Taking the lead: community education on guide dogs

Taking the lead: community education on guide dogs

It’s a sad fact that earlier this year, on International Guide Dog Day (April 26), Guide Dogs NSW/ACT revealed that one third (33 per cent) of guide dog handlers had their access rights challenged when visiting hotels, motels, caravans and other accommodation. Some guide-dog handlers also reported being refused entry completely or asked to pay an additional bond because they were accompanied by a guide dog. This news is quite upsetting given that, legally, a guide dog is allowed to go into any public space a human can, with the exception of operating theatres and the zoo.

“The purpose of a guide dog is to give people who are blind or vision impaired a greater sense of independence and freedom. 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,” Dr Graeme White, CEO of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, says. “Imagine how you’d feel if, after a long trip, you arrived at your accommodation ready to relax only to be told that you’re not welcome because pets are not allowed. 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 discrimination does.”

It is because of this discrimination that Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has started a new campaign, Taking the Lead, aimed at working with various hospitality and transport industry bodies to try to offer better access for those with guide dogs throughout NSW and the ACT.

“Our organisation plays an important role in advocating on behalf of people with sight loss to ensure the community is a safe, accessible and easy place in which to live and work. The Taking the Lead campaign signifies the start of a new push that will ensure all hotels, motels and other accommodation venues in NSW and ACT are made aware of the access rights of guide-dog handlers,” Dr Graeme says.

A new education kit for the accommodation industry will teach staff how to behave around a guide dog, what the guide dog’s role is and how to offer help to the guide-dog handler if it is needed. It’s hoped that this will result in less discrimination for those people who’ve come to rely on their four-legged companions to make life easier.

For more information on the kit, visit the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT website

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