Supermodel Natalia Vodianova Fuming Over Treatment Of Sister With Autism

She may appear in designer ad campaigns, walk in countless runway shows, and grace the covers of more Vogue editions than you even knew existed, but over the past few days, Natalia Vodianova has made headlines for a reason that has nothing to do with lending her face to a Stella McCartney collection.

On August 11, Vodianova's 27-year-old sister, Oksana, who has autism and cerebral palsy, was kicked out of a café in Nizhny Novgorod, the supermodel's hometown and the fifth-largest city in Russia. According to a Facebook post by Natalia, the café owner told Oksana's caretaker that Oksana was "scaring the clients," and to get the young woman medical help before coming "to a public place." When Oksana's mother arrived after being called, she was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken by police.

“I'm very pained by what happened to my mom and Oksana, and to our nanny,” the model wrote. “The owner should have been taken to the station for insulting people and discrimination; why did they take my mother?”

The incident has sparked a criminal case against Café Flamingo's owner and the establishment is now closed, according to Interfax. More encouraging, though, is that Vodianova's account of the incident has inspired discussion — on social media and elsewhere in the public sphere — of Russia's treatment of people with special needs, a subject with a long legacy of discrimination and segregation sorely in need of more scrutiny.

“In our country, disabled people are regularly not allowed into expensive establishments or on planes, and are refused all sorts of services,” Yevgenia Voskoboinikova, a Russian journalist and wheelchair user, told The Moscow Times. “If it wasn't for Oksana being the relative of a model known everywhere around the world, no one would have known of the incident.”

Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko posted a statement on the upper chamber of parliament's website: “We all need to understand that the psychological and moral readiness of society to accept people with special needs, and to communicate with them as with equals, without stereotypes, is the main indicator of the moral health of society and its development.”

Vodianova, who established the Naked Heart Foundation in 2004 to help Russia's children in need, urged her readers not to "trade one intolerance for another," but instead to support the work of charities that assist those living with special needs.

"The incident with Oksana had resonance," Vodianova wrote on August 13, in a Facebook post that has gotten over 3,200 shares to date. "But how many more of these incidents could happen? And maybe, they're happening right now! You and I, each of us, could make it so that there are fewer of these stories. If we become more patient, kinder, more civil to each other. It doesn't matter whether we have special needs or not. We're all human. We all have equal rights."

She continued: "I personally know of incidents when children with special needs have been kicked off playgrounds, weren't accepted to schools... Adults with special needs don't get jobs even if they have the qualifications for them. Partly, this happens because regular people don't know anything about those with special needs... The unknown leads to fear."

The model spoke about the incident in a live webinar on the Naked Heart website with child neurologist Svyatoslav Dovbnya and clinical psychologist Tatiana Morozova. Click here to watch (available in Russian only).

Дорогие,Ситуация, которая вчера произошла с моей родной сестрой Оксаной, не единичный случай, к сожалению, это та реал...

Posted by Natalia Vodianova on Wednesday, August 12, 2015
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