Its encouraging to see that the Uber driver in this case was heavily fined for refusing to take a guide dog thereby flouting the law. More power to Jade’s elbow (Jade being the guide dog owner involved). As a guide dog owner I have on numerous occasions experienced discrimination by private hire drivers (I have never used Uber) and I am all in favour of heavily fining those who refuse to comply with their legal obligations by refusing to convey guide dog owners together with their working dogs. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3556274/Uber-driver-fined-1550-refusing-accept-blind-woman-guide-dog.html).
On Wednesday 2 December I gave a talk about my experience of working with guide dogs. Below are extracts from that presentation.
I remember being struck on reading Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol” by the reference to guide dogs. Speaking of Scrooge Dickens writes,
“Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then
would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!” (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm).
Researching the history of guide dogs, I have been unable to discover any record of guide dogs being trained in the United Kingdom until the 1930s, when the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association was established (the same charity that trains guide dogs today). However the reference to blind men’s dogs in “A Christmas Carol” indicates that dogs where being used by blind people in Victorian England. I can only surmise that visually impaired people trained the dogs themselves or training took place with the aid of family and friends.
The history of guide dogs does, however go back far beyond the 19th century. A roman sculpture exists of a blind man being lead by a dog, while a plaque from the middle ages shows a blind man being lead on a leash.
In the late 18th century the Paris hospital for the blind trained guide dogs.
It appears that the first (modern) and systematic attempt to train guide dogs took place in Germany. A German Doctor left his dog with a patient while he was called away to business elsewhere. On his return he was so impressed by the way in which the dog had been looking after his patient that he determined to train dogs as guides for the blind. The doctor’s work lead to the establishment of several guide dog schools in Germany and there is evidence of dogs being sent to the UK amongst other countries.
The work of Doctor Stalling inspired the founding of The Seeing Eye in the United States which trained dogs for the blind and (later) the establishment of The Guide Dogs For The Blind Association in the UK. (http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/aboutus/guide-dogs-organisation/history#.VmMIbL-yKSo).
I am now working with my fourth guide dog, a lovely brindle lab/retriever called Trigger. All of my companions have been male with the exception of my third dog, Drew, a lovely yellow lab/retriever who sadly died in March 2011 as a result of a heart attack.
Guide dogs are trained to walk in a straight line and to avoid obstacles. On reaching an obstacle they can not navigate the dog stops and it is then incumbent on the owner to assess the situation and (if in any doubt as to how to proceed) to ask for sighted assistance.
Guide dogs are taught to stop at kerbs and to only go into the road at the command of their owner. Guide dogs lack the capacity to know that vehicles pose a danger (there sitting at kerbs is, therefore purely down to their training). However guide dogs are taught not to go into the road when a vehicle is approaching. However owners are told not to rely on the dog taking evasive action as they have no understanding of road safety (I.E. it is a useful aspect of training but the responsibility for safety remains fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the owner). Having said that, Trigger has, on several occasions pulled me back when I have misjudged the situation and attempted to cross as vehicles approach.
In the UK guide and other assistance dogs are allowed by law to enter food and other premises which pet dogs are prohibited from entering. It is, in fact an offense for a provider of goods or services to refuse entry to a working guide dog. Despite the legislation discrimination does, unfortunately persist and I have myself experienced it on a number of occasions.
In conclusion, guide dogs enhance the independence of visually impaired people and on a much deeper level provide companionship. I and other guide dog owners have built up strong bonds with our dogs who are, to us much more than mere working animals.
The following email (reproduced below) about the discrimination faced by guide dog owners is self explanatory. As a guide dog owner I am saddened and angered by the fact that 75 percent of guide dog owners report having been refused access to a taxi when accompanied by their guide dog. I am saddened but not surprised because the same thing has happened to me on several occasions (I.E. taxi drivers flouting the law by refusing to carry me when accompanied by my guide dog Trigger). If you live in the UK please do take the time to write to your Member of Parliament regarding this issue. The original email can be found by following this link http://emails-guidedogs.org.uk/LDK-3KHFD-E85B5CNX2A/cr.aspx. Please note, the links in the email reproduced below don’t work (for the working links please visit the original document linked to above).
Email From Guide Dogs For The Blind Association
“My biggest problem with refusals comes from taxi drivers. I used to have a very tough two hour commute to work. The taxi part of the journey was the shortest
bit travel wise, but it always ended up being the bit that held me up the most because I was having to spend time facing drivers who wouldn’t take me with
my dog. It made an already stressful situation really stressful and upsetting…it’s good that my contract was flexi hours otherwise I’m sure I would have
been sacked for being late all the time – it happened so often.” Guide dog owner, Northamptonshire
Earlier this year we carried out a survey of over one thousand assistance dog owners. The results were shocking.
75% of guide dog owners
who responded had been refused access to a business or service at some stage because they were accompanied by their dog, and nearly half had within the
Take action to help us stop this from happening.
This is why we’ve launched an important new campaign called ‘Access All Areas’ which aims to ensure guide dog and other assistance dog owners are able to
gain access to businesses and services with their dog, as is their legal right.
A guide dog owner and guide dog about to get into a taxi
Amongst guide dog owners the most frequently encountered place to be refused access was taxis and private hire vehicles. You can help us tackle this problem
by taking our new online action.
Thank you for supporting this vital new campaign.
As a guide dog owner for some 20 years or more I was surprised to come across this post about service dogs in the USA, (http://aopinionatedman.com/2015/02/07/service-dogs/). In it Opinionated Man questions whether all the dogs described as “service dogs” are, in fact the genuine article. He states his dislike of having an animal sitting in close proximity while eating in a restaurant. In the comments following on from the post a number of people contend that they have seen dogs in shops which, they say where not service animals. In short, according to the post the law as to which constitutes a “service dog” in the USA is lax and/or not properly enforced.
One respondent does, however confirm my understanding of the situation in the USA, namely that federal legislation (The Americans With Disabilities Act) mandates that “service dogs” (known in the UK as “Assistance Dogs”) must be permitted access to food and other premises when accompanied by their owner.
I have no way of knowing whether there exists a big “service dog” scam in the USA with people passing off their pet fido as a well trained “service dog”. If there does indeed exist such a scam then it should be jumped on from a great height by the authorities as those offering fake “service animals” are bringing properly trained guide and other assistance animals into disrepute. However my experience as a guide dog owner in the UK is very different from that portrayed in the above mentioned post. Here the Equalities Act states that guide and other assistance dogs must be permitted entry, when accompanied by their owner to food premises such as restaurants. A guide dog is essential to the blind person’s mobility/independence and the Act recognises this by construing refusal to admit assistance dogs as discrimination. Other than one particularly poor joke I have never come across evidence of non assistance dogs being passed off as properly trained working animals. If this where to happen it would be a clear breech of the law and those perpetrating the scam would be liable to prosecution.
The problem in the UK revolves around service providers such as taxi firms and restaurants breaking the law by refusing entry to owners accompanied by their assistance dogs. It does not concern people trying to pass off their pet pooch as a genuine assistance dog. I know because I have been on the receiving end of such refusals on numerous occasions, (for the most recent example which entails a taxi firm refusing to convey me with my guide dog Trigger please see http://newauthoronline.com/2014/12/09/discrimination-by-taxi-driver-who-refused-to-convey-me-with-my-guide-dog-trigger/). Sadly I am far from being unique. Speaking to the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association (the UK charity which trains guide dogs) and to fellow guide dog owners, I hear stories of refusals of entry by restaurants and other premises together with instances of taxi firms refusing to convey owners accompanied by their very highly trained guide dogs).
Refusal to admit assistance dogs has the effect of preventing their owner from accessing services which others take for granted. It is treating people who rely on their assistance animals as second class citizens and it is wholly unacceptable.
In conclusion I understand the concern regarding any old mut being passed off as a service dog and/or assistance dog. However the problem of scams pails into insignificance when compared to the discrimination faced by disabled assistance dog owners. We must not allow genuine concerns about service dog scams to blind us to the real problem, that of discrimination.
In the United Kingdom it is an offence under the Equalities Act 2010 for a taxi driver and/or a company to refuse to convey an assistance dog owner accompanied by their working animal (http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/legislation/equality-act-2010). As those of you who follow this blog will know, I am a registered blind guide dog owner. This post is about the discrimination I encountered on 27 October when a taxi driver from Station Cars refused to convey me and my guide dog Trigger.
Responsibility for ensuring taxi companies comply with their legal obligations to convey assistance dog owners, accompanied by their working animals rests with the Public Carriage Office, (https://www.tfl.gov.uk/info-for/taxis-and-private-hire/). I reported the issue on 27 October however I have, to date received no feedback from PCO regarding my complaint other than an automated acknowledgement that it had been received by them. I have chased, several times (including via recorded delivery). However I have yet to receive a response from the PCO.
I have thus far refrained from blogging about the incident in the hope that it could be resolved via the PCO. However given the inordinate amount of time things are taking I have determined to blog about the incident in order to highlight it and the difficulties faced by myself and other assistance dog owners.
I have reproduced below my e-mail to PCO (withholding my address and that of the witnesses to the incident for reasons of privacy).
Text Of E-Mail From Kevin Morris To PCO Sent On 27 October 2014
Further to my conversation with (name redacted) of today’s date, I am
writing to complain regarding the failure of Station Cars (vehicle
registration LC63UBM – a Vauxhall Zafira) to convey me and my guide
dog Trigger from my home (address redacted). to (address redacted)
At the time of the incident my guide dog was wearing his distinctive
harness clearly marking him as a working guide dog.
At approximately 7:40 am on Monday 27 October I telephoned Crystal
Cars and requested a car to convey me and my guide dog to (address redacted). The firm advised that the taxi would be with me
for around 8:15 AM.
At about 8:20 am a driver arrived from Station Cars and refused to
convey me and my guide dog. I explained that under the Equalities Act
he was obliged to take guide dogs when accompanied by their owners. He
said that he had not been informed about the presence of the dog and
contacted his office (Station Cars). Station cars backed up the driver
and on me requesting to speak to them (the driver handed over his
mobile) Station Cars repeated that they where not obliged to convey
guide dogs. The firm further confirmed that the booking had been
passed to them by Crystal Cars owing to Crystal Cars not having a
My neighbour, (name and address redacted) and her daughter, (name redacted) spoke with the driver and tried to
reason with him. However he remained adamant that he wouldn’t convey
me and my guide dog. (Name redacted) then took the driver’s details as set
I subsequently contacted Crystal Cars who apologised for the incident
and sent another car which arrived quickly.
To recap. The initial booking was made with Crystal Cars who due to
not having any drivers available passed on the booking to Station
Cars. It was a driver from Station Cars and Station Cars themselves
who refused to convey me and my guide dog. The dog was wearing his
distinctive harness so it was crystal clear that he was a working
guide dog. I would be grateful if you could please investigate the
actions of Station Cars and the driver in question.
Should you require any further information please do not hesitate to
A documentary on BBC London reveals the extent of discrimination faced by disabled people. Using hidden cameras a woman in a wheelchair documents the inaccessibility of venues (lack of ramps, high tables and broken lifts), while a guide dog owner is refused carriage by 5 out of 20 taxis.
The equalities Act 2010 makes it an offence to refuse to convey an assistance dog, when accompanied by a disabled person meaning that 5 out of 20 companies are in flagrant breech of the law.
As a registered blind guide dog owner I am depressed (but not surprised) by the findings of the documentary. It is, to put it mildly extremely upsetting to be discriminated against. It makes one feel like a second-class citizen which, in the 21st century is wholly unacceptable. Hopefully the drivers concerned (together with the companies) will lose their licenses. It is only through stringent enforcement (coupled with education) that discrimination can be eliminated.
For the documentary please visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-29917990#afterFlash
Last night my friend, Brian drew my attention to the case of a blind student who was ejected from Tesco’s supermarket for bringing her working guide dog into the store, (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/oct/17/blind-student-banned-from-tesco-for-taking-in-guide-dog). Under the UK Disability Discrimination Act (now subsumed into the Equalities Act) assistance dogs (including guide dogs) are allowed to enter premises selling or serving food and it is an offense to refuse entry. Tesco and those employees who threw this lady out of the store where therefore guilty of breeching the legislation. To compound matters the dog was wearing it’s distinctive high visibility harness thereby clearly marking it as a working animal.
Initially Tesco offered the lady a £20 voucher. However following the BBC picking up on the story Tesco has, I understand agreed to pay £5000 to the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association (The UK charity which trains guide dogs). The supermarket has also said that it will “remind” staff of their duty to admit assistance dogs.
As a blind guide dog owner I am afraid that this incident does not surprise me. On several occasions I have been refused service in restaurants when accompanied by my guide dogs (my current dog is called Trigger). I have, however had 3 previous dogs: Nixon, Zeff and Drew all of whom have been wonderful companions and have provided essential assistance in finding my way around London together with other cities.
In most instances the issue of my guide dog has been resolved amicably by me politely explaining the law and producing a letter from the RNIB which furnishes a brief description of the legislation as it relates to blind people (including their working guide dogs). Unfortunately, in a few instances I have had to invoke the threat of legal action which has proved effective in ensuring the future admittance of my guide dog and I.
It is incredible that a huge multinational like Tesco can not provide adequate training to it’s employees regarding their duty not to discriminate under the Equalities Act. Despite the company’s assurance that they will “remind” their employees of their duty to admit working guide dogs I feel in my water that incidents such as this will continue to happen.
Tesco is not the only company guilty of such actions. Many other organisations have (and continue to practice) discrimination against disabled people.
Ironically I visited my local Tesco (it’s about a 30 minute walk from my home) on Friday and had no problems in gaining admittance with my guide dog, Trigger. Indeed the staff where extremely helpful and I was escorted round the store as I can not shop independently due to my poor vision.
I hope that Tesco and other similar organisations get their act together. However, as I say above I fear that articles like this will continue to appear.
On 24 November I wrote about my inability to read a book on my Kindle due to text to speech not being enabled for the title, http://newauthoronline.com/2013/11/24/the-silence-is-deafening/. At that time I did not name the book as I wished to try to persuade the author and/or publisher to change their mind and enable text to speech thereby allowing me, as a blind person who is not able to read print, to access the book using my Kindle. Having received no answer from either the publisher or author I have, reluctantly decided to name the book, Free Will by Sam Harris, http://www.amazon.com/Free-Will-Sam-Harris-ebook/dp/B006IDG2T6. The title is available as an MP3 download (a fact discovered after some considerable Googling)! However blind people should, so far as is humanly possible, have the same choice regarding how they access books as sighted readers do. Sighted people can purchase the book in hard copy, as a Kindle download or on MP3. In contrast blind readers have only one option, to purchase the MP3 download. This is, to me unfair as it artificially limits my ability to choose how I access the work. I am not arguing that the provision of the book in hard copy is discriminatory. Such an argument would be risible. I can not read print but that is not the fault of the author and/or the publisher. However the author/publisher do have control regarding the Kindle version of Free Will and they have chosen not to enable text to Speech rendering the Kindle version inaccessible to those who can not read print.
As previously stated, all of my books have text to speech enabled. I believe that everyone irrespective of their disability is entitled to access books. To enable text to speech is such a minor matter for authors and publishers but it makes such a huge difference to the ability of visually impaired people to access the wonderful world of literature.
It may be objected that authors are not charities so why should they provide their books with text to speech enabled, especially if the selling of audio versions will generate additional income? As writers we are not mere players in the free market. We are citizens with moral obligations to our fellow man. There is nothing wrong with turning a profit and I am always delighted when I hear of authors who have done well, however money is not the be all and end all. We exist in a community and we owe duties to others. One of those duties is not to discriminate (albeit, in many cases unintentionally by failing to provide accessible versions of our books). I am not suggesting that authors spend hard earned money on producing expensive braille editions so that blind people can access them. I am, however saying that all authors should enable text to speech as it costs us nothing and, in addition creates a great deal of good will among visually impaired people, their family and friends.
(As of 13 December 2013 text to speech was not enabled on Sam Harris’s Free Will).
I am registered blind and live alone in London. I frequently shop independently (the shop assistants locate the items I require and I pay using either card or cash). I am, almost always unaccompanied on shopping trips, consequently the interaction is purely between myself and the shop assistant.
I spent the Christmas festivities visiting my mum and her partner in Liverpool. While there I visited a branch of W H Smiths and purchased a book, as a Christmas present for my sister. I paid for the item using my debit card and given that the transaction was between myself and the sales assistant I was surprised when she attempted to hand my receipt to my mum! My mum is non-disabled so I can only assume that the assistant felt more comfortable interacting with a non-disabled rather than a disabled person. The incident was resolved with the assistant handing the receipt to me (my mum refused to take it and I continued to hold out my hand)!
Having experienced similar incidents I’m able to see the funny side and my mum and I laughed about it afterwards. Had I been alone the assistant would have had no alternative other than to hand the receipt to me, however due to the presence of a non-disabled individual she automatically attempted to pass the paperwork to that person rather than the rightful recipient, yours truly!
On the whole attitudes towards people with disabilities have (and continue) to improve in the UK. In 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act came into force outlawing discrimination against people with disabilities in the fields of employment and service provision. The legislation has been strengthened since 1995 and has been superceeded by the Equalities Act. However despite the implementation of legislation and greatly improved social attitudes people with disabilities such as myself continue to encounter misunderstanding and, on occasions prejudice as is exemplified by my experience in purchasing a book in W H Smiths. What is the solution? Greater integration of disabled people into mainstream society is vital. As a child I attended several schools for visually impaired children and it was only on attending university that I entered mainstream education. Today greater numbers of children with disabilities are being educated with their non-disabled peers. The exposure of non-disabled children to those who are disabled is to be welcomed and will assist in enhancing understanding, however the incident in Smiths demonstrates that more education is required.
(Kevin Morris is a writer. For his latest book, The First Time” please visit https://newauthoronline.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/the-first-time-by-kevin-morris-availible-at-waterstones-for-only-0-98/).