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'Translink worker swore at me... and their so-called apology has added insult to injury'

Partially-blind passenger says he is furious at second class treatment

By Claire McNeilly

Published 11/07/2016

Jamie Shields with his travel pass
Jamie Shields with his travel pass
Jamie Shields with the letter he received fromTranslink

A partially-sighted man who claims a Translink worker mocked his disability said the company has added insult to injury by sending him a bland letter which stopped well short of an apology.

Jamie Shields (26) has claimed he was belittled and "made to feel like a second class citizen" at Belfast Central Station last month, after being told to check a timetable board for himself, despite making the Translink employee aware of his disability.

Then, having asked for a train time once again, the employee allegedly said: "I don't have eyes on the back of my f*****g head."

After he complained about his treatment, Mr Shields, who lives in Belfast, was visited at home by a senior Translink manager and said he was led to expect a written apology from the company.

But what arrived was a "standard response letter" which could have been sent to any customer, one which failed to acknowledge his specific complaint.

Mr Shields, who is registered blind, said he was so upset by his treatment that he has not used public transport since - and has been off work due to the trauma.

And, having reported the incident to the Equality Commission, he is now considering his next course of action.

"I went to the ticket desk on June 30 and asked the person behind the counter for the time of the next train to Adelaide Station," he said.

"I was told to check the board and when I explained that I couldn't see it because I'm visually impaired the person just repeated that it was on the board.

"When I explained again that I'm registered blind the employee said: 'I don't have eyes in the back of my f*****g head' and then rolled their eyes at me."

The Co Tyrone native added: "I was in total shock. I asked to speak to a manager because an employee had cursed at me and rolled their eyes at me... To which they replied: 'You're visually impaired, how would you see?'"

Mr Shields, who attended Jordanstown School for children who are deaf or have visual impairments, suffers from Ocular Albinism with nystagmus, which he described as "a really big problem".

The condition means he qualifies for one of Translink's half-fare SmartPasses, and he uses their service daily to travel to and from work as a customer advisor with BT.

But, following the incident, "which has knocked me for six", he said he has been forced to take time off work as he can't bear to travel with Translink.

"I asked for help because of my disability and now my confidence has been shattered because of the way I was treated," he said.

"I was born with this condition. It runs in my family. I know I don't look disabled. I don't have a cane or a guide dog, but I declared myself disabled to that employee; and that's something I should never have to do with a half-fare SmartPass."

In a letter to Mr Shields, who can't legally drive because of his disability, Translink said it was "extremely disappointed to receive your report of poor customer service from a member of our team".

"I understand that you have lost confidence in our service," it read. "We sincerely regret that".

It added: "We are taking this matter very seriously. Your complaint is being dealt with internally with the full rigour appropriate to the nature of the incident".

An infuriated Mr Shields said that he was "disgusted with their response".

"The letter brushed everything off," he said.

"They've let me down. My disability wasn't taken into consideration at all. It's a disgrace. I'm not happy.

"I thought they were taking my complaint seriously but they haven't at all.

"I work in a customer service role and the letter they sent me was an impersonal, generic response to a complaint."

Translink did not respond to a request for a comment.

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