The Paralympian says these incident are all too common for disabled people across the UK and that tougher legal repercussions are needed for there to be any meaningful change. Describing his recent encounter at an M&S inside London’s Charing Cross Station, John told Metro.co.uk: ‘I was very shaken. It’s humiliating. This happened in a busy story in front of a line of people.’He was waiting in the queue when a member of staff spotted eight-year-old Brett, and said ‘You’re not allowed that in the store’.
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After standing his ground and explaining his legal rights, he says the worker walked away before a colleague approached and said ‘Sorry about that’ before serving him.Over the past two years at M&S stores at London Bridge, St Pancras, Oxford Street and Moorgate, John says he was simply turned away at the door and walked away. John added: ‘If you imagine a visually impaired person travelled in from Kent for the first time to London with a guide dog and they go to M&S to get a bottle of water and they tell you you’re not allowed to do that.
‘You’ll probably just get back on the train and leave.’
The now retired athlete has been invited to meet members of the chain’s accessibility team, but the skiing champion is still considering legal action.John, 41, from Forest Hill, south east London, said people often say the issue is simply one of training, but he thinks the problem is cultural, systemic and runs across the high street. He added: ‘The Equality Act is actually a legal obligation that retailers are required to meet, it’s not optional.
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‘There are rarely consequences for their refusals and they try to approach it like it’s a PR problem rather than a systematic problem.’Within the space of a few months British Army veteran Richard Mearns spoke to Metro.co.uk about how he was turned away from an Indian restaurant and from Zara because of his PTSD support dog, despite being protected by the Equality Act. In June, John was stopped by a security guard at a Sainsbury’s store in Holborn, central London, while the supermarket was sponsoring the British Paralympic team.
At the time the chain said the member of staff must have ‘misread the situation’ before apologising to the skier and reassuring him guide dogs are welcome in all of its stores and petrol stations.John says incidents like Friday’s, which left him in tears, makes him consider whether he could resort to using a cane instead, which he says are far less safe and much more limiting. The communications director for Goldsmiths University, says the fact that he is faced with this trade-off is a ‘really sad position to be in’.
He added: ‘The only places I’ve never had a guide dog refusal is Aldi, Lidl and John Lewis ‘If I decided to take legal action for every time I had a guide dog refusal I literally wouldn’t be able to work, it happens with taxis all the time, I’ve never caught an Uber with my guide dog.’
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While shops refusing guide dogs are breaking the law, he says staff are much more clued up about the consequences of selling booze and knives to minors.
He added: ‘The training regime is robust and it’s robust because if they break the law and sell alcohol or a bladed item to a minors there will be criminal prosecutions.
‘I have to take them to civil court. I’m slightly more up for having a scrap than I think many disabled people.’
John thinks the police, local authorities and central government ought to start treating incidents like this as criminal offences rather than civil disputes if there is ever to be real change.
He added: ‘Voluntarism clearly isn’t working, there’s no excuses for big firms who have entire teams of people who are there for doing compliance.
‘The Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in 1995 – 25 years on this is still happening. It was replaced by the Equality Act in 2010 and it’s still happening.
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‘If the Prime Minister is very serious about building inclusive and tolerant society I think this is an easy win.
‘There are 8,000 guide dog users in the country – This is something immediately improve the quality of life for disabled people.’
An M&S spokesperson said: ‘It’s unacceptable for there to be any suggestion an assistance dog is not welcome in any M&S store and we’re very sorry this happened.
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‘Our Charing Cross store is operated by one of our franchise partners and they will be retraining the colleague, as well as reminding all colleagues across the business that we’re committed to making M&S accessible for everyone.‘We have invited Mr Dickinson-Lilley to meet our Accessibility team so they can apologise personally for his experience and hear his feedback.’ A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: ‘ The UK has some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world thanks to the Equality Act.
Source: Psychology Today
‘This provides for disabled people to have the same right to services supplied by shops as everyone else. Those who break the law face court action and may have to pay compensation as a result.’