IKEA updates national play area policy after Merriam staff said boy with dwarfism was too short to enter

Whitney Crowder and her two 4-year-old sons, Rollie (left) and Ladd. Photo courtesy of Whitney Crowder

One woman’s experience at the IKEA in Merriam with her 4-year-old son who has dwarfism turned into a company-wide policy change that makes the children’s play area more inclusive.

Whitney Crowder and her family were visiting the area from Omaha in early March and decided to stop by IKEA. She and her husband, Trevor Crowder, tried to drop off their two sons, both age 4, at IKEA Småland, the children’s playplace where employees watch patrons’ children while they shop.

Brothers Rollie and Ladd Crowder stand next to height requirement at IKEA. Photo courtesy of Whitney Crowder

After being denied twice in two days because staff said their son, Ladd was too short to enter Småland, the Crowders emailed the IKEA corporate office. Ladd has dwarfism; he is 34 inches tall, just 3 inches below the height requirement. They were impressed with the company’s swift and apologetic response and learned that the company was changing their policy to be more inclusive.

An IKEA U.S. spokesperson said in a statement that Småland policies are in place to keep children safe, and they have also apologized to the parents for their experience at Småland.

“We also recognized this an opportunity to take steps to renew and improve,” the spokesperson said. “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.”

Whitney Crowder, an Overland Park native, said her son’s condition only impairs his height; otherwise, it has no effect on his ability to play with other children. Ladd will be 8 years old before he would be tall enough to enter Småland, she added.

Rollie Crowder (left) and his brother, Ladd Crowder, who has dwarfism.

When the Crowders had explained their son’s disability and requested if they could make an exception for Ladd, staff insisted it was corporate policy because it’s unsafe for him.

“I said, ‘Isn’t that disability discrimination to not let him in because he has short legs due to a genetic condition?’,” Crowder said. “I understand height and size restrictions for things like (safety); totally reasonable and logical. This seemed arbitrary and unfair to me.”

Crowder said this was the first time her son was denied to enter a play area because of his dwarfism. She said staff were concerned Ladd could be injured if another child turned around too quickly and bumped into him. They were also worried he might get stuck in the ball pit.

“It’s not water; they’re balls. He’s not going to drown in them,” Crowder said. “He’s not invisible; kids aren’t going to bump into him so hard he gets hurt any more than any other kid in there.”

Crowder said the company’s response was prompt, apologetic and respectful. She stressed that all interactions with IKEA were cordial, and she appreciated the corporate staff’s swift response.

“I was very impressed with their response both in the timeliness and in how quickly they eradicated the situation,” she said. “It started out as a negative experience and we weren’t sure where it was going to go.”

More than a dozen people in their support group on Facebook, Little People of America, also shared similar experiences with Småland at other IKEA locations in the country, Crowder said. But her family’s experience was positive. And when the family visited a third time before leaving for Omaha, Merriam IKEA staff were friendly and apologetic, she added.

“I really do think they did a really great job with it,” Crowder said. “We have no hard feelings.”