until she was almost 2 ...

Customer: Oh wow! She seems to be doing great! So they squeak all the time? (Offers sympathetic smile)

Catherine: They sure do ... I’m so sorry if they’re bothering you ...

Customer: Oh not at all! You are an amazing mom to take care of your kids so well. Here, let me buy you a coffee and a cinnamon crunch scone.

At least that’s how it should’ve gone in my head. Everybody being polite and trying to understand one another instead of just being annoyed that the world doesn’t revolve around you.

More from The Stir: Disabled 3-Year-Old Walks for the First Time & Surprises Everyone

Anyway, the restaurant has handled the situation really well, with officials for the chain offering an in-person apology to the Duke family. Emma’s dad Stephen Duke said, “On Saturday, Catherine and Emma met at the restaurant with corporate staff, the employee, and the franchise manager ... They apologized and said ... that they want to be a welcoming store.”

There’s also going to be a fundraiser soon at the Savannah location where the incident occurred, in which 50 percent of the proceeds on a given night will be donated to the Dukes to help cover some of Emma’s medical bills.

Let this be a lesson to us all that we can’t ever know what someone else is going through and to try to refrain from judgment or, you know, having a toddler kicked out of a restaurant because her orthopedic shoes annoy you.

Have you ever been kicked out of a public place because of your kids?


Image via Stephanie Chapman/Flickr

developmental delays, in the news, toddler development


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bills... billsfan1104

I have to wonder if this child was running around the restaurant. Because a couple of squeaks, until they got to their table, wouldn't be a problem. But if she was running around, then it's bothersome.

And why does everyone have to go to the media? Why didn't the family give Panera a chance to rectify it, before they went to the media.

How lucky for them, that they hit pay dirt with a fundraiser.

nonmember avatar doriangirl

If the shoes are designed for the girl to hear them then they must be quite loud. And I'm guessing this was more of a situation where the kid was running around squeaking incessantly than the kid standing, getting her food and sitting to eat. Couldn't she have just sat her child down? One of my pet peeves is kids running around unattended at cafes and restaurants. It's dangerous for everybody involved, especially the kids.

I don't think Panera did anything wrong here and the mother is just looking for attention and overreacting.


There are some noises kids will make that will ruffle my feathers--like balls bouncing inside a store...but, the sound of squeaky shoes I absolutely adore.  I am thinking it's because I can hear where the child is at--my Twinz use to get real quiet sometimes and that is when shit use to happen.  But, the sqeaky shoes let me know where they are going, how far they went--stuff like that.


billsfan1104:  I was thinking the same thing about the "contacting the media" thing.  Why?  And the fundraiser thing is very suspicious to me too. 

nonmember avatar Liliana

Panera is awesome. I don't understand why the squeaky shoes were annoying other patrons unless this woman was letting her kid get loose all around the tables,which I suspect is what happened. Btw those shoes are not necessarily for delayed children only. They've been around for years as a novelty shoe.

lulou lulou

I too am suspicious about the media angle - and the "hanging out" aspect.  Paneras not meant to be a playground,  particularily when I have to carry my own soup.

Anyway, some orthopedic conditions use ice skating to strengthen the ankles, like Kristi Yamaguchis ankles.

Movie... Moviebuff

I agree this going to the media for every little thing is getting out of hand. I'm sure the kid was running around and not just walking to the table.

nonmember avatar Alexandra

Interesting. Always when a disability comes up, these questions are asked about the media, etc. Funnyhow if it's nursing, strollers in stores, etc it's gee we, as parents have rights and you should expect it.

Interesting to notice the differences.

NoWei NoWei

The customer who complained is clearly mentally ill because normal people don't let trivial stuff bother them. 

Roxygurl Roxygurl

Those squeaky shoes sound like a freaking dog toy. While I feel for the mom, in my eyes it's no different than asking a parent with a screaming child to leave the restaurant.

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