To the despair of the blind and partially-sighted, making the act of refusing to give access to assistance dogs illegal has done little to stop the “devastating” behaviour, charity Guide Dogs says.
Over 100 guide dog owners visited parliament on 25 May to ask the government for tougher sentences – and fines of up to £2500 – for cabbies breaking the law.
The Equality Act that makes it illegal for taxis and private hire vehicles to refuse assistance dogs has been in place since 2010.
But Guide Dogs senior campaigns manager, James White, told OT that a recent survey of guide dogs owners found that three in four people had been refused access to a business, service or public place because of their assistance animal.
“It’s very widespread … The people who attended the event have had incredibly unpleasant experiences of access issues on multiple occasions,” he emphasised.
Mr White hoped the high turnout at the parliament protest would mean the issue would be addressed. “Lots and lots of MPs heard their concerns,” he said.
After six years of continuing problems, it was time for the government to raise the maximum fine level and for licencing authorities to increase prosecutions and the average fine handed out in such prosecutions, Mr White said.
“It’s at the level of not paying your TV licence, and I don’t think that has anything like the type of impact [refusing access to a person with visual impairment] can have on their confidence,” he highlighted.
Some licencing authorities reported fines of £50–£100 were regularly used, he said, adding: “That isn’t much of a deterrent.”
Visually impaired Essex resident, Eve Riches, said she was recently ordered out of multiple London stores when shopping with guide dog Jet.
“I was distraught and devastated when staff at two different branches of Superdrug told me I couldn’t come in with my guide dog … Both times, I was left on a busy London street feeling bewildered and embarrassed,” she explained.
“I spoke to the area manager but they just excused their staff behaviour by saying they can’t cover everything in training, but that is not good enough … Going shopping in London is daunting enough but this added stress causes me to doubt myself and question if I ever want to do it again,” Ms Riches emphasised.