Heather Wheeler, the MP for South Derbyshire, recently showed her support for a campaign to tackle discrimination against guide dog owners.
At an event in Parliament on Wednesday 19th June 2019 organised by the charity Guide Dogs, more than a hundred guide dog owners from across the country converged on Westminster Hall to share their experiences of being turned away by businesses because of their dog. Heather spoke with a number of guide dog owners and in particular about the lasting impact of these refusals.
It is against the law to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in the most exceptional circumstances. Despite this, a new Guide Dogs survey found that more than three out of four (76%) assistance dog owners had been turned away because of their dog.
Taxis and minicabs were the worst offenders – experienced by 73% of those reporting refusals in the last twelve months. Refusals at restaurants (54%), newsagents (42%) and high street shops (36%) were also common.
Guide Dogs are calling for all taxi and minicab drivers to be required to take disability equality training so they are aware of the rights of disabled passengers. The charity also supports changes to equality legislation to make action against businesses who refuse access easier.
Commenting on the event, Heather said:
“I was very concerned to hear of how common these incidents of discrimination are for assistance dog owners. No one should be turned away from any service because of their assistance dog.
“I will be raising these concerns with my ministerial colleagues to see what action can be taken to improve this situation for those who rely so much on these wonderful dogs.”
Chris Theobald, Public Affairs Manager at Guide Dogs, said:
“The law is very clear that assistance dog owners have the same rights as anyone else to shop, take a taxi or visit their local restaurant.
Despite this, our survey shows assistance dog owners face refusals on a regular basis. When you rely on your guide dog to get around, businesses that refuse to allow your dog in are effectively slamming the door in your face.
Businesses have a responsibility to make sure all their staff welcome assistance dog owners. That’s why we are calling for disability equality training as standard in sectors where refusals are common. We also support an overhaul of equality legislation so that businesses that refuse access face the full consequences of the law.”