Renee Duggan is used to some people responding oddly when she takes her boy, Andrew, out in public. Some people give her $10 and tell her to by him an icecream. Some people just stare. And some people pat her on the back, with the consolation she's doing a good job.
But on Easter Saturday a checkout operator at an Aldi store in Brisbane told Duggan her boy, Andrew, who has profound cerebral palsy "would be better off dead".
"Being the mother of a child with a disability, you get used to defending your children very quickly and so my instant reaction was 'No, no, he's got a powered chair and he uses a walker and he uses the computer.. he's got a full life'," Duggan told The Huffington Post Australia.
"And she looked at me and said she'd lost a baby; it had come early and died but she was thankful for that."
Cerebral palsy is the most common disability among children in Australia. It is caused by damage to the brain while it is developing and affects a person's ability to control their muscles, causing weakness and in some cases stiffness.
The checkout operator then asked whether Andrew was home-schooled, which he isn't. He goes to a special school. She then asked whether that meant he's clever, to which Renee said yes, of course.
For 12 years, Duggan has tried to work out how to best handle these situations -- do you fight them head on, or cower in the corner?
"Over the years people have said nasty things like 'You shouldn't bring him out in public' or 'It's disgusting, you should keep him at home', and sometimes I would get into arguments... But I had to stop," the 51-year-old told HuffPost Australia.
Duggan once lost her temper at a woman who claimed she couldn't park in a disabled parking space, because it was reserved for pensioners. After the outburst, the mother-of-four turned around to her children's faces; the evidence showed "I was becoming this narky person".
So this time Duggan held her tongue, took her receipt, her shopping bags and her kids to the car. But before driving out of the car park, the 51-year-old walked back into the store alone and demanded to see a store manager.
After speaking to a trainee manager, Duggan was told a manager would call on Tuesday morning. But they never did, Duggan claimed. An Aldi Area Manager called Duggan's husband, Howard, after she phoned Aldi Customer Care in the afternoon. And what followed has been a string of delays from the supermarket chain and an unwillingness to resolve the matter in a timely fashion, claim the parents.
Howard Duggan has since created a public Facebook page about the incident after Aldi didn't resolve the matter within a week. Since publicising the ordeal, Aldi's Queensland State Manager has called him. He is demanding to speak to the supermarket chain's CEO Tom Daunt.
An Aldi spokeswoman told The Huffington Post Australia a thorough investigation is still being conducted.
"We have apologised to the Duggan family for the delay in responding to this incident. Unfortunately the holiday period impacted on our responsiveness and we are reviewing procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again," the spokeswoman told HuffPost Australia.
But Duggan wants more than a two-way discussion about the ordeal. She doesn't want the worker fired, and she will shop at Aldi again. But Duggan hopes the incident will bring people with disabilities into the public discourse. Because the mother-of-four believes Australians still have a lot to learn about how to treat people with disabilities. Big or small.
"I've got really thick skin from all the comments that we get, all the staring that we get, all the notes we get left on the car... and it's bizarre, because my son's in a wheelchair," Duggan told HuffPost Australia.
"[Andrew's] not going to be hopping into a car and learning how to drive, he's not going to go travelling around the world. He's not going to have all these first experiences, and that's the reality.
"And because you're dealing with this, and dealing with hospital visits... When you go out in public you just want to be like you are at home, because you're normal at home. You don't want people to make remarks like that. So I guess it's more education than anything else."
Thousands of people have left comments on the Facebook page, and one Duggan read claimed people with disabilities are a burden on society and should be aborted.
"I find comments like that incredible because a lot of kids born with cerebral palsy are not diagnosed for months," Renee told HuffPost Australia.
Andrew was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at three weeks of age.
But parents with children with disabilities, big and small, have left comments on the page, too. Telling their stories, they not only console two outraged parents but each other.
"I already knew that this was happening everywhere but we all -- all of us people who look after someone -- just put on our hard hat and get on with our job, and get on with our life.. And I think it takes someone to just go 'enough' and start screaming from the mountaintop for everyone to go, 'Oh God, yeah, that happens to me all the time too'," Duggan told HuffPost Australia.
"People want that outlet... I wasn't expecting that and I think that's one of the positives that has come out of it."