Shut out due to sight loss

Post date: 
Thursday, 13 June 2019
Northern Ireland
Tony Barclay uses the equality toolkit to prevent refusals

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 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995, these access refusals have now been shown to have a devastating impact on a person’s mental health.

The research, from the charity 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 Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, informing them of their legal rights and including practical information and guides to challenge access refusals.

Tony Barclay

Tony Barclay, a long-term guide dog owner and member of RNIB NI’s Network Committee, welcomes the new toolkit as he has encountered numerous refusals over the years.

He said: “A local taxi firm once told me their drivers did not want to carry my long-haired guide dog as he was 'too hairy'. 

“Previously, I was refused access to a local restaurant, whose staff insisted I tie the dog outside. My three companions and I tried for 20 minutes to explain that he was a working guide dog, and they eventually allowed us access, but only to a table immediately adjacent the door. They would only accept an order for a main course (no starter, no drinks), and ensured a member of staff stood over us - literally beside our table, whilst we consumed the single dish we were permitted each. He immediately cleared the table as soon as the last fork went down and gave us the bill.”

Tony was so outraged at the unfair and illegal treatment of him and his guide dog that he took the restaurant to court and won his case. 

He added: “I am constantly expecting to be refused access in restaurants. We were at a local, highly respected restaurant recently with my guide dog Wallace and it was glaringly obvious the staff did not like him being there, but they said nothing. I have also been asked to remove my guide dog from a cafe in London, as they 'did not admit dogs’. They asked me to sit outside but we refused and explained why.”

Tony continues: “I have been challenged to prove my guide dog is actually a guide dog when flying with an airline. This has happened to me several times when flying with a guide dog.”

Sadly, Tony admits: “I do anticipate a refusal almost everywhere I have not been before. After some 25 years of guide dog partnership, it continues.

“Anything that helps break barriers or misconceptions has to be a bonus. Whilst things have improved, one can never be sure when or where the next challenge will appear.”

Guide Dog’s research 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).

On Wednesday, June 19, 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.

The new jointly-produced pack contains details of a guide dog owner’s rights under the Equality Act 20102 (or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in NI), 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.

Guide dog owners can get the toolkit from their local Guide Dogs team, or from RNIB on: 0303 123 9999.


For more information, case studies or spokespeople, please contact:

  • Laura Cummings at RNIB NI’s press office on: 028 9033 4132, or email: [email protected]. For out of hours enquiries, contact 07763 579 141.
  • Jordan Whitefield at Guide Dogs’ press office on: 07717 815577, or email: [email protected]

Notes to editors

Research methodology

2,069 people began an online survey between 8 and 30 April 2019. After removal of duplicates and non-completions, data from 1,920 was analysed. Of these participants, 421 of these identified as guide or other assistance dog owners. This sample is representative of guide and assistance dog owners in the UK.

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

RNIB. See differently.

Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit

About Guide Dogs

We want everyone who experiences sight loss to be able to live their lives the way they choose and feel confident, independent and supported in the world. We’re a UK-wide charity, founded in 1934, and we’re specialists in giving people who are blind or partially sighted the means to live life on their own terms and to step out into the world again. Find out more at