‘Access All Areas’ campaign launched
New survey results find half of Guide Dog handlers refused entry or service because of their Guide Dog
One in two Guide Dog handlers across Australia report they have been discriminately refused entry to a public place or service because of their Guide Dog in the past two years – some more than ten times. This is according to a new client survey by Guide Dogs Australia in the lead up to International Guide Dog Day (24 April).
Cafes and restaurants were the main offenders, with 71% of survey respondents reporting a refusal of entry; followed by taxis and rideshares (58%). Motels, theatres, office buildings and hospitals were named as other locations that handlers experienced discrimination.
In addition to outright refusals, an overwhelming 70% of handlers reported they have had to prove their legal right to enter with their Guide Dog, by showing an ID Card or by way of explanation, after initially being denied access.
In response, Guide Dogs Australia’s new advocacy and education campaign, Access All Areas aims to remind businesses, industries and the community that a Guide Dog in harness is legally allowed to enter all public places. It is an offence to deny or charge a fee for the entry of a Guide Dog.
“While the public generally do the right thing, Guide Dog handlers continue to face many barriers when going about their daily lives,” said Debra Barnes, Acting CEO of Guide Dogs Tasmania.
“Imagine how you’d feel if you weren’t allowed into a café or taxi, or told you couldn’t stay at a particular hotel? Guide Dogs are not pets. They are highly trained to open up the world for people who are blind or vision impaired, not close it down, which is effectively what denying access does. Guide Dog handlers are being refused access to locations and services because of the very dog that is there to help them lead an independent life.”
The ongoing implications of refusals can leave Guide Dog handlers seriously inconvenienced – arriving late, missing out on events completely, or incurring cancellation/late fees. Worryingly, half of the survey respondents (48%) say they have changed their routines or avoid trouble areas as a result of refusals.
Guide Dog handlers also report being denied access leaves them feeling frustrated, angry, upset and humiliated. This is exactly how Hobart based Guide Dog handler Vanessa Ransley felt recently, when she and her Guide Dog Yuri were refused service from a taxi driver at Melbourne airport.
“I’d just arrived in Melbourne for a holiday and wanted to get to where I was going, so to be outright refused from the first taxi driver I approached made me really annoyed and frustrated,” she said. “I explained the access rights of a Guide Dog to the driver and it made no difference. I’m a reasonably confident person but can imagine how shattering this would be for someone who is newly blind, or has only recently been placed with a Guide Dog.”
Ms Ransley has experienced numerous occasions of discrimination over the last few years, mostly when trying to access public transport, and believes it is not so much the law that is not understood, but the consequences of breaking it.
And while 100% of Tasmanian respondents to the survey said they always carry their Guide Dog Access Card when accessing public places or services, 43% said it had not helped.
“Sadly, I’ve never been in a situation where showing my access card has changed the person’s mind,” Vanessa said. “I believe the only way to stop discrimination is to ensure those refusing or questioning you are aware that they could be fined, or even lose their job.”
To combat this and as part of the Access All Areas advocacy campaign, Guide Dogs Tasmania has a number of measures in place including:
- Working one-on-one with individuals and businesses that have been accused of discrimination, by educating them on the relevant access laws and penalties
- Sending information packs out to businesses to ensure all staff understand the relevant access laws and penalties
- Issuing all Tasmanian volunteer Puppy Raisers and Guide Dog handlers with “Say Yes” cards (business card sized) to hand out whenever they are questioned or refused entry to a public place or service, or when they see discrimination taking place
- Issuing all Tasmanian Guide Dog handlers with Access Cards that state the relevant law and penalties
- Bus driver training to ensure all new bus drivers in Tasmania understand the relevant law and penalties, and how to assist someone who is blind or vision impaired.
Guide Dogs Tasmania also partnered with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association (THA) last year to begin a campaign to end discrimination against Guide Dog handlers when accessing public places like hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Information packs were sent to Members of the THA which included an information poster for staff, featuring the relevant laws and penalties, along with a “Say Yes” sticker for Members to display in their venues.
The THA is committed to ensuring an end to discrimination in the hospitality industry, and will continue to work with Guide Dogs Tasmania to ensure all venues across the state, and not just members of the THA, are fully aware of Guide Dog access rights.
“We believe that education is the first step to stopping discrimination occurring again,” said Ms Barnes. “And while most venues and service providers are doing the right thing, it is the minority that don’t that cause the most distress to our clients. We hope our Access All Areas campaign is a reminder to everyone that Guide Dogs are vital mobility tools for Tasmanians living with disability, giving them choice and helping them to remain independent.”
Access All Areas – Guide Dogs Can Go Everywhere
- When a Guide Dog is in a harness, it is working and assisting a person who is blind or vision impaired to move around safely and independently. In Tasmania, a Guide Dog in harness is legally allowed to enter all public places (except for an operating theatre) under the:
- Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs Act 1967 – Section 3 (2)
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992 – Section 9
- Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – Chapter 3, Section 24 (1) b
- Under the Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs Act 1967 – Section 3 (2), a person who is in charge of a public place or public passenger vehicle, or the servant or agent of a person in charge of a public place or public passenger vehicle, must not –
- refuse to allow a person accompanied by a guide dog into that place or onto that vehicle; or
- direct a person accompanied by a guide dog to leave that place or vehicle; or
- deny accommodation or service to a person accompanied by a guide dog.
- Penalties of up to 20 units can apply. Additional civil action could also be taken against you.
- A Guide Dog undergoes extensive training where it is taught how to behave in public areas. For example, when the Guide Dog is taken to a restaurant or café, it will usually sit under the chair or table its handler is sitting at, so it will not be in the way of staff or other patrons. Just like a regular restaurant or café patron, a person using a Guide Dog will not enter the food preparation area of a food service business. On transport, Guide Dogs are taught how to safely lead the person with vision impairment on and off the particular mode of transport, as well as how to behave in the vehicle while it is travelling.
About International Guide Dog Day
International Guide Dog Day celebrates the important role Guide Dogs play in changing the lives of, and enabling people who are blind or vision impaired to be safe and independent in their communities. International Guide Dog Day is held each year on the last Wednesday of April.
In March 2019, Guide Dogs Australia conducted a survey, sent to 127 Guide Dog handlers nationally to identify issues they experience as a result of issues around Guide Dog access rights.