Disability rights activist calls for nationwide Starbucks boycott

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What kind of a jerk parks in a handicapped space?

The practice infuriates Tampa gallery owner Rob Rowen, who considers himself an abled-bodied advocate for the disabled. Rowen is an art gallery owner and all-around altruist (seriously, every once in a while he goes trekking in Nepal to deliver school supplies to poor children — that's the kind of guy he is). He has a son-in-law whom he called a "poster child for muscular dystrophy" who would always have to find another, farther-off parking space because some selfish little person had to park as close as possible to the mall entrance or wherever.

So, as the world now knows, when he noticed other people capable of walking more than a few damned feet parking in the handicapped zone at his local Starbucks, he took action.

"Once every two, three, four days, someone would park in a handicapped spot, and it was right in front of the store. So I'd come up, I'd see that there were no [handicap] stickers, I'd find out who it was, I'd ask them to move their car," he said last week. "I'm always respectful to people, but there is a point where they're not respectful to the world in a sense."

Sometimes, if he saw someone walk into the cafe from a car parked in the spot clearly labeled for disabled people, he would chat them up in line. Some would respond by moving their cars, others would more or less flip him the bird.

The store manager wasn't a fan of Rowen's behavior.

"As a store manager, her response was, 'You're harassing my customers, My disabled customers don't count, but this guy who parks counts more than you, who comes in every day,'" he said. 

When the manager banned him for life, Rowen launched a social media offensive that landed him media coverage from media outlets like CNN and USA Today. The ban got lifted a few days later, and a regional Starbucks executive agreed to meet with him, which Rowen said wound up being kind of a bust.

So now, he's calling for other disabled advocates to boycott the chain, and issued a media release outlining several policy changes to which he'd like to see the coffee giant commit, as was outlined in a press release Monday:

1. Install signage at all Starbucks stores with verbiage saying, “Please respect our accessible parking so our customers with disabilities can easily access our store”;

2. Immediately commence a nationwide disability etiquette training program for all Starbucks managers, local, district and regional, and require them to listen to complaints and resolve issues pertaining to people with disabilities;

3. To help repair the damage that this incident has caused with the Public, Starbucks should schedule a day and time when people in wheelchairs can come in to a Starbucks for a free latte. This would be a smart PR move and one that would probably get positive media attention.

To mark the start of the boycott, Rowen is taking part in a rally Wednesday morning at the Starbucks where the whole thing started, at 401 South Dale Mabry and Azeele Ave.

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