Why sighted and visually impaired people need to address access refusal, should they encounter it

If you were shocked and disappointed by the story that made national headlines this month about a blind woman who was left shocked and humiliated after two Leicester Square restaurants would not allow her and her family to eat there with their guide dogs.

Whilst both restaurants responded to the distressing situation, this is an incident which has occurred elsewhere. In June, a blind PHD student claimed he was refused entry to Burger King with his guide dog.

Riley Yeomans, 24, says that his guide dog, Yashka, was initially denied entry by a security guard at the fast-food outlet in Piccadilly Gardens, Greater Manchester.

Whilst the London and Manchester restaurants apologised and responded to the incidents, they nevertheless shine a light on an important issue which urgently needed addressing to prevent future occurrences.

The Equality Act 2010 states that all businesses and organisations have a legal responsibility to provide “reasonable adjustment” in meeting the needs of people with disabilities, whether this relates to wheelchair or animal access. The problem here is that, in the past, some businesses might choose to interpret the term subjectively: one person’s reasonable is another’s unreasonable.

In short, there are very rare circumstances where a business does have the right to deny entry. For example, if a guide dog is coated in mud, an owner of a restaurant may deny entry in the same way they could deny entry to a mud-encrusted customer. What is important to remember is that incidences of legal denial of entry are rare, and most instances will be illegal and open to challenge.

But how do you go about challenging denied entry?

One option is to seek legal representation although this can be expensive and often inflammatory. The more common and modern route

is to enter into mediation. This generally has the advantages of speedy resolution, minimal cost, and the opportunity for each party to present their case, listen to the concerns of the other, and achieve consensus. As such, it can be both empowering and an educational strategy to move the disability agenda forwards.

However, it is also incredibly important to remember the impact something like this might have on someone’s confidence and feelings of social acceptance and preparedness to go out with their guide dog independently.

If someone is stopped from accessing shops or restaurants with their dog, this is then limiting them from using a skilled and highly trained dog to live an independent life. It is vital that both sighted and visually impaired people challenge discrimination – including illegal guide dog refusals to public places – to prevent illegal practices and to empower even more seeing dog or guide dog owners to know their rights, and challenge discrimination should they experience it.

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