4-year-old with dwarfism denied access to Merriam IKEA child care helps change store policies

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MERRIAM, Kan. -- A Midwest mother had a less-than-pleasant experience during a recent trip to the Merriam IKEA.

It wasn't because she spent hours weaving through the massive maze-like store, but because of what happened to her family at its child care center.

The family's ordeal is now prompting changes by the company.

Whitney Crowder and her family visit the Kansas City-area often, and on a recent trip, they stopped in the Merriam IKEA. Her two 4-year-old sons, Rollie and Ladd, were looking forward to hanging out in the store's play place called Smaland.

Rollie and Ladd

"We talked about it on the way, like, 'You guys are going to play in this kids play place they have,' and then it was pulled out from under us," Crowder said.

Much to her surprise, workers told her Rollie, who is younger, could go in and play. But Ladd wouldn't be allowed because of his size, even though he met all the other requirements.

"I explained to him our son is going to be five soon. He's been potty trained for several years. He's got socks. He just has dwarfism, which makes his legs short, but he is capable of doing anything that other kids do," Crowder said.

Whitney and her family repeatedly questioned management, but the store insisted its Smaland height requirement was firm.

"He's played at Chick-Fil-A, McDonald's, the YMCA, public parks, libraries, museums, anywhere. We've never been denied being able to play," Crowder said.

The family left and returned the next day, only to get told the same thing by three other store managers.

"'I asked, 'Isn't this disability discrimination?' They acted like it would be really unsafe for him, and it just boggled my mind," Crowder said.

So Crowder went to IKEA's corporate office.

Rollie and Ladd with mom Whitney Crowder

"They got back to me within 24 hours," she said.

Not only did IKEA apologize, the company offered an about-face, recognizing this as "an opportunity  to take steps to renew and improve."

The company has now updated its Smaland policies, not just in Merriam, but at all IKEA stores nationwide to "be more inclusive for children with special needs."

"I'm not scared to put my voice or face out there, especially if the benefit is going to be as far reaching as families in other states now get their kids will be able to enjoy that play place despite their kid having short legs! They should be allowed in, too!" Crowder said.

She and her husband said they're very impressed with how IKEA handled the situation. In fact, they've already been back to the store and had no problem getting both their kids checked into the child care center.

Here is the full statement IKEA sent to FOX4:

"At IKEA, we believe children are the most important people in the world, and we are glad to offer a safe and fun play for them to play while in our stores. Our Småland policies are in place to maintain the safety and security of our customer’s children while they are in our care. In regards to the incident in our IKEA Merriam store, we appreciate the parents for bringing this to our attention, and we have apologized for their experience. We also recognized this as an opportunity to take steps to renew and improve. As a result, our Småland policy has been updated to be more inclusive for children with special needs. The updated policy was in effect as of March 25, 2019 in all IKEA U.S. stores nationwide. At IKEA, we value and respect all dimensions of diversity, and we are constantly evolving and adapting our policies to be more inclusive."

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