JACKSON, Miss. — The management company of 270 KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell franchises nationwide has agreed to provide sensitivity training at those outlets following a May incident at a KFC in Mississippi in which a deaf woman felt she was being mocked.
Disability Rights Mississippi, a nonprofit advocating for people with disabilities, said it reached an agreement on behalf of Bobbie Cole, of Byram, Mississippi, with Canada-based Franchise Management Inc., or FMI, The Clarion Ledger reported . FMI operates the fast-food franchises.
Cole, who is deaf but can read lips, said she was made fun of by KFC employees while trying to order food May 30 at a Jackson area drive-thru.
FMI spokesman Tyler Langdon said in a series of emails to the newspaper that sensitivity training will be conducted at its restaurants. But Langdon's statement said FMI has reviewed the restaurant's surveillance video of the incident involving Cole and that it appeared there was a misunderstanding about what had happened. He didn't provide further details but noted that the employees at the drive-thru were minors.
Shirley Walker-McKinnis, of Disability Rights Mississippi, said the agreement will have positive implications for the disabled community.
"Because both Mrs. Cole and her husband are deaf, it has been Mrs. Cole's custom to drive straight to the drive-thru window, rather than place an order at the speaker," said Walker-McKinnis.
Upon arriving at the window, Walker-McKinnis said Cole informed the KFC employee on duty that she was deaf but could read lips. She placed an order, at which point the employee allegedly covered her mouth with her hands to obscure her lips and prevent Bobbie Cole from understanding her.
After the incident, Cole and her daughter, Donna Curtis, who often serves as Cole's interpreter, sought to raise awareness for people with disabilities.
Curtis said it hurt her parents' feelings that they were seemingly made fun of because they were deaf.
"They were discriminated against because they couldn't hear," Curtis said in a Facebook Live video posted in June that has been viewed more than 1.5 million times. "KFC was wrong. It's so sad they (her parents) can't get a bite to eat because they can't hear."
Curtis said Thursday that she was elated with the agreement.
"Nobody deserves to be treated that way," Curtis said, adding her mother called her crying the night of the incident. "It broke my heart."
Walker-McKinnis said some sensitivity training has already taken place at the KFC where the incident happened. She said the incident presented an opportunity to spark a conversation about disability rights on a national level.
And though the agreement is not legally binding since it doesn't involve a court case, according to the report, FMI expressed a willingness to post signs welcoming customers with disabilities and directing the hearing impaired to order at the window.
"As a result of this interaction and the advocacy that followed, KFC will now join the ranks of other fast food entities that are placing vulnerable members of society at the forefront of their mission of service," said Disability Rights attorney Catie Marie Martin.