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Disabled woman humiliated at M&S store

Freya and Tey
Freya and Tey Image credit: devonlive.com

A shopper with a hidden disability had her gender incorrectly identified and health condition overlooked when she went on a shopping trip at Marks & Spencer on Exeter High Street.

Tay Beales (pictured above on the right), 22, and her girlfriend Freya went to the branch of the popular store on Tuesday May 18.

Beales, who has epilepsy, was stopped by a member of staff when she tried to use the accessible toilet who told her she was “not disabled” before directing her towards the gents.

She told DevonLive: "Freya went into the ladies toilet and the M&S woman was standing in front of the disabled toilet and so I opened the handle and she said: 'No, no, no, you're not going in there. You're not disabled.'

"I said to her I am disabled, I have epilepsy, a sign on the door even said that 'not every disability is visible'. Then she told me 'no, you need to go in there' and shooed me into the men's like cattle. I didn't know that I was going into the men's at this point. I got in there and there was a man having a wee.

"I felt uncomfortable and walked back out and went into the ladies toilet. This staff member then saw me again and said 'no you need to go to the disabled' and again, shooed me out the ladies loo like cattle. In the moment it wasn't that I was angry; I felt upset and embarrassed. I was trying not to cry. When I was trying to explain what happened I was choked up.."

Freya spotted a customer complaining to the staff member when she came out of the loo.

Freya said: "I could hear the customer talking to the employee and the customer said 'I can't believe you have let a man into the toilet' 

The staff member replied ‘She's not a man and I didn't know where to put her, she said she's disabled but she's not'. 

Freya then heard the customer asking the staff member if they thought Tey was male or female.

The couple then lodged a complaint to another member of staff.

Tay said: "We went and spoke to a manager who apologised. It was only after we told the manager that we were going to make a formal complaint, did they take my contact details. I don't think the manager took the incident seriously."

Freya said: "It was embarrassing, we had to explain everything that had happened on the shop floor in front of customers. It's no employee's place to decide whether or not anyone has a disability or whether a customer is a man or a woman.

"I think it's awful that a brand that represents different disabilities and pride and all of these campaigns, hasn't taken it seriously, especially face-to-face. There was no reassurance that the problem was going to be dealt with."

Tay added: "The whole thing was contradicting, as there was a sign on the door to say not all disabilities are visible. We are in 2022 and I want people to be more aware of this.

"I just felt really rubbish. The toilets were full, so everyone must have heard it. And then I had to go and explain it all downstairs so more people heard what had happened. We won't be going back to M&S in a hurry. I've put a post on TikTok about it and people have been very supportive, unless the staff at M&S are going to change and be more open, why would we want to?"

Freya went on to say: "We went in there to buy homeware for our new home but we left empty-handed and feeling embarrassed."

A  spokesperson for M&S said: "We have a zero tolerance approach to discrimination across M&S and we always work to ensure that our stores are welcoming for everyone.

"We are very sorry that Tay’s experience did not meet the high standards of customer service that we set for ourselves, and for the upset that this caused. We have spoken today with Tay to apologise directly and she has accepted a gesture of apology.”

For information and support with epilepsy visit the Epilepsy Action website.