83% of Guide Dog & Assistance Dog owners refused access despite legal rights

04 Dec, 2023

83% of Guide Dog & Assistance Dog owners  refused access despite legal rights
  • Ongoing discrimination and exclusion from Irish society

  • Violation of Irish equality legislation and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

83% of Guide Dog and Assistance Dog owners have had a negative experience in the last 12 months when trying to access and participate in services and amenities, despite being legally entitled to do so, according to a survey by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The survey shows that whilst a third of Guide Dog and Assistance Dog owners were allowed access once they explained their legal rights, nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they had no choice but to walk away as refusal was outright. Sectors causing the most difficulty include retail, hospitality, transport, public amenities, and some medical facilities.

Those affected say access refusals have a significant impact on their confidence, independence, wellbeing and, most of all, their right to participate as equal citizens in Irish society.

23-year-old Dublin-based Guide Dog owner Sarah McGowan said:

“I was denied entry to a hospital when I went to visit my grandmother who had taken a bad fall. A security guard approached my mother and said I was not permitted inside with my Guide Dog. He did not address me, however, even though I am currently 23 years of age and was the subject of the conversation. I explained to him that under the Equality Act, I am permitted to bring my dog into the hospital, at which point he said he would have to check with his manager. We were eventually allowed into the hospital. We were subsequently approached by the security manager who proceeded to apologise to my mother rather than me. This experience highlights the complete lack of education and training of ground staff on accessibility rights. It also highlights a disregard for me as a visually impaired individual. I have just graduated from college and live a fully independent life, but a large segment of the population will address their concerns about my dog or my needs to a sighted companion. There is a need for significant policy and societal change in this area.”

Martin Gordon, a Guide Dog owner for over 20 years and a barrister with An Garda Síochána, said; “I do not know what it is like to go out and about without the fear that at some point in the day I will have to explain to a person why my Guide Dog is allowed on a premises.

I would not wish for anyone to know how the lived experience of discrimination feels. It is humiliating, degrading, utterly unacceptable, and unjustifiable. Discrimination can have a detrimental effect on a person’s confidence and independence.”

Other incidents reported in the survey include:

  • “I was told to sit outside but once I told them my legal right I was admitted. I am glad I was alone and didn't have my child with me because this could have ended very differently. I was quite embarrassed.”

  • “I was embarrassed by being stopped at the door and having to explain myself.”

  • “I always feel discouraged when things like that happen, so I end up just not going back to the places or just going without my Guide Dog as it is not worth the hassle of feeling unwelcome or unsafe.”

  • “On some occasions, I am too angry and humiliated to fight for my rights. As a mother, I need to prioritise my child’s needs, both physical and emotional, over mine, sometimes I need to just walk away. I feel I have to explain my presence in society, to be forced to hope that I am accepted as an equal in my community.

Legal rights

Guide Dog and Assistance Dog owners who experience ongoing discrimination and exclusion are being denied their rights to access and participate in society under both Irish equality legislation, the Equal Status Acts, 2000-2018, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Irish equality legislation gives Guide Dog and Assistance Dog owners the right to access businesses and services without discrimination. This includes access to:

  • all forms of public transport, including bus, train, tram, taxi, plane or ferry

  • all forms of hospitality accommodation, including hotels, Airbnbs, hostels or holiday rental properties

  • all establishments that provide food, including cafes, restaurants, pubs, delis and supermarkets.

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, of which Ireland is a signatory, articles 19, 20, 29, and 30 on accessibility and participation place an obligation on public and private service providers to be inclusive. The lack of access experienced by Guide Dog and Assistance Dog owners is a clear breach of their human rights under the Convention.

Tim O’Mahony, Chief Executive Officer of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind says incidents are now occurring on a more regular basis. “We know from talking to our clients that access and participation is a huge issue which causes humiliation and upset not just for the Guide Dog or Assistance Dog owner but any family or friends who accompany them. This can be particularly distressing for a child with autism who is being supported by an Assistance Dog. The very aim of our organisation is to enable independence and mobility for our clients.”

“Our dogs are highly trained and from an early age are socialised to ensure obedience in public places. We’re calling for business operators and public service providers to ensure their staff are aware of the rights of those who rely on a Guide Dog or an Assistance Dog and to ensure our clients can have the same experience and service we all take for granted. We are also calling for authorities to investigate reported incidents and to prosecute/fine where appropriate so that service providers comply with legislation. We get huge support from the general public, who are more than welcoming to our clients and are indeed fascinated by the phenomenal impact our dogs have. We’re asking now for continued support to ensure that welcome extends across all areas of life.”

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