Home Lifestyle A restaurant tried to turn me away because of my disability

A restaurant tried to turn me away because of my disability

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Gavin is often ignored because of his disability (Picture: Gavin Clifton)

‘He can’t come in here walking like that.’ 

That was the discriminatory remark a restaurant manager made towards me just a few weeks ago and I’m still shocked about it now. 

I have cerebral palsy and a speech impediment, but it certainly doesn’t define me and nor should it impact my ability to enjoy a curry with my father. 

Yet, I have always been judged, stared at, and laughed at because of my appearance.  

I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy just nine months into my life.

Cerebral palsy is a term used to cover several neurological conditions, which are caused before, during, or shortly after birth because of injury to the brain. 

As you grow up, cerebral palsy can then affect muscle control, coordination, tone, reflexes, posture, and balance. Often, a person with cerebral palsy will display signs of the condition however the effects can vary significantly from person to person. 

I experience all of them though and, as a result, I am often bypassed or ignored completely. 

Most of the time that means people tend to approach or speak to whoever is with me rather than converse with me straight away. It’s as if they think I am not capable of answering for myself.

Gavin experiences ableism often (Picture: Gavin Clifton)

Just a few months ago, I was at a car dealer looking for a new Motability car when the salesperson spoke straight to my mother instead of me. 

This sort of thing didn’t bug me so much when I was younger, but now that I’m in my forties, it’s getting frustrating. 

So, instead of ignoring it, I immediately asked him to speak to me and be patient with my speech. And in fairness, he did correct himself and apologise for his ignorance. But this sort of thing should not still be happening.

On the night of the dinner, my father and I were actually going to walk away to avoid making a scene. But after a few seconds (which felt like an eternity as I was still so shocked and hurt by his words), my father grabbed my arm and said: ‘No, this is not happening.’ 

He told me to walk straight in and sit down at a table, which I did – all the while feeling a mixture of empowerment, anger and frustration –  while he confronted the manager. 

Dad explained to him that I have cerebral palsy, which is the reason I walk like I do, and outright told him he was being ableist. 

 I have always been judged, stared at, and laughed at because of my appearance

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the stunned and confused expression that crossed the manager’s face. After that, there was no further confrontation from him or the staff.

We were able to eat our meal in peace – which we still had to pay for despite the very hurtful and clear violation of my rights as a customer – and, as we got up to leave, we thankfully did receive an apology.  

Though it felt half-hearted at best and I still left feeling dehumanised, I hope that, at the very least, this incident helped raise a tiny bit of awareness and reminded the manager and his staff of the importance of upholding and adhering to the Equality Act.  

Under the 2010 Equality Act, disability is a protected characteristic. So any venue that acts in a discriminatory way is therefore breaking the law. 

I also hope that they’ve learned something from our interaction so that, when they do come across another disabled customer, they’re more educated about what comments are and are not acceptable.  

After all, considering the amount of advocacy and educational resources we have at our disposal is more than ever before in 2024, there really is no excuse for discrimination of any kind.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, disability is a protected characteristic (Picture: Gavin Clifton)

Now I want to use this particular experience as a poignant reminder of the barriers that disabled people continue to face daily. 

For a start, it’s imperative that the outdated governmental and local authority policies that are intertwined with the Equality Act 2010 are updated and modernised regularly.

Specifically, I’d like to see the compliance policy change, which would make disability awareness training essential for all frontline public businesses and organisations.

More widely I also think outdated attitudes that disabled people need to fit around the world rather than the world fitting and being more accessible for us has to change. 

And ultimately I’d like us to become a more inclusive and knowledgeable disability awareness-focused society where everyone, regardless of their abilities – whether their disabilities and conditions are physical or hidden – is treated with dignity, respect, and given equal opportunities.

Only then, with allyship from the wider society, can we truly claim we have a united disability community. 

While this was not the first time I have been discriminated against in the hospitality industry, I sincerely hope it will be one of the last.

And I pray for a future where inclusivity is not just a token or goal, but a reality that is embraced and upheld by everyone. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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