Local News

Shopper with Down syndrome sold $1,700 worth of face cream

By Marlene Bergsma, The Standard


A St. Catharines woman with Down syndrome who was sold $1,700 worth of face cream by a Pen Centre merchant is glad her experience is raising awareness.

Jovita deJong said at first she “felt bad” when she realized that products she thought were $5.65 and $11.35 were actually $565 and $1,135.

“I was upset when I found out,” she said.

But the social media storm created after her purchase is helping to call attention to the importance of independent living, she said.

DeJong, 27, was at The Pen Centre last week with her community support worker to practise her independent living skills.

While Suzi Gordon stopped to talk to an acquaintance, deJong went to the Forever Flawless kiosk and looked at the face creams. DeJong receives a monthly pension and she has a part-time job at Tim Hortons, so shopping for personal items and paying with her debit card is an important part of her journey towards independence, Gordon said.

But when deJong made two separate purchases at the kiosk, Gordon checked the receipts and was shocked.

Her pride in deJong's accomplishment quickly turned to anger.

“I thought she was being taken advantage of,” Gordon said, “that they didn't clearly explain the cost in a way she could understand.”

DeJong says she was told the price of her first purchase was “five-sixty-five” and her second purchase was “eleven-thirty-five.”

Gordon said she demanded a refund and it wasn't until she raised her voice and a small crowd of shoppers gathered around her that she succeeded in getting deJong's money back.

Still annoyed about the transaction, Gordon went home and posted an account on Facebook.

It went viral. Hundreds of people shared the post and The Pen Centre quickly issued an apology.

The clerk who sold the OroGold products to deJong has lost her job, said Shani Ben, who was working at the kiosk this week. The OroGold cosmetics have been replaced with a new line of products infused with diamond powder, said Lital Asias, also working at the kiosk.

Both Asias and Ben say the clerk who made the sale feels bad about what happened, and wants to apologize. They said refusing to make a sale to a person with developmental delays can also elicit accusations of discrimination, and Ben said deJong assured them she had her own money and wanted to buy the lotions.

That's where Gordon says it's important for people who deal with the public to be clear and to make sure they are understood.

Meanwhile deJong's mother, Wendy deJong, says she is proud of her daughter speaking publicly about her experience.

“It raises awareness,” said Wendy deJong, who is an advocate for the importance of inclusion and of independent living. “It will make people think twice.”

Wendy deJong said The Pen Centre has offered a gift card to Jovita to encourage her to continue shopping, and Forever Flawless has offered to make a $2,000 donation to the charity of Jovita's choice.

Jovita chose Momentum, a Niagara choir for developmentally delayed adults, of which she is a member “because they are like family to me.”

Jovita said the experience is an example of how people with visible disabilities can be discriminated against.

“I would like them to see me as a person first, but they saw the disability first,” she said. 


Have you heard other stories about similar shopping misadventures?

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