UK

Starbucks Apologises After Worker Tells Woman She 'Doesn't Look Disabled Enough' To Use Disabled Toilet

19/08/2015 15:16 BST | Updated 19/08/2015 17:59 BST

Starbucks has been forced to apologise after an employee told a woman she “did not look disabled enough” to use the disabled toilet.

Lucy Challis visited a branch of the coffee shop in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, when her mother, 41-year-old Alexandra Austin, wanted to use the toilet.

But when 21-year-old Challis asked for the key to the disabled toilet, she was stunned at the response.

She told the Surrey Comet: "I asked for the key to the disabled toilet and the assistant looked at my mother and said ‘she doesn’t look very disabled.’

Lucy Challis and her mother Alexandra Austin

"It was disgraceful really. My mum has chronic arthritis and she needs me to help her in the toilet.”

When Challis spoke to the manager, she was less than impressed with his response.

She said: "I asked to speak to the manager but he just didn’t care.”

The manager refused to apologise or deal with the complaint.

Challis added: “He just said that English was not the assistant’s first language but I don’t see why that should matter.

"If you are disabled you are disabled.

"We just wanted to go to the toilet before getting a coffee, sometimes you need to do that.”

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A spokeswoman for Starbucks UK said: "We have investigated this matter and would like to pass on our apologies to the customer affected. Our toilets are always available for our customers use."

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, told the Evening Standard: "There has been a legal obligation since 1999 to offer equal access to services to people with any form of disability.

"I'm glad that Starbucks has apologised, but we really need companies to make it clear to all their staff that they have a legal duty to make services accessible to people with any kind of disability.

"So often the public thinks that because the the person isn't using a wheelchair they're not really disabled.

"Disabilities like arthritis, diabetes, heart conditions are just as real.

"It can be very upsetting if you are not welcomed and a service is not made accessible to you."