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