Blind fire walk for Guide Dogs!

I completed a sponsored fire walk for Guide Dogs… Twice!

 

When my mum and sister describe the size of the flames to me as we arrived at the Guide Dogs Liverpool training centre yesterday morning, they both had some trepidation in their voices. It still didn’t feel very real to me though. I could vaguely smell the fire but I couldn’t hear it or feel the heat so it still felt distant.

 

Whenever anyone had asked me if I felt nervous about the fire walk during this past week I had answered no, because honestly I wasn’t. I was more focused on fundraising than what I would be actually doing at the end of it. Admittedly, all of my fundraising was done online. But I was determined to reach my target and probably annoyed all of my Facebook Friends to death with my repeated posts about my crazy stunt.

 

It wasn’t until I was sat in the middle of the health and safety briefing that it really started to hit home what I was about to do. The fire was blazing outside and the instructor told us that the optimum heat for firewalking is 400°C. He explained that we would in fact be walking over the hot embers of the fire and that as long as we walked normally and at a good pace, it would be extremely safe. Still, this is when it finally started to feel real to me and I suddenly became very, very nervous.

 

There was a group of around 15 fire walkers in all, only myself and another lady were visually impaired so we waited at the back of the line to be guided safely by the instructors over the walkway. I was glad for this. The instructor counted the paces of the person firewalking, which usually was between three and six steps, so I could gauge the distance of the walkway and how long it took to walk across it.

 

When it finally got to my turn, I was really scared. I stood on the edge of the fire walk, an instructor either side of me holding my hands, and really really wanted to run away. For a second I was really afraid that I would disappoint myself and everyone else by chickening out.

 

I was scared because I was stepping into the unknown. Yes, people had described it to me, I’d heard others do it before me and I had a rough idea of what I was in for. But I’ve never done anything like this before; I had nothing to compare it to so I couldn’t really imagine it. I couldn’t see what was in front of me and I couldn’t picture it in my head. But that’s also what made me do it.

 

The instructor had told us that if we were nervous, to think of the reasons why we were doing the fire walk. So I thought of myself two years ago; how back then I was so afraid of the unknown that I barely left my room. I thought about what a difference having a guide dog has made to my quality of life, my confidence and my independence. I thought about how, with Jazzy with me, I never feel like I’m stepping into the unknown because I don’t feel vulnerable. So that’s why I walked.

 

it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done!

 

Strangely it wasn’t that hot. To be fair, it was over so quickly to begin with I barely registered what I’d done until I was safely on the other side with my feet in buckets of cold water. And once I did realise what I’d just done, I got right back in line to do it again!

 

It basically felt like walking over warm soil, until you got right to the end when it started to feel a bit more… burny. I’d expected to be able to feel the heat and smell the burning wood, but honestly I was so focused on walking in a straight line and not dying a fiery death I didn’t stop to smell the embers.

 

I want to say an absolutely gargantuan thank you to everyone who sponsored me to do this ridiculous thing. I set out with a target of £100. I cleared that within 24 hours of setting up my JustGiving page! So I set myself a new target of £500.

 

Having not planned any kind of fundraising events and hoping to rely entirely on the kindness of the people of the Internet, I hoped I could achieve something big and make a notable contribution to the charity that is so close to my heart.

 

After much tweeting, and somewhat desperate Facebook statuses, I did the fire walk having raised a total of £630 on my JustGiving page. This is absolutely phenomenal and I can’t explain how humbled and grateful I am to everyone who read my story and thought it would be worthy enough to warrant their hard earned cash. I promise you, your money is going to a very worthy cause.

 

You can watch me do the first fire walk here

and you can watch me going back a second time, this time being guided by my mum, here.

 

Click here to be taken to my JustGiving page.

 

As ever, thank you for reading 🙂

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Walking through fire for guide dogs!

Hello readers, today I come to you asking for your help.

 

On Saturday, 21 May I will be completing a sponsored walk to raise money for guide dogs. Being only about 5m long, you may think that this sponsored walk is a bit of a cop out… But there is a twist! I will in fact be walking through fire!

 

The sponsored walk will take place at the guide dogs Liverpool fun day, held at their centre on Youens way, Knotty Ash, Liverpool, L14 2EB.

 

Fire walking refers to the activity of walking over hot embers of up to 1200F without burning the soles of your feet. I will attend a health and safety seminar before embarking on this challenge.

 

I’ve decided to complete the sponsored fire walk not only to raise money for this charity that is very close to my heart, and the fact that I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but also because it strikes me as an appropriate way to mark how Jazzy has changed my life.

 

Two years ago, when I decided to apply for a guide dog, I was not in a good place. I was isolated and felt very restricted by my visual impairment. Getting around independently was only an option if I use my white cane, which was a source of great anxiety and was to be avoided if at all possible. This meant that I rarely went anywhere on my own and was completely reliant on other people to get out and about. When I think back to how I felt two years ago, I can hardly believe how far I’ve come. Now I often feel like I have to pinch myself, because two years ago I honestly would have regarded a five minute walk to the shops on my own as daunting of a prospect as walking through fire.

 

The freedom, confidence and independence Jazzy gives me is indescribable. It may seem like nothing to anybody else, but just the fact that I was able to pop into the city centre the other day to pick up a few things from the shops without a second thought is such a massive difference from two years ago, and I have guide dogs to thank for that.

 

It might sound melodramatic to some, but I struggled to describe the fear and anxiety I felt just thinking about getting around on my own. Looking back, I think it was a combination of low self esteem and lack of confidence that restricted me to depending on others all the time. Something that in itself becomes a source of guilt, because nobody wants to feel like a burden. So eventually it meant that I often wouldn’t get out, for fear of doing it on my own and fear of being a burden on others if relying on a sighted guide.

 

It was meeting Lynette Who now works as an engagement Officer at guide dogs Liverpool, and her guide dog Pippa that initially convinced me to apply for a guide dog back in May 2014.

 

Meeting them and seeing how their partnership worked up close made me realise how much I long for that kind of freedom. After my mobility assessment and initial discussions with a guide dogs mobility instructor, I was put on the waiting list. This is what motivated me to get myself back on track; to let people know how I was feeling and how I was struggling, and to make more of an effort with my mobility lessons so that I would achieve the necessary confidence using the white cane which is required before training with a guide dog.

 

I was matched with Jazzy in November, we trained after Christmas and were qualified by the end of January. Since then we have had highs, lows, laughter and tears which has all lead to a phenomenal partnership that I can’t express how grateful I am for.

 

This is why I want to give something back to Guide Dogs, because in giving me Jazzy they change my life for the better. This is why am asking for your help, please sponsor me so that guide dogs can continue their life changing work.

 

I’m hoping to make a small contribution to Guide Dogs by raising £100. You can sponsor me and support guide dogs by visiting my Justgiving page here.
As ever, thank you for reading , keep your eyes peeled for my updates regarding the sponsored fire walk and wish me luck!

#GuideDogTag #InternationalGuideDogDay 

Today is International Guide Dog Day!

 

To celebrate, I have completed the Guide Dog Tag recently created by Emily on Fashioneyesta.com and which I’ve been tagged to complete by Holly from Catch These Words.

 

1. What is your guide dogs name?

 

My guide dog’s name is Jazzy AKA Jaz, Jazzy-wazz and J Dawg.

 

2. What is the breed of your guide dog?

 

Jazzy is a black Labrador golden Retriever cross. She looks much more labby in appearance with short hair and quite a square face, though with a fluffy Retriever tail!
3. How old is your guide dog?

 

Jazzy celebrated her 3rd (in human years) and 21st (in doggy years) birthday last week on the 21st of April. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this royal highness celebrates her B-Day the same time as the Queen.

 

4. Where was your guide dog trained?

 

Jazzy was puppy-walked in Manchester. Her puppy-walkers fostered her for a year, teaching her basic obedience and socialising her.

She then receibed advanced guide dog training at a guide dogs training center, before she was part of a trial Guide Dogs Liverpool were conducting that has dogs receive one-to-one training with a trainer for about 3 months before being matched.

 

5. When did you qualify with your guide dog?

 

Jazzy and I qualified on the 26th of February 2015. In guide dog terms, we are a relatively new partnership.

 

6. Is he or she your first guide dog?

 

Yes

 

7. Summarise your guide dogs personality in five words?

 

Sensitive, loving, endearing, cheeky, protective.

 

8. What is the best thing about your guide dog?

 

The best thing about Jazzy is her brilliant memory. She has astounded me more than once after we’ve been to a café/shop/restaurant once, and the next time we go passed it she indicates that place to me again. She continues to do this whenever we pass that place from then on, so that after I’ve been somewhere once I can be pretty sure that Jazzy would find it for me next time.

 

9. What is the funniest thing your guide dog has ever done?

 

Jazzy makes me laugh every day because she’s such a funny character. I think one of the funniest things she’s ever done happened when I was at the cinema with my family.

Jazzy licked the ear of the man sat in front of my mum, but he failed to see the pitch black culpret in the dark theater, so when he turned around he gave my mum a very dirty look. Jazzy had immediately hidden under my chair as if she knew exactly what she was doing!

 

10. Has your guide dog ever gotten you into any embarrassing situations?

 

Not long after we qualified, Jazzy initiated herself as a true student by scoffing someone’s discarded kebab from the floor and reproducing it later on in the middle of my lecture. Such a fresher!

 

11. What is your guide dog like on harness?

 

Jazzy is quite sensitive so she needs a lot of encouragement on harness. She is a brilliant worker and her distraction levels are reasonably low. Like I mensioned she has a fantastic memory and I know she loves her job because her tail is always wagging.

 

12. What are some of your guide dogs quirks?

 

Jazzy acts as my personal alarm by shaking her whole body repeatedly until the bell on her play collar wakes me up. She never sleeps when we’re out, she’s always people watching and will make sure to position herself with a good view. She has a habit of rubbing herself on your legs, a lot like a cat. If you sit on the floor, she will definitely try to sit on you. She is very interested by anyone putting on socks or shoes and will have her face right beside your feet, watching closely. When I let her off for a free run she jumps and prances like a lamb, before rolling like a mad thing in the long grass.

That’s just to name but a few!

 

13. Where does your guide dog seem to work the best?

 

Jazzy can get bored quite easily so I definitely think she works best on new routes, whether that be in the middle of the city or a quiet neighbourhood. She’s a very inquisitive dog.

 

14. What is your guide dogs favourite thing to do when off harness?

 

Playing tug of war, eating carrots, sitting on my lap or running wild.

 

15. Has your guide dog ever done anything that goes beyond the call of duty?

 

I’ve recently realised that Jazzy is very atune to my emotions. I think she goes beyond the call of duty every time she nudges my hand when I’m feeling anxious and every time she plonks herself in my lap when I’m upset. She’s my calming influence and my comfort blanket.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about my beautiful life changer on #InternationalGuideDogDay and please check out my Dog Blogs for an insite into Jazzy’s world.

 

If you’re a guide dog owner, why not complete the guide dog tag about your own furry friend.

 

I nominate The Upside Down Chronicles to complete this tag

Dog Blog: catching up and celebrations!

Hello! Jazzy here again after quite a long leave of absence. 
I’ve been as unhappy about this lack of Dog Blogs as I’m sure you have, but the only poor excuse the boss has to offer is that final year uni stresses have unfortunately put my posts on the backburner recently. I’m not sure I buy that. I think she’s just jealous of how much more popular my posts are than hers! But never mind, let me catch you up. 
Back in September we returned to Uni for our final year. I’ve come to think of the library as something of a second home and have decided on my favourite spot to sleep under the radiator, graciously accepting any pets or fusses I might receive by passers-by. 
But don’t worry, we’ve done a lot of fun things too. It feels like a long time ago now when the boss and I spent a weekend sightseeing in London with the boss’s family. I think I love the big smoke as much as she does! We did lots of strange but interesting things like go on a Duck Tour, where we sat in a vehicle which one minute was whizzing around the streets of London and the next was cruising along the Thames! 
We visited this bizarre place where there were lots of very still and strange smelling people, the boss and the fam seemed to very much enjoy posing with. I got in a couple of these photos too, naturally. We also spent a lot of time in the air, which I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of. We went on this great wheel thing that hung in the air and moved! I did not appreciate seeing the ground so far below and stayed well away from the strange glass walls. As I also did when we visited the tallest building I think I’ve ever seen, though I did concede long enough to pose for another picture. I swear more time was spent posing that weekend than anything else!
Not long after, we visited the boss’s sister in another lovely city called Cardiff. I very much liked this place because of the spectacular park I got to run wild in! My boss’s sister is at Uni there, like the boss and I are in Chester. But I much prefer our digs to hers, it was little bigger than a box!
After lots of time in the library again, I got to spend my first Christmas with the boss and her family. This was an absolutely brilliant time! I had the company of my best friend Bella for three weeks, the boss’s baby brothers have even more energy than I do, and oh the food! The boss even had a miniature version of me put in pride of place on the Christmas tree.
The 6th of January was the anniversary of the day I came to live with the boss. We travelled back to Uni and prepared to face more quality library time. The boss was quite concerned for me that month because I’d put on a little holiday weight and I’d acquired a funny lump below my chin. When we visited the vets the boss was told that it could be a tumour, benign or otherwise and had to wait a whole worrisome weekend for the test results. Thankfully the lump turned out to be a benign growth and after a few weeks of steroid cream treatment it disappeared. 
After that, it was back to yet more chilling in the library. All the stresses of Uni work was taking its toll on the boss, but what she didn’t realise was that it was affecting me too. Humans are far less intelligent creatures than we canines, which is why I’m sure it took several weeks for the boss to figure out that the reason I didn’t seem to be myself, not enjoying my work so much and not wanting to play, is because trying to remain up-beat and happy when your boss is so down in the dumps is very hard work. When she finally came to this realisation though I think it might have been the push she needed to talk to someone about how she was feeling. So of course I accompanied her to lots of meetings and appointments where I did my best to make things easier by resting my head on her knee and letting her play with my ears while she talked.
I am pleased to say that the boss now seems to be feeling much better, which of course means that I am happier too. People had told her that I would be very sensitive to her emotions but I don’t think she had fully grasped this until she realised the difference in my demeanour and work when she was feeling low, compared with when she feels happier. She now understands that it is much easier for me to go about my work with my tail wagging when the boss has a smile on her face too. Fortunately I think the experience has brought us closer as a team and the boss tells everyone that she is more pleased with my work than ever. Humans eh?
A few weeks ago the boss and I spent the weekend in Derby with friends and were on our way to go home when we entered into an unfortunate altercation with a taxi driver. It seemed that this driver didn’t want me in his car! Can you believe that? Who could refuse this face?! The boss wrote about our experience so I won’t bore you with the details again. If you’re interested check out her post here:

https://elinangharadwilliams.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/access-refusal-being-refused-by-a-taxi-driver-because-of-my-guide-dog-accessallareas/
And that brings us to today, which I’m sure all of you know is a very special day. It is a very important someone’s birthday. She is charming, beautiful, is highly intelligent and is widely adored. That’s right, it’s me! Even better, it’s a rather important birthday too. Today I am turning three in human years, but to me and all my four-legged friends I am turning 21! The boss celebrated her 21st last month, but I’m not sure I want to celebrate the way she did. I was not impressed to find her returning at the early hours of the morning, smelling quite strange and falling about all over the place (more than usual)! How very undignified. I have celebrated my birthday for my graciously with a trip to town this morning, a visit to the vets to get my nails done in the afternoon followed by a lovely run in the park. What more could a girl want?
So I think that’s you well and truly caught up on what’s gone on since my last post. It’s a very busy time for us right now; the boss is powering through her last few months of Uni while also trying to find us a new place to live. As usual, it’s my job to be her guide, companion and furry comfort blanket so I’m sure you’ll understand that with my paws full already it might be some time before my next Dog Blog. But I do hope you’ll subscribe so that my next update will go straight into your inbox!
Until then, chow for now!
J xx

I’m tired

This is a bit of a different post from the type that are usually right. This is a one off, right it all in one go, let it all out and get it over with kind of post.
Basically, I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting all the time. To be treated with respect, to be viewed as an equal, to have even the basic things like having somewhere to live and being able to ride in a taxi. I’m exhausted by feeling like every decision I make is bigger than it needs to be because of all the possible repercussions and consequences. 

I’m tired of having to worry about whether I tell potential landlords that I have a guide dog or not before or after I view a property. Because if I tell them before, then it gives them the opportunity to pawn me off with some excuse. If I don’t, it gives them the opportunity to discriminate against me to my face. 
I’m tired of being paranoid everytime I book a taxi that I might be faced withconfrontation again, because if I don’t tell them about my guide dog the driver might refuse me. But even if I do tell them, that still might happen. When all I want to do is get from A to B. 
I’m bored of asking people to talk to me, about me, instead of to my friend/family/whoever happens to be with me. Because apparently the fact that I can’t see very well also means that I can’t speak for myself. Or maybe it just means that blindness comes with deafness as well and the problem is that I can’t actually hear what they’re saying?
I’m exasperated by well-meaning members of the public who take it upon themselves to decide what help I need and that they will provide this help, without even asking me first. So that when someone grabs my arm and starts taking me across the road, where I didn’t even want to go in the first place, I then look like the ungrateful bad guy when I try to explain that I was perfectly fine without them.
I’m sick of feeling like every day is a battle; of having to plaster on that polite smile when someone tries to feed/ped/distract my working dog; of walking that fine line between assertive and aggressive when all I’m trying to do is make my voice heard.
Somebody recently asked me if I think I have excepted my disability. I can 100% say that I am perfectly happy and content with who I am, disability and all. What I struggle with is the way that I am treated because of my disability by other people on a daily basis. This isn’t to undermine those wonderful gems who’s help and understanding I truly value. I just hope that, whoever you are reading this, you understand that I’m human and I get tired too.

Access refusal: being refused by a taxi driver because of my guide dog. #AccessAllAreas

On Monday, 4 April at approximately 12 PM midday I experienced my first serious access refusal by Albatross Cars.
I had spent the weekend with friends in Derby and had booked a taxi with Albatross Cars to take me to the train station. I had arranged passenger assistance for my train journey and had booked the taxi to pick me upso that I would arrive at the station with plenty of time to receive my passenger assistance.
Under the equality act 2010 it is illegal to refuse a guide dog owner entry to any public establishments or business. This includes taxes, either privately owned or otherwise. Failure to comply with this legislation can result in prosecution and a hefty fine. 
Usually, when ever I am booking a taxi I always let them know that I will be travelling with a guide dog. I am not obliged to do this but I do because I would prefer to avoid any conflict concerning my guide dog. I just want a taxi, I don’t want hassle.
However, on this occasion when my friend booked the taxi I didn’t bother to remind her to mention my guide dog. This is because when we had phoned the same company on Friday, 1 April and asked for a taxi that would allow my guide dog, A representative from Albatross Cars assured us that we had no need to mention the dog because none of their drivers were legally allowed to refuse working dogs in their vehicle. At the time my friends and I were impressed and reassured by this response.
Myself and three friends Georgina, Sarah and Shane waited outside the house for the taxi. Myself and George were planning on travelling in the taxi, Sarah and Shane (who’s house I’d stayed at) were waiting with us to help us with our cases and to wave us off. George is also visually impaired and was accompanying me to the station to help me find my passenger assistance before she headed off to work.
When the taxi arrived myself and George entered the vehicle,Sarah helping me to the front passenger seat with my guide dog Jazzy and Shane loading our suitcases into the car. I entered the front passenger seat and asked the driver whether I could push The seat back so that’s my dog could sit in the footwell. He complied and showed me where the button to move the seat was.
However, when I told Jazzy to get in the car the driver said 

“no no, I don’t take dogs, I am Muslim, I don’t take dogs, get the dog out. I am Muslim I don’t take dogs.”
Jazzy was sitting between my legs in the foot well calmly, not touching the driver and not reacting. Sarah asked if she could explain that the dog was my working dog and that I have a working dog because I am registered blind. The driver did not seem to take notice of what Saraj or I were saying, only repeating that he could not take dogs because he is Muslim.
The discussion became increasingly heated as the driver raised his voice and refused to take notice of mine or Sarah’s explanations that my dog is a service animal.

The driver vacated his car and continued arguing with Shane who was attempting to explain to him that he was breaking the law by refusing my guide dog. Eventually Sarah helped me get out of the car as we decided that we would simply ring for a replacement because it was obvious that there would be no reasoning with this driver.
After George and I had left the car and while Sarah was getting our suitcases out of the car, I faced the driver and told him that he was breaking the law by refusing my guide dog, that he could be fined and prosecuted for his actions. I began to reach into my bag to show him a card that Guide Dogs provide all guy dog owners with that indicates the legislation allowing working dogs access to any business. Before I could reach the card to show him, he had gotten back in his car and driven away.
Sarah then called Albatross Cars and explained what had happened. I was shaken and she was understandably quite emotional. The representative she spoke with from Albatross Cars assured her that they would send a replacement right away and that they would log her formal complaint.
We remained outside the house waiting for the replacement taxi. In the meantime, I phoned the nonemergency police number to seek advice. No replacements from Albatross turned up. We attempted to contact them again but where repeatedly hung up. When we did eventually get through to them the representative on the phone was agitated when informing us that The replacement they had sent had failed to find us and the first driver was claiming that we had damaged his car and that he had refused to take us in his car because there were five passengers attempting to get into his four seater vehicle.
Sarah explained to the representative that there were only two passengers, accompanied by two other people who were helping us get in the car as both passengers have a disability. The representative on the phone said that if we would be willing to resolve the matter privately they would abstain from reporting as to the police. Sarah assured them that we would be reporting them to the police.
By now I had missed the train that I had arranged passenger assistance for. We ordered a taxi from a different company and whilst travelling to the station in this taxi I continued speaking with a member of the nonemergency police who assured me that the Muslim Council states that any Muslim must accept working dogs into their businesses or establishments, including taxes. He advised me that, being a matter of civil law, I should report the incident to the council.
When I got to the station I explained to staff what had happened and they were very understanding. However, I had to get on a different train than I had previously arranged. This meant that when I arrived at my connecting station the assistants were not there to meet me as they were not aware that I would be arriving on a different train.
Since the incident I have written a Facebook status about my experience that has received over 1000 shares. I wrote a review on albatross cars Facebook page and I tweeted them asking for action. I have also been in touch with Guide Dogs Nottingham who have contacted the company on my behalf.
Unfortunately, albatross cars have chosen to stick to their original story that the driver refused me because five passengers were attempting to answer his four seater vehicle and that we vandalised his car. In a comment on Facebook they stated that according to their investigation my story did not match their evidence and that they have reported myself and my friends to the police.
I can only assume that they are now fabricating evidence to support their cover story. They are lying about five passengers trying to get in the car so I wouldn’t put it past them to lie about the damage to the car either. Who is to say that the driver himself didn’t damage the car after leaving us and then convinced his managers that we were to blame? I have been informed that as the company themselves did not refuse my guide dog, that it was one of their self employed drivers who refuse me, then Albatross Cars technically did not refuse me access. However, even if this is technically the case, it should have been Albatross Cars responsibility to apologise for the behaviour of one of their drivers and rectify the attitude of that driver. I am disgusted that they have chosen to support one of their discriminatory employees rather than admit the mistake and resolve to improve the situation.
They are also claiming that they have records of a phone call in which they clearly state that the driver is happy to carry my guide dog. A phone call of this nature did occur on Friday, 1 April. No such conversation occurred on Monday, 4 April, the day of the access refusal. Even so, the representative on the phone may have assured me that none of the drivers were legally allowed to refuse my guide dog, but the issue remains that when the driver arrived he refused me access to his service on the grounds that my dog offended his religious beliefs. This is an example of why the message must be relayed from booking to driver that the passenger will be accompanied by a guide dog. This gives the opportunity for any drivers who are not happy to carry guide dogs, for whatever reason, simply not to accept the job.
I also feel the need to point out that if Albatross Cars intend on using the phone call from Friday, 1 April in which they clearly indicated that the driver would be happy to except my guide dog as evidence of their cooperation, they should also offer the recording of the phone call following the incident between Sarah and the company representative in which Sarah clearly explained what had happened and that two disabled passages and a guide dog were intending to travel in the taxi, two others were helping as load our luggage.
There have been reports of many incidents concerning service dog users and Muslim service providers, as many Muslims believe that coming into contact with dogs is haraam (forbidden or unholy). Following discussions with several of my friends who practice lamb and according to my own research, it is my understanding that while Islam does consider dogs to be and clean or impure, it is not strictly haraam to be in proximity to a dog. I was also reassured by the member of the nonemergency police that I contacted immediately after the incident that the Muslim Council of Britain indicates that no Muslim should refuse access to a service dog user on the grounds of their religion in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.
I had hoped that the company would react apologetically to the incident, hopefully learning from the incident and resolving to work with Guide Dogs to ensure that nothing similar would happen again. Obviously this has not happened. The company has gone on the defensive, making wild accusations to attempt to cover their own backs. I feel that this leaves me with no choice but to take the matter further and pursue the incident in court.
This is not what I wanted! I wanted to get a taxi that would get me to the station so that I could and a brilliant weekend with my friends easily and happily. When this didn’t happen, I wanted to raise awareness of the discrimination I faced so that hopefully it would ensure better treatment of guy dog owners in the future. I wanted something positive to come out of such a negative experience. I wanted people to learn.
I don’t know what will happen now. I am going to be in touch with RNIB’s legal team so that they can advise me on what to do next. The Derby Telegraph is running a story on the incident soon and I will be giving a radio interview on Monday, 11 April.
I knew that this would happen eventually because access refusal is not a rare occurrence. I just didn’t think my experience would be this dramatic. I’m so thoroughly disappointed and personally insulted by the company’s reaction to fabricate excuses. Discrimination is not acceptable and it never will be.

Discrimination and why we should shout about it #AccessAllAreas

Yesterday a friend of mine was refused entry into a restaurant on the grounds that she was accompanied by a guide dog. She posted a video of the incident onto social media and received a range of responses. 
Holly, a 22 year old blind student at Coventry University had planned to celebrate her birthday with a friend at PGR Coventry. When Holly, her guide dog Isla and a friend arrived at the restaurant she was refused entry. Holly, who caught a part of the discussion on film, was told by a man referred to as the owner that dogs were not allowed in his establishment. He later asked Holly to either sit outside (on a freezing February afternoon) or leave her dog outside. Despite Holly explaining that to refuse her entry with her service dog is a finable offence, restaurant staff continually insisted that she not be granted access to the establishment while accompanied by her service animal. 
Watch Holly’s video here:


The public’s reaction to Holly posting the video of this incident has been fascinating. The majority of viewers have shared their own messages of support for Holly, many expressing their own anger and frustration towards the manager’s clear lack of understanding or care for Holly’s needs. But she’s also been on the receiving end of less encouraging messages. Some accused Holly of behaving too entitled, arguing that the restaurant did offer a reasonable alternative for her to sit outside with Isla.
Some argue that the incident might have been the result of a lack of understanding of UK laws, while others support the manager’s decision on the basis that Isla the guide dog might have posed a threat to the restaurants hygiene. 
Perhaps most concerning though are the comments who doubt Holly’s disability, asking for proof that she is blind and arguing that if she’s able to read all the comments she’s receiving, surely she can’t be visually impaired. People have suggested that she’s making a big deal out of something that doesn’t need to be newsworthy; that she is ruining people’s lives by highlighting the discrimination she faced and that she spent more time than was necessary arguing with people when she could’ve just gone somewhere else.
Watching Holly’s video had my blood boiling for so many reasons. I am fortunate that in my short time being a guide dog owner, I have experienced nothing like this level of discrimination. But what fuelled the fire for me was reading so many uneducated and frankly ignorant comments that blatantly miss the point of why this incident was an issue, but also why Holly was right to bring it to the media’s attention. So let’s break things down and explore exactly what happened to Holly yesterday. 
Why was the restaurant at fault for not allowing Holly to enter with Isla her guide dog?
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) is the main disability discrimination law. It bans any discrimination against disabled people by employers or service providers by imposing a duty on them to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people can overcome any barriers they may face. This includes a duty to wave any regulations regarding not allowing animals in public places such as restaurants with regards to service animals such as guide dogs. 
Laws and legislations such as the DDA exist so that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to access any service, regardless of their impairment. By failing to take into regard this legislation, PGR Coventry were failing to adhere to the DDA and were breaking the law. This offence could lead to prosecution and a hefty fine.
Why was the managers offer to seat Holly outside not a ‘reasonable adjustment’?
In accordance with the DDA, Holly and any other guide dog owner has every right to access any place that is open to any other member of the public. By offering to seat Holly and Isla outside, PGR were not making a reasonable adjustment, they were offering an alternative. These are not the same things, in the same way that asking someone to sit in a different area on a public bus because of the colour of their skin is an alternative rather than a reasonable adjustment.
Why was Holly right to report PGR Coventry for discrimination?
Holly’s experience is evidence of disability discrimination that happens far too often today. The comments on social media that question Holly’s disability because of her ability to film a video or read comments, is further testament to the issue of misconceptions surrounding disability that evidently still exist more than twenty years after the DDA was published. 
Holly was right to post her video on Facebook a YouTube, to go to the local newspapers and to appear on her local radio because she is right to highlight discrimination. She is right to make people aware that refusing her access because of anything to do with her impairment is illegal, and she is right to teach people that this kind of behaviour is not okay.
She is right to demonstrate that people with disabilities have the same rights as able bodied people. She is right to challenge misconceptions that make people with disabilities other, or unequal, or unworthy. She is right to spend time trying to educate ill-informed citizens rather than giving up and going somewhere else, because she is right to want to make the future better for other people with disabilities. She is right to fight for equality because she’s right to think she, and all the rest of us, deserve it. 
I’m hugely proud of how Holly dealt with this situation, not only as someone who knows her but as someone who also has a disability, someone who also has a guide dog and as someone who will also inevitably face a similar situation in the future. I say this because I, like Holly, know that disability discrimination still happens. It happens every day in big ways like this, but in innumerable small ways too. 
I also know that the only way to challenge discrimination is to shout about it; to share it on the internet and in the media and to make people see it because if we don’t, it will never go away. It might not be our fault that we face discrimination, but it’s our fault if we don’t at least try to do something about it. So you’re right to recognise that the way Holly was treated by PGR Coventry was appalling and unacceptable. But if you’re thinking that she’s an entitled girl making a big fuss about nothing, you are wrong and you are part of the problem.

Please follow this link to sign a petition calling for the government to make refusing a guide/service dog a criminal offence enforceable by the Police:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/119134
Link to an article about Holly’s experience in the Coventry telegraph: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/video-blind-student-refused-entry-10936161?ICID=FB-Cov-main

RNIB Young People’s Ambassador: being a student and guide dog owner

Around this time last year, I signed myself up to volunteer as a Young People’s Ambassador for RNIB Cymru. Being an ambassador gives me the opportunity to share my insight and experience of growing up as a visually impaired person to help and advise others in a similar situation. RNIB Cymru has a number of ambassadors located across Wales, whom they will match with any young person who contacts them seeking support or advice from someone who’s been there and has the T-Shirt to prove it.
I know from my own experience how valuable a service like this would have been to me when I was a gawky teenager trying to figure out this whole “sight loss” thing, so I take my roll very seriously. Of course I am not a trained professional in the subject of blindness, but I hope that my personal experience of both mainstream and specialist education, higher education and being a young guide dog owner qualifies me to some degree to advise others on the topics. After all, you can study something until you’re blue in the face but you’ll never understand it as well as if you’ve lived it.
Most recently I was contacted by the RNIB to do some ambassading about having a guide dog at University. Most of the questions were ones I’ve been asked by blind and sighted people alike and that I myself had before becoming a guide dog owner, so I thought I would share a few examples of how I answered the FAQ’s about having a guide dog at University.
 
Q: How do you manage other people and students reactions??
 
A: I think it makes a massive difference if you set the boundaries straight away. The first time I brought Jazzy to a new lecture, I asked for a minute before the tutor began to introduce her but to explain that she is a working dog doing a job an consequentially should not be touched, fed or distracted. Clear explanations make people much more understanding and cooperative in my experience.
 
Q: When you’re in lectures or seminars, do you take a blanket or a bone for her?
 
A: I don’t. Usually she will sprawl out and fall asleep for the duration. I only poke her if her snoring gets too loud!
 
Q: In a lecture theatre where the seats are tiered, where do you sit?
 
A: I sit on the end of the row to allow her room to spread out, especially if it’s a long session. As long as she’s not blocking the way too much for anyone getting passed, there should be no problems.
 
Q: What if a flatmate/classmate is afraid of dogs?
 
A: Again, I think full disclosure is the best policy in this case. Be open to questions and be patient. When Jazzy moved into my flat, I distributed little leaflets under every door on my floor with some information about guide dogs and an invitation to knock on my door if anybody had any questions. Make sure your accommodation department is aware that you’re bringing a guide dog so that they can ask your potential flatmates about allergies before move in day.
 
Q: What do you do with your dog when you go out clubbing?
 
A: Guide dogs advise that it is fine to leave our furry friends alone for up to five hours, providing they’re in a comfortable and secure environment. When I go out without her, I leave some entertainment like a bone or a chew and leave some music/TV/audio book on to mute the noise of other students. I leave fresh water out and lock the door and she’s pretty content. At least I’ve never had complaints of howling or come back to a trashed bedroom, so I assume she just enjoys the alone time.
 
I hope this post has cleared up any trepidations you might have if you’re a guide dog owner soon to be fresher, but also that I’ve hopefully managed to clear up any confusion or questions about the logistics of being a student and owning a guide dog.
 
I will soon be writing a post about some blind student life hacks I’ve picked up while at University, so please keep an eye out for my upcoming blogs and remember to check out the Facebook and Twitter pages to keep up to date with See My Way!

Dog Blog: All work and all play!

Hi there!
 
Its Jazzy here again, the four-legged one (and the better looking one) back for another Dog Blog!
 
After the success of the last Dog Blog I posted during International Assistance Dogs Week, the boss has decided to let me take over here twice a month to keep you updated on what I’m getting up to. So make sure you enter your email address in the box and follow us on See My Way so you can get my masterpieces straight into your inbox!
 
Anyway, onto business.
 
In this Dog Blog, I want to tell you about a visit to the hospital I made last week. Now before you start to panic, don’t worry! The boss and I are both perfectly healthy. We were actually visiting the hospital to do some very important work. We volunteered a few hours out of our day to do some fundraising for Guide Dogs.
 
It was my job to look as cute as possible to attract all the passing Doctors, nurses, patients and hospital workers over to our table where they could purchase some Guide Dogs merchandise, enter the tombola or give a donation. It was the boss’s job to answer everyone’s questions and generally tell them all about how fabulous I am! We had a couple more volunteers helping us with selling the merchandise and tombola tickets, but naturally I was the star of the show.
 
Fundraising apparently is work, but it was more like play for me! I spent two hours being stroked, cuddled and generally made a fuss of, all in the name of fundraising for Guide Dogs. It was our first time volunteering in this way and we both enjoyed it, though I was pretty tired by the end of our shift. I never thought I’d get tired of attention but even I admit that being so avidly adored got quite exhausting after a while! Just when I was about ready to sneak under the table to have a little snooze, my colleague Freya thankfully appeared to take over my post.
 
The volunteers helping us man the tombola table were two lovely ladies who’ve been volunteering for Guide Dogs for years. One of them is a border, which means that she takes care of dogs like me if our bosses are going on their holidays or have to stay in hospital overnight. On the other hand when that day comes to hang up the harness and enjoy a comfortable retirement, the other lady is one of the people that I or one of my colleagues might be rehomed with.
 
But boarding or rehoming retired dogs like me isn’t the only way you can volunteer for Guide Dogs. The lovely couple who raised me for the first year of my life, before I received advanced training for my job, they were puppy walkers and were also volunteers. Guide Dogs have a whole army of volunteers, from drivers to fundraisers to My Guide volunteers that they rely on to keep providing people like my boss with dogs like me.
 
The boss enjoyed being able to contribute something back to the organisation she feels has made a huge difference to her life, and I thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by adoring fans. We raised a total of just over £200 that day, around £50 more than they normally make! Obviously my charming personality is too hard to resist 😉
 
So that’s it from me for today. If you’d like to check out how you can get involved with volunteering for Guide Dogs in your local area, have a look at this:
https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/supportus/volunteering/#.Vehup6twZYc
 
Otherwise I’ll see you again in my next Dog Blog!
 
Bye for now,
 
J xx