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Today I wanted to write a blog on a topic a little different and somewhat more serious than a blog on my favourite lipsticks or latest fashion haul. Today I’m going to be covering an issue which is something very important to me and something that I personally face on a regular basis, guide dog access denials. Now, as I’m sure many of you know by now I’m a guide dog owner, I’ve been a guide dog owner for the past four years. In that four years I’ve bene working with my lovely little guide dog I have experienced a number of occasions where I have been denied entry to a place on the grounds that I work with a guide dog.
Taxis, cabs, shops, restaurants, buses, post offices, the list goes on….I’ve had many cases where I’ve been turned away and the reasons they give vary.
Sometimes I’m turned away because the people turning me away are scared of dogs, other times they believe guide dogs to be unhygienic and will dirty their car or premises, sometimes they don’t know what a guide dog is, they don’t know what company policy is or they are not aware of the laws surrounding guide dogs and assistance dogs, sometimes they just simply don’t want a dog in the premises. Whatever the reason they give, the underlying fact remains, it is an illegal offence to refuse a guide assistance owner entry to a place on the grounds that they work with a dog.
Over the past few months I have been campaigning and aiming to raise awareness of the ever present issue of access denials that assistance dog owners face on a regular basis. In May I reported on two pieces for Channel 4’s No Go Britain series which exposed the issue of access denials and the fact that the laws that surround assistance dog owners are not enforced enough.
I also wrote a piece for the Huffington Post UK on the Guide Dogs Access All Areas campaign and my own experiences as a guide dog owner of access denials.
Click here to view.
Then in May I attended a parliament lobby with 100 other guide dog owners to petition our local MP’s about the issues that we face when experiencing an access denial and that the laws designed to protect us are actually enforced.
So, seeing as how I have finally sat down and made a video in which I talked about the issues of access denials and how to deal with them. I thought I would write a blog post on my experiences and how to deal with an access denial.
Now, as I said I have experienced a large number of access denials in the four years of working with Unity (my guide dog). However, what I want to say to any potential or new guide dog owners who may be reading this, please don’t think that this will mean that you have as many as me or indeed any at all. You may go through the entire time of working with your guide dog and never experience any access denials, you may only have one, you might have two, you might have several. Theres no way of telling if and when it will happen, its very much like pot luck.
When I’ve experienced access denials I have gone through many emotions, on the one hand I’ve felt frustrated, angry and anxious. When I first started to experience access denials I felt vulnerable and upset, I felt stressed and unprepared. I felt like a second class citizen and as if I didn’t count. But, these days with the experience I have had its more embarrassing and annoying than anything else. Its embarrassing when I walk into a packed restaurant with my guide dog and a group of friends and get told that I have to leave. Its annoying when I stagger into a post office with an armful of eBay parcels to send and get told I have to leave because of my guide dog. But, I’ve felt fear and vulnerability too. I felt these when I was turned away from a taxi at midnight and I had to get my own way home in the pouring rain, wit no battery on my phone, on public transport and didn’t get home until 1am. I’ve felt afraid when a cab driver has threatened me if I entered the vehicle with my guide dog that there ‘would be trouble’ for me. I’m not saying this to scare you or put you off of the idea of getting a guide dog. Of course guide dogs and assistance dogs are wonderful animals and truly enrich your life. But, I feel that as a guide dog owner I must impart the truth to you of how it feels. Because when I was a new time guide dog owner I didn’t know how it would feel or how to react. So, I feel that its my duty to mentally prepare you in case you ever experience an access denial.
But, I’m not the only guide dog owner or indeed assistance dog owner who has experienced an access denial. In a recent survey conducted by the charity Guide Dogs a shocking 75% of guide dog and assistance dog owners have reported that they too have been denied access from a place on the grounds that they work with a dog.
So, after four years of experience and a number of access denials to go by from huge franchises, cab companies, small independent stores and public transport services I am going to give you some advice on how to deal with an access denial if it does happen.
For any experienced or old time guide dog or assistance dog owners who might be reading this, I do apologise if I am going over old ground. However, I wish when I had been a new time guide dog or owner that there was a resource for advice for me to use. So, I’m going to be that guru today…you’re welcome!
Watch The Video Below
Prepare Where Possible
My first piece of advice would be to, where possible, prepare for this in advance. What I mean by this is to always carry your guide dog information card pack and ID card (if you are a guide dog owner with you) or any form of certification of what your assistance dog is with you. Secondly, my personal recommendation would be if you can book something in advance, whether that be a taxi, hotel, restaurant, appointment, anything at all, make them aware of your assistance dog and that you will be bringing them with you.
Of course you are not legally bound to do so and you do not have to. However, out of courtesy I myself and a number of other guide dog owners I have met, do this too. The reason I say this is because one, it gives them a chance to make prior arrangements before you get there, especially where it concerns hotels and cabs. The other reason is if you do have an access denial, they cannot say you did not make them aware of it and that the reason they were unable to allow you access is because they didn’t make arguments. I have had situations where taxi companies in particular have blamed the access denial on myself and that the reason it occurred is because I did not make them aware of my guide dog. So, I would suggest you inform them of your dog beforehand, as it just covers your own back and makes it easier if and when you come to report it.
The most important thing you must remember when you face an access denial is to remain calm and collected. Now, believe me I know this is easier said than done and I myself have had experiences where I have become angry and frustrated. But, from experience you would do well to remain calm because you get a better response if you do. For one, you do not want to give whoever is refusing you access cause to refuse you because of your temperament. But, also it is better to remain calm because you are able to articulate yourself and deal with the situation.
Know The Law
Before you go any further, you must remember to outline the laws surrounding assistance dogs to the person refusing you access. More often than not, what happens in this situation is that you will say ‘you can’t do this.’ But, you need to outline why they can’t do this. The reason why they can’t or shouldn’t (being the more operative word) refuse an assistance dog owner access is because of the law.
Under both the Equalities Act (2010) and the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) it makes it illegal to refuse a guide dog or assistance dog owner entry to a public place or service provider.
The only acceptation to this rule is where it concerns a taxi, cab or private hire vehicle. If the driver of such a vehicle or cab has a medical exemption certificate (usually awarded by a doctor) this exempts them from accepting any dog (including assistance dogs) into the vehicle. However, this is rarely given and this is why I recommend informing a taxi company of your guide dog beforehand to ensure they send a driver who is able to take you and your dog.
Explain What Your Dog Is and What They Do
After you have stated the laws protecting you and your dog, you should then inform them what your dog is and what they do for you. For instance if you have a guide dog, explain what they are, how to recognise them, why they wear a yellow harness and that they are specially trained to help you mobilise independently.
More often than not I come across access denials and it would that the people deny me access are not aware of assistance dogs and that they are not normal dogs and therefore are exempt from the everyday rules put in place for normal dogs. Although this frustrates me as it reflects on their poor knowledge of disability or the lack of disability awareness training that franchises and companies offer for staff. So, in this situation try and make it a positive thing by educating them about your dog and what they are there for. Because, you could potentially give that person the knowledge they need to prevent any further access denials from occurring. There have been many situations where I have explained what my guide dog is and what she does to a person who is denying me access. However, after I have explained the situation, they have then proceeded to allow me access because they then understand the laws surrounding these dogs and that guide dogs and assistance dogs are not normal dogs.
Ask to Speak to a Manager
If, even after you have calmly explained the situation, what your dog is, what they do and the laws surrounding assistance dogs and access denials they still do not want to allow you access ask politely to speak to a manager or supervisor or whoever is in charge of the company or establishment. Explain to them exactly what you have already said and the situation at hand.
What If They Don’t Cooperate?
If the manager or supervisor takes the same stance and does not want to allow you access to the premesis, there is no point staying and arguing. Believe me, this gets you absolutely nowhere. What you must do is first of all, inform them that you as a guide dog or assistance dog owner are obliged to report this and take this further.
Get Evidence and Make Records
The important thing to do before you report an access denial is to get as much evidence and information as possible. Get a witness if you can, someone from the public to vouch for you this this has happened. Be sure to get things like the name of the person who has denied to access and their position. Make sure you record the time and date of when this happened and the location of where this has happened. Be sure to take note of everything that was said and the reason for why they didn’t let you in. Be sure, that you have explained to them fully the laws surround guide dogs and that it is an illegal offence to refuse you access. If you have been denied access from public transport, a cab or private hire vehicle be sure to take note of things like the the number plate or vehicle identification. If you physically are unable to take down this information, ask a member of the public to help you. The important thing is to take down as much information as possible so that it makes it easier when you come to reporting it. But, make sure that you are comfortable in doing this, do not put yourself in a compromising position at any stage of an access denial. But, at the same token, remember that you as an individual deserve the right to enter that place that has denied you access and that you are certainly not in the wrong.
Know Your Contacts and Report It
The next thing to do is to report the situation, report it as soon as possible. On the same day if you possibly can, do it sooner rather than later, as the details of what happened will be fresh in your mind and if can be dealt which quicker.
So, who to report it to? Well, naturally first and foremost you must report it to the charity who has provided you with your dog. In the case of guide dogs it would be your local mobility team and engagement officer. You can report it to other people, for instance if its a franchise or business that has denied you access. You can report it to the customer care team, I usually find I get a very good response from doing this. Or if its a cab company you can report it to your local licensing authority in your council. But, be sure that you include the charity in all lines of communication with anyone else you involve in the reporting of the access denial. This is both so they can support you and so they can make a record of this as a charity for surveys, reports and to keep on file if any further access denials occur with that same branch, company or establishment.
See It Through
Once you have reported the access denial, you must see it through the the end, this is very important. See it through and ensure that you receive the response that you want, discuss this with your engagement officer or the charity in question. Whether you feel that disability awareness training is needed, whether you feel that some recompense is needed, whatever you feel is the best form of response be sure that you receive it. Its important that you see it through as this could mean the different between it happening again or not happening again.
Don’t Let It Stop You
With access denials you can feel very vulnerable and even anxious to go out and do everyday things for fear of it happening again. These are perfectly normal emotions to feel and I have experienced them myself in the past. But, you must not let an access denial dictate your life or prevent you from having your freedom. After all you have been given this dog for a reason, to be in control of your own life. So, just go out, do the things you want and need to do and if an access denial happens again, simply report it.
Don’t let it prevent you from going back into that establishment or service provider who denied you access. Of course I know that you might feel embarrassed to re-enter the premesis or travel with the same company, but be sure that you endeavour to do so. After all you have done nothing wrong by reporting an access denial and you as a person are entitled to enter that establishment.
Taking it Further
If, however you don’t receive the response you want or if you don’t receive a response at all after reporting the access denial you can take it further. You can take it further for legal proceedings, you can take it further with the company, you could write to your local MP, you could take it to the press or you could take it to social media.
Just be mindful that social media can be a little precarious at times, on the whole you get a very good response on social media and usually get a positive outcome. But, equally you can receive negativity on social media too, so just be mindful of this before you post anything on social media.
The thing that people need to understand is that behind these assistance dogs we are everyday people, with normal lives and commitments like anyone else. But, when these access denials occur that liberty is taken away from us.
So, that concludes this blog today, I really hope you found this useful. Please let me know in the comments how you deal with access denials when they occur and if you want any advice feel free to ask.
Thank you so much for reading and I shall see you in my next one.