Thursday 23 November 2017

Wheelchair user 'refused' service in coffee shop because she 'couldn't reach their card machine'

Disability rights campaigner Niamh Herbert
Disability rights campaigner Niamh Herbert

Sasha Brady

Niamh Herbert, a disability rights campaigner from Kildare, claims she was refused service in Costa Coffee on Nassau Street, Dublin because she couldn't reach their card machine from her wheelchair.

The second-year European Studies student at Trinity College said she first reported the issue nine months ago.

"In January, I went to Costa because it's right across the street from college. I ordered a coffee and went to pay with card but they couldn't turn the card machine or lower it for me because it was fixed to the counter," Ms Herbert told Independent.ie.

The 21-year-old has Freidreich's Ataxia, a neuromuscular disorder of the central nervous system and uses a wheelchair.

She was unable to reach the machine to pay with her card and complained to staff about the accessibility issue.

"What really upset me was because I only had a card with me, I was asked if I could just stand up out of my wheelchair and reach out to the machine.

Niamh tweeted about the incident
Niamh tweeted about the incident

"I spoke to the manager and he apologised and he promised me that the situation would be fixed."

Ms Herbert said after the first incident, she made a point of going into the Nassau Street branch each week to see if the issue had been rectified.

"They finally got to a point where I'd go in and order my drink and they'd ask for my card and money and they'd tell me it's not possible and give me drinks on the house," she said.

She explained that she has only encountered that issue in the Nassau Street branch of Costa Coffee and has had no problem paying by card in other branches. However, she prefers to use the Nassau Street location as it's close to college and it's easy for her to "nip in and out between lectures".

Ms Herbert dropped the issue in April when her lectures finished.

However, when she returned to college last week, she decided to pay a visit to the coffee shop on Friday to see if anything had changed.

"I went to Costa yesterday by myself. I assumed after the months I hadn't been there they'd have fixed it but they hadn't.

"I was feeling especially emotional about disability rights that day. I'd made a speech in college the night before on disability rights and it was an emotional affair. Those feelings carried on until the next day.

"The barista told me that I couldn't pay by card so we argued over that," said Ms Herbert.

"At the end of the argument I said point blank 'are you refusing to serve me' and she made a hand motion for me to move aside and said I should go and buy coffee somewhere else because she needed to serve someone else."

Ms Herbert said that she cried in the shop and felt "humiliated".

She left the coffee house in tears and met up with a friend who encouraged her to return to the shop the next day to make a complaint to the manager.

Ms Herbert claims that the manager was unavailable but she spoke with a supervisor and the barista from the previous day. The barista denied waving her away.

"At the end of it we asked why couldn't they just put in a machine with a longer wire and she basically said that in order to do that they'd have to renovate the whole counter and that means Costa would have been closed for two weeks.

Ms Herbert spoke to the operations manager of Costa Coffee, who "apologised and was extremely helpful" and promised to meet with her.

A spokesperson for Costa Coffee told Independent.ie that they are "aware of the issue".

Ms Herbet said she made a point of the issue because "accessibility is a big issue" for those with disabilities.

"Accessibility is a daily issue and I tend not to make such a big deal of it. It's a part of life. I got upset because I was just trying to buy a coffee," she said.

"I feel like... it might sound silly but I feel like I was denied my rights as a consumer. I feel like I'm looked down on all the time because people have to literally look down on me because I'm in a wheelchair and this was just another issue."

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