New research commissioned by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, reveals each week one NSW or ACT resident who is blind or vision impaired with a Guide Dog, is discriminated against by a restaurant or café illegally refusing or questioning their entry.
The research, conducted by EY Sweeney Research, found more than half (53%) of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s Guide Dog clients experienced discrimination in the past year, the largest percentage of these instances (40%) occurring within cafes and restaurants.
The survey showed discrimination caused humiliation and anxiety, with many Guide Dog users changing their routines by avoiding trouble areas or going out without their Guide Dog.
To address this issue, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has launched a new advocacy and education campaign, ‘It’s time to end Guide Dog discrimination’, today, being International Guide Dog Day. The day celebrates the important role Guide Dogs play in enabling people with vision loss to stay safe and be independent.
“While the public generally do the right thing, our survey shows people with Guide Dogs continue to face many barriers when going about their daily lives, which strips them of their independence,” said Dr Graeme White, CEO of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, the leading provider of Guide Dogs and other mobility services for people who are blind or vision impaired.
“We’re calling on all restaurant and café owners to remind their staff that Guide Dogs are not pets and are legally entitled to access and enjoy the restaurants and cafes they visit, and bringing no risk to restaurant licenses and health inspections. Guide Dogs are highly trained to open up the world for people who are blind or vision impaired, not close it down, which is effectively what discrimination does.”
To help restaurateurs and café owners train and remind staff of the issue, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has developed a video featuring support from high-profile chefs including Cafe Sydney Executive Chef
James Kidman and Kitchen by Mike’s Mike McEnearney, and is working with the Restaurant & Catering Australia to distribute educational materials.
“A Guide Dog does such an important job. No wonder they’re legally allowed into any public place when they’re working,” said James Kidman. “It’s sad to learn however that people with vision loss are too often refused entry to cafes and restaurants because of their Guide Dog, and I’m proud to support the call to end this type of discrimination.”
“I couldn’t image how it would feel to be denied access to a restaurant or café. I’m calling on my colleagues to remind staff that a Guide Dog is easily identified by its harness, and that by simply respecting their legal rights people with Guide Dogs will be able to enjoy the fun and freedom of dining out that so many of us take for granted.”
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has also partnered with NSW Police Force and ACT Policing to raise awareness of the illegal and finable offence of denying or charging people with a Guide Dog access to public premises, including restaurants and cafes.
NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford, Corporate Sponsor for Vulnerable Communities, said NSW police officers would respond to every report of discrimination from a Guide Dog user and issue fines where appropriate.
“It’s a crime to refuse entry to a person with a Guide Dog,” said Assistant Commissioner Clifford. “The NSW Guide Dog access laws have been in place for more than 30 years and like all forms of discrimination, there’s no excuse for it.”
To empower Guide Dog users to stand up for their rights, NSW Police and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT have developed a new business card-sized ‘Guide Dog Access Rights’ card, outlining the relevant laws and fines. It states that NSW Police officers can issue on-the-spot fines of $165 and penalty notices of up to $880 for refusing entry to a Guide Dog user.
Dr White added, “In Queensland, offenders have faced fines of up to $55,000 since 2009 for breaking the Guide Dog access laws. I expect the NSW Government will be reviewing NSW penalties if this issue isn’t resolved quickly.”
Minister for Disability Services John Ajaka has welcomed the campaign ‘It’s time to end Guide Dog discrimination’ by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
“The NSW Government is committed to helping society work together to break down the barriers that exist within our community for people with disability.
“That is why last year I introduced and passed the Disability Inclusion Act 2014 which enshrines the rights of people with disability to participation and inclusion in the community.”
Restaurants and cafes are encouraged to take a stand against Guide Dog discrimination by joining the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with #lawsforpaws. For more information, please phone 02 9412 9300 or visit www.guidedogs.com.au.