Is the law protecting guide dog owners?
Blogger Emily Davison discusses how a lack of commitment to the Equality Act and inadequate training has affected her.
“You can’t bring that dog in here!”
“No dogs allowed!”
“Who allowed you to come in here with that dog?”
Sadly, these are just some of the things I hear every week when I go out with my guide dog Unity.
By law under the Equality Act (2010), guide dogs and assistance dogs are permitted to enter public places with their owners.
Guide dogs are trained to provide vital assistance to their disabled owners. Sadly, the purpose of a guide dog is not always clear when it comes to dealing with staff members in a range of businesses.
Staff are either not trained on the law or don't care
Stepping into my local supermarket to buy a pint of milk should be simple. Often it will turn into a debate with an angry security guard about whether I'm even allowed to cross the threshold.
What it tends to boil down to is one of two things: they don't know about my rights, or they don't care.
Sometimes it comes from a place of ignorance. I have met staff members who clearly aren't informed about the laws that surround guide dogs. Many also don't know how to recognise the different types of assistance dogs. Some continue to argue with me, even after I've explained things to them. During these occasions, I'm forced to leave the premises having been humiliated and discriminated.
Even though it's illegal to turn away someone because they work with an assistance dog, enforcing the law is the real problem. There isn't a quick and straightforward way to prosecute businesses that refuse assistance dog owner.
Things haven't changed much in seven years
I've been a guide dog owner for seven years, and in that time things haven't changed.
I've been refused entry to a variety of public places: supermarkets, restaurants, shops, gyms, minicabs, cafes, even a bus on a few occasions.
I've done my fair share of activism to combat this. I've attended parliament lobbies, written to my local MP, take part in campaigns. I reach out to businesses and even reported for Channel 4 News on this matter. Yet, week after week, I still have more tales of guide dog access denials to add to my ever-growing list.
People always ask me "but if it's illegal, why does it happen?"
The law is difficult to enforce
The truth is, even though it's illegal to turn away someone because they work with an assistance dog, enforcing the law is the real problem. There isn't a quick and straightforward way to prosecute businesses that refuse assistance dog owner. Taking legal action usually means going to court, but it's a long, arduous process.
If I took every business who refused me entry to court, I'd be in court forever.
But this isn't how it should be; we shouldn't have to fight for businesses to recognise our fundamental rights. Companies need to implement guide dog and assistance dog awareness training into their staff training programmes. But, more importantly, new legislation needs to be introduced that makes it easier for us to prosecute those that discriminate against us.
Because if more businesses were prosecuted, this would soon stop happening.
Our recent research showed that nearly a quarter of disabled adults have experienced problems accessing essential services where they live. This includes GP surgeries, supermarkets and sports facilities.