Shut out due to sight loss
New figures, launched today, show that three-quarters of guide dog owners (76 per cent) have been illegally turned away by businesses and services, such as taxis, restaurants, shops, cafes, hotels and pubs.
As well as being against the Equality Act 2010, these access refusals have now been shown to have a devastating impact on people’s mental health.
The research, from Guide Dogs, shows that more than two-thirds (72 per cent) of guide and assistance dog owners say it negatively affects their ability to go out socially, 70 per cent say it has a negative emotional impact and more than half (55 per cent) say it negatively affects their quality of life.
To tackle these refusals, Guide Dogs and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have collaborated to create new support to empower those facing discrimination. The Equality Act toolkit provides information and advice to guide dog owners across Scotland, England, and Wales, informing them of their legal rights and including practical information and guides to challenge access refusals.
Robert Meikle from Glasgow, who has the sight conditions aniridia and glaucoma, has experienced several difficult encounters with taxis. "One taxi came, evidently saw Winnie my guide dog, and decided on a three-point turn exit without picking us up," he recalled. "There was another instance when the driver says he 'has not been told I have a dog with me' and has refused to take me - after getting in I might add."
"I have had a driver flip-flop between claiming he feels sick around dogs because they are 'filthy' to 'I may be allergic, you don't know'. On another occasion, I sat outside a cab with a very aggressive man for 35 minutes one morning attempting to get to college because he insisted he was in the right. After me calmly explaining the law, he called in by radio and ended up in a heated argument with his employer. This same thing happened with another driver, and in both cases, they were forced to, angrily, take me where I needed to be.
"It has just been unfortunate that I have endured a minority of taxi drivers who are adamantly opposed to having a dog in their car, even if it is a working dog and it is illegal to refuse them. The kind of person who would leave what could be a very vulnerable person at the side of the road alone is not someone I want to sit beside anyway, frankly."
Guide Dog’s research also offers insight into where access refusals happen most often, with data showing that the most commonly reported businesses refusing access were:
- minicabs and private hire vehicles (73 per cent),
- restaurants (71 per cent),
- convenience stores (60 per cent),
- and cafes (59 per cent).
Next Wednesday, 100 guide dog owners will go to Parliament to speak with their MPs about their experiences of being refused access. Guide Dogs, supported by 30 organisations including the RNIB, is calling for the Government to introduce mandatory disability equality training for all taxi and minicab drivers to help prevent refusals from taking place.
Kirstie Bower, director of skills, information and support at Guide Dogs, said: “Often establishments, businesses and services don’t fully understand their obligations in law, but ignorance is not an excuse. This discrimination has a devastating impact on people’s lives, their confidence, and their sense of belonging to society.
“We’re worried that the number of refusals reported to us may just be the tip of the iceberg, as one in four assistance dog owners tell us they find reporting an access refusal too difficult or time-consuming. Working with RNIB, we want to empower people with sight loss to take action against this illegal discrimination.”
David Clarke, director of services at RNIB, said: “Although I have experienced access refusals first-hand, it is shocking to see just how widespread everyday discrimination against blind and partially sighted people really is.
“Our legal services team works tirelessly to challenge discrimination, including illegal access refusals, but we believe it is vital that people are aware of the law and have the tools they need to tackle illegal practice themselves. By working with Guide Dogs to create this toolkit, we hope that the expertise of our legal rights team will inform and empower even more guide dog owners to know their rights, recognise unfair practice and challenge discrimination should they encounter it.”
The new jointly produced toolkit contains details of a guide dog owner’s rights under the Equality Act 2010  (England, Scotland and Wales) or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland), a step-by-step guide to making a complaint, an example complaint letter, plus an advocacy letter from Guide Dogs and RNIB with a summary of the law and information about the service provider’s obligations.
 The Equality Act in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Disability Discrimination Act in NI, legally protect people from discrimination, including disability discrimination. Under the Acts, service providers (an organisation or a person who provides a service to the public) have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid putting people with disabilities at a substantial disadvantage. A guide dog is classed as a reasonable adjustment under the Acts.