Guide dogs are exempt from ‘no dogs' policies and operators must ensure staff are aware, says Dave Kent, Guide Dogs London engagement officer
Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't visit a restaurant or cafe of your choice, or stay at a hotel merely because you were blind or partially sighted and have a guide dog.
Sadly, this is often a reality for Britain's 4,650 guide dog owners. These access denials continue to take place, even though there are substantial legal protections to guard against such occurrences.
Guide dogs are working animals, not pets, and their owners rely on them for independence and mobility. Low awareness and a lack of understanding about guide dogs means that often guide dog owners are prevented from doing ordinary things that everyone else takes for granted.
Guide dogs and other assistance dogs are exempt from the rules that prevent other dogs from accessing restaurants and other areas where food is served. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Royal Environmental Health Institute Scotland have confirmed that guide dogs and other assistance dogs should be allowed entry to food premises as their very special training means they are unlikely to be a risk to hygiene.
Guide dogs do not disrupt the everyday operation of a business. They are trained to sit at their owner's feet at all times, not to climb on furniture and not to bother other people.
Disabled people, including guide dog owners and other blind or partially sighted people, have important rights under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland. The act includes a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people can access services. This includes amending a ‘no dogs' policy to allow guide dogs and other assistance dogs.
Hotel staff should not refuse to serve a disabled person or provide them with a lower standard of service because of their disability. Staff may also need to make reasonable changes to the way in which they provide their services to make sure they do not discriminate against a disabled customer.
Being better acquainted with the correct protocols goes a long way to improving the lives and opportunities for all vision-impaired people and their precious guide dogs.
If you would like to know more about the equality duty, visitwww.guidedogs.org.uk