Shut out due to sight loss: Three in four guide dog owners illegally refused service

Thursday, 13th June 2019

NEW figures, launched today, show that three-quarters of guide dog owners (76%) 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 a people’s mental health.

The research, from Guide Dogs, shows that more than two thirds (72%) of guide and assistance dog owners say it negatively affects their ability to go out socially, 70% say it has a negative emotional impact and more than half (55%) 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 England, Scotland and Wales, informing them of their legal rights and including practical information and guides to challenge access refusals.

Bhavini Makwana, 39, from London was recently refused access five times in ten days with her guide dog Colin. Last year three taxis and minicabs refused to take her to work in the space of three weeks. On Mother’s Day this year Bhavini and guide dog Colin were refused entry to a restaurant for a celebratory meal with her two daughters.

Bhavini explains how these constant refusals are making her feel: “All I want to do is go to work and live my life. But being turned away by three times in three weeks was mortifying. It makes me feel like I don’t matter at all. It feels like people with a disability have to fight for everything they need just to be accepted into society.”

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%)
  • restaurants (71%)
  • convenience stores (60%)
  • cafes (59%)

On Wednesday 19 June 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.

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