Members of Parliament are used to having a large number of visitors from their constituencies at the House of Commons. Recently, quite a few of my callers have been of the canine variety.
Following hard on the paws of Bojangles the therapy dog from Rhos on Sea, who called to see me in May, I was visited last week by two genial Labradors and their blind and partially sighted owners from Old Colwyn and Kinmel Bay.
The latest four-legged visit was to draw attention to the “Access All Areas” campaign promoted by the charity Guide Dogs.
The Equality Act of 2010 provides that owners of trained assistance dogs are entitled by law to access goods and services without discrimination. However, 76% of assistance dog owners have been refused access to places as varied as shops, restaurants, gyms and hotels.
Research by Guide Dogs reveals that in the past year:
- 79% of assistance dog owners have been made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or received second-class service because they had that assistance dogs with them;
- 71% have been refused entry to restaurants;
- 73% have been turned away by minicab and taxi drivers; and
- 60% have been refused access to newsagents or local convenience stores and 52% from High Street shops.
Given that the Equality Act has been in force for the best part of a decade, these are shocking statistics. Mostly, the problem is one of education. A survey by Guide Dogs found that ignorance of the law was a frequent reason for minicab drivers refusing assistance dogs. Disability equality training for drivers would help ensure that they were aware of their legal obligations towards disabled passengers.
These are issues where local authorities could certainly help by pointing out to licensed minicab and taxi drivers their obligations under the law.
However, the Government should also be considering what more it could do. It could, for example, review the licensing system to give local councils more power to enforce against businesses that refuse access to assistance dog owners.
Being disabled brings enough challenges without facing discrimination bred out of ignorance.