My experiences of access refusals

Someone asked me recently how many times I'd been refused service because of having a guide dog. It's maybe a bit like asking someone how many times they've been mugged. Once can be enough for you to be just that little bit on edge going into a restaurant or shop you've never been to before with your dog, or booking a taxi, with a part of you wondering if there's going to be a fight. Sometimes it's fine -often it isn't. You explain that the dog won't be a problem to anyone and that they can't legally refuse you entry. Sometimes that's enough for them to back down. Sometimes you have to ask for the manager and argue your rights some more before you get through the door.

A friend said to me once: you mustn't take it personally. It's not because you're blind. It's just because of the dog. My guide dog isn't a pet, however. He's not a companion teddy bear I drag round with me. He does an essential job every time I go out the front door. Without him I wouldn't get fifty metres down the street without hurting or injuring myself walking into any one of the myriad obstacles our sidewalks are littered with, like parked cars and advertising A-boards.

Guide Dogs SmallAccess denial to disabled people with assistance dogs such as guide dogs is insidious because one bad experience can make you afraid for years. The other day I caught myself putting off trying out the new local chippy through an only half-articulated fear they would be refusers. More than one guide dog owner has said to me they're considering abandoning using a guide dog because of the amount of service refusal they encounter. This is tragic. If guide dog mobility becomes impractical because we can't get into shops and other businesses or use taxis, then access generally for the visually impaired will have fallen back fifty years.

Access denial is on the increase and is yet another growing challenge for guide dog owners in 21st century Britain. Now the mighty Campaigns Department within Guide Dogs has launched a multi-action campaign to address the issue. First, they've surveyed owners to get some snapshot data of the problem nationally. Planned next is some targeted messaging at taxi and mini-cab drivers who, the research shows, are as the worst offenders.

There need to be more prosecutions, too. The Equality Act 2010 is on our side. Having done it twice I know that taking service providers to court, however right you are, isn't pleasant, but we as guide dog owners need to think about using this option more. I think that Guide Dogs, too, will, in the future, need to do more to help individuals take discriminating shops, cafes or minicab firms to court.

 

 

Comments

Campaign's team, 1:50pm Wed 19 Aug 2015:


Thanks for your comment. Guide dog and assistance dog owners have important rights under the Equality Act 2010 (the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 in Northern Ireland). This legislation provides for disabled people to have the same right to services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants as everyone else. These rights don't however apply to the dog - they apply to guide dog owners. That said, as an organisation, we support guide dog owners who are refused access because they are accompanied by their dogs. Please see www.guidedogs.org.uk/supportus/campaigns/access-all-areas/faq#1 for more information.

Ash, 10:53am Mon 10 Aug 2015:


Great blog, Tim. It illustrates how awful refusals are so well, and demonstrates exactly why we're campaigning on this important issue! Thanks for sharing with us.

Janet, 8:23pm Sun 9 Aug 2015:


So true my daughter has had 3 guide dogs and had one taxi driver and some other places.

Dawn, 11:10am Sun 9 Aug 2015:


I just wondered why it is down to the Guide Dog owner to take the offenders to court surely as its the actual guide dog who is being refused then Guide Dogs for the Blind as an organisation representing the dogs need for access should be the ones going court. Isn't there a legal team who would volunteer such a service?

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Tim G1 Small

By Tim Gebbels, member of the access campaign working group


Tim raises the issue of how Guide Dogs can support guide dog owners with access refusals in his blog. Here's some more information on what support we can offer:

Our local engagement staff can answer queries on access issues and offer initial pointers. They can also engage with service providers to explain the legal position and secure apologies where legal rights have been ignored, educating service providers to prevent further contravention. Engagement officers can also access the support of Guide Dogs legal team for advice on particular cases. For potential legal cases, Guide Dogs also have a protocol with the RNIB Legal Rights Service who will act for individual service users to advise and where appropriate bring legal action in relation to access to services, employment issues and benefits enquiries.  RNIB legal rights service can be contacted via engagement staff or directly via their website.  In some limited cases the Equality and Human Rights Commission will sponsor cases brought under the Equality Act.