A man from Bristol who suffers from a serious condition was left feeling shaken and scared after being denied access to a disabled toilet in McDonald’s.
Sam, 31, who has Crohn’s disease, was visiting Cardiff for a night out with his husband and his friends when he entered the Queen Street branch of McDonald’s for some food at around 4.30am on April 24. He was diagnosed with the stomach condition nearly 20 years ago and in that time has had to use a stoma bag for nearly seven of those years.
Speaking on his experience, Sam said: “I noticed that the accessible toilet was barricaded, restricting the access and stopping vulnerable people from being able to use it. When I politely asked the security guard on duty to use the toilet – as I have my own radar key – I was told ‘no’.
“I explained that I had my own key, I have a disability and I need to use the toilet. He replied saying ‘You’re not disabled’ and asked for my blue badge, which isn’t possible as that was in my car. It wasn’t until I was very blunt with him and reached for my Just Can’t Wait Card that he reluctantly removed the barricade and allowed me entry.”
The Just Can’t Wait Card issued by UK charities is recognised and supported by many retail and service organisations, giving people access to toilets not normally available to the general public.
McDonald’s has apologised to Sam for his experience and has said they recognise the situation was “not handled correctly”. Sam said he was offered three £10 vouchers redeemable on the circumstances of spending at least £10 with the fast food chain.
Sam said the experience has made him feel apprehensive about using public bathrooms in future out of fear of similar treatment. “I am now even more worried about using an accessible toilet and as a result, I have cancelled some planned trips, as I am scared I will not be able to use the bathroom.
“I now feel scared to ask to use an accessible toilet worried that this will happen again,” he explained. “I feel that I did everything I could by having my Just Can’t Wait Card and radar key on me to prevent this from happening but none of this worked and makes me even more apprehensive about going out in public.”
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When Bristol Live approached the company regarding the incident, a spokesperson for McDonald’s said: “Firstly, we would like to once again apologise to the customer for his experience. We recognise that this incident was not handled correctly and our restaurant team has reiterated our expectations to the external security company in question to ensure this does not happen again.
“We pride ourselves on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our customers, and we are disappointed that we have fallen short on this occasion.”
Sam immediately wrote to McDonald’s customer service team after the incident to make them aware of how he was treated at one of their restaurants. A member of the management team replied in an email to explain to Sam that the toilets are blocked off at nighttime as they are takeaway service only.
“The way McDonald’s dealt with my complaint was shameful and disrespectful as a multinational company with such a big presence they should have been more supportive, accepting and more sympathetic. They tried to pass my complaint off as a minor inconvenience like it didn’t matter, not appreciating how it made me feel and how much upset it caused me,” he added.
Sam believes the restaurant chain should have taken the time to understand what living with Crohn’s disease is like by taking the time to speak to him or the national charity Chron’s and Colitis UK to provide more of an understanding of the struggles these illnesses can cause.
He also explained how he thinks McDonald’s should provide “more training and educated their staff around disabilities awareness to ensure that this doesn’t happen again”, and also amend their signage to show “not all disabilities are visible” so that their accessible toilets are more friendly and accessible.
Chron’s and Colitis UK is calling on companies to sign-up for pledges, showing their commitment to making the workplace more inclusive. They offer a range of free tools, resources and training to help companies achieve this.
“I think there is still not enough awareness around disabilities and invisible illnesses and that a lot of people instantly assume that an able-bodied person using a disabled toilet or parking space is wrong, without stopping to think they may have an underlined condition that they cannot see.
“Some people just assume to be disabled you need a wheelchair or walking stick without appreciating this is not the case. Things are slowly getting better with the introduction of things such as the ‘not every disability is visible’ sign and other campaigns but I think we as a nation still a long way off being fully accepting and supportive towards the disabled community and it will take many years if not decades for this to change.