One of the many things that I often do whilst in Westminster is attend briefings by charities on campaigns that they are running and I recently attended one organised by Guide Dogs.
Guide dogs are trained to support the independence of their owner and legislation confirms their rights to have equal access to places, businesses and services. However, despite this, some owners have reported that they have been refused access to a place, business or service because they have been accompanied by their Guide dog. Recently several of these cases have attracted significant media attention.
A UK wide survey recently highlighted that discrimination of Guide dog owners was widespread with nearly three quarters of respondents (74%) having experienced an access refusal – 48% had been refused access within the past year.
One respondent said:
‘Access refusals make me feel awful. Very much like a second class citizen who is not wanted by society no matter who or what the business is. It’s as if we should be stuck away and never seen again.’
Whilst the survey found that restaurants, newsagents, pubs, supermarkets and theatres had all refused access, they did find though that there was more of a problem with some taxis and private hire vehicles. Although many taxis and private hire vehicles fully and automatically accept people with Guide dogs, the survey did identify some drivers who refused to accept a dog in their vehicle and I have seen a distressing video which outlines a number of excuses that were given.
The Department for Transport’s Best Practice Guidance on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing recommends that local licensing authorities work with the industry in their area to improve drivers’ awareness of the needs of disabled people. This includes encouraging their drivers to undertake disability awareness training and is one of the recommendations that the Guide Dogs Access for All campaign is seeking to see implemented. The campaign also wants to see better enforcement of access refusal by relevant authorities, for example through mystery shoppers. It also wishes for there to be greater awareness and staff training in all public facing businesses and services.
Whilst there is clearly a large amount of good practice already in existence, further steps can be taken to help Guide dog owners and I hope this campaign helps raise awareness of the problems they continue to face.