Post-lockdown, many of us are enjoying our return to freedom – but that’s not always the case for guide dog users.
Hairdressers, restaurants, and bars are able to swing open their doors after months of lockdown and many of us are taking advantage of being able to enjoy a space that isn’t within four walls of our own homes.
But for those who use guide dogs , post-lockdown trips are being prevented by illegal access refusals.Bhavini had just finished delivering her first in-person workshop after lockdown, focusing on owning a guide dog, the importance of having one, and the etiquette around guide dogs.
On the way back from her talk, Bhavini and her husband thought they’d take advantage of not having their children after a long period of lockdown, and decided they’d go to a restaurant for lunch.With her guide dog Colin in tow, Bhavini and her husband walked into the restaurant – only to be immediately refused access on the basis that pets aren’t permitted. Experienced in this rigmarole, Bhavini produced her assistance dog ID book, supplied by Guide Dogs UK.
The ID book has been designed to support guide and assistance dog owners with their access to goods, facilities and services.
Still, however, Bhavini was turned away.Under the 2010 Equality Act, an access refusal is illegal as it is a form of direct disability discrimination.
Direct discrimination is where you are treated less favourably because of your disability than someone without a disability would be treated in the same circumstances.Explaining how upsetting the situation was, Bhavini tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I couldn’t even find my own voice and I just felt like crying.
‘You go through so much to get comfortable with your sight loss.
‘[My guide dog, Colin, is] there to empower me to help me get that independence and confidence. But what’s the point if you can’t even go out and do normal things?’
Bhavini and her husband left the restaurant after their accommodation request was refused. They tried again at a different establishment and were refused for the same reasons.
Management at one of the restaurants told Bhavini that her dog could pose an allergy risk to other customers.But the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) states that ‘allergies are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to guide dog owners and other assistance dogs’. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has determined that Guide Dogs are unlikely to present a risk to hygiene and should be allowed access to restaurants, cafes, hotels, food shops and other food premises.
‘When you get a guide dog, you feel empowered,’ Bhavini says. ‘But that empowerment is so quickly snapped out of you, when happen, and I don’t think other people who are not guide dog owners actually understand the impact that has.’Unfortunately, Bhavini is not the only one to experience this in post-lockdown England. Jolene went with her son and her guide dog Zena to meet some friends to enjoy the last day of the Government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme.When the group walked through the doors of the restaurant in Hemel Hempstead, a team member approached the rest of her party – refusing to address Jolene directly – to inform them that pets are not allowed on the premises, and that neither Jolene nor Zena were allowed in.
Despite Jolene attempting to explain that a refusal was illegal and was grounds for a court case as well as a £1,000 maximum fine, she was told that she still had to leave.
‘I pointed out that due to social distancing all the tables are far apart,’ Jolene tells us. ‘I was sitting right at the back far away from everyone and I told them “you’re breaking the law, you can’t refuse me access” and they were just adamant that we left.’While this was upsetting for Jolene in itself, she says the incident was additionally painful as this all happened in front of her 11-year-old son, Cameron.
‘It was really humiliating and demoralising, and it makes me feel like a terrible mother,’ says Jolene. ‘I feel like I can’t go out on my own with [my son] or do anything.
Don’t Let Your Dog Ride in the Back of Your Truck Unrestrained. An estimated 100,000 dogs die each year from riding in pickup beds each year, and that doesn’t take into account all of the injuries seen each year. Dogs in pickup beds are also at risk of being hit with debris that can cause injuries.
‘What if it happens again? It ruins the day. It’s a situation that neither of us want to be in, it’s horrible, and it just makes me lose my confidence every single time.’Terry, 54 from Bradford, was united with his guide dog Spencer earlier this year. Describing the elation of being matched with Spencer, Terry says: ‘It’s like I’m alive again, almost as if it doesn’t matter that I’m blind anymore.’
This elation came crashing down when he was refused access to a barber shop for his post-lockdown trim.‘This incident made me feel like I was so insignificant, I just wanted to disappear,’ Terry tells us. ‘It took me right back to when I first went blind, and I couldn’t leave the house. Back to when people would shout at me in the street when I would accidentally touch their parked car with my white cane.’ The Equality Act 2010 states that Guide Dogs must be admitted, and there are very few circumstances where a rejection could be considered legal. RNIB gives a muddy dog as an example – if a restaurant would reject a customer for turning up coated in dirt, they might be allowed to refuse a guide dog – but in the wide majority of cases, establishments refusing entry to guide dogs are breaking the law.
RNIB offers a helpful toolkit for what guide dog users can do if they are turned away, including a guide on how to write a letter of complaint.
But the key may be in raising awareness that guide dogs must be allowed entry to restaurants, shops, and other establishments – and empowering guide dog users to challenge access refusals.Clive Wood, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, says: ‘Lockdown may be lifting, but it isn’t for guide dog owners. They are still facing illegal access refusals to shops and services. It can have a devastating impact on a person’s confidence and day-to-day life.
8 tips to make your dog happy
‘With businesses opening up, they should be opening up to everyone. There is no excuse for refusing a guide dog.’
Bhavini, Jolene, and Colin are calling for better understanding of the legal framework on allowing guide dogs into all premises, and for more regimented training around disability awareness.
‘Things need to get stricter now, because it’s not a nice experience when you’re turned away just because you’re blind and you have a guide dog,’ says Bhavini. ‘It’s really destroying.’
Do you have a story to share?
A shower caddy makes a great storage solution for all your doggie stuff.
Get in touch by emailing [email protected] .