Tag Archives: equalities act

Shopping During the Pandemic

Being in need of some new trainers (the 2 pairs I own are fine for walking the dog, but not much else), I visited TK Maxx with a friend yesterday.

According to this Guardian article, https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jun/10/shopping-for-clothes-is-about-to-get-weird-heres-how-to-make-it-simpler, one can expect the following when clothes shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Staff wearing masks.
The presence of free hand sanatiser in stores.
A 2 meter social distancing rule,
And any clothes touched by customers quarantined (if not bought) to prevent the spread of the virus.

Being blind, I did my shopping with the assistance of a sighted friend.

Sure enough, on entering the store, we where directed to hand sanatiser which we both used prior to commencing our shopping.

“Are the staff wearing masks?” I enquired?”, as we stood by a clothes rail. “no”, my friend replied.

In England, its compulsory to wear masks/cover one’s face on public transport. However the wearing of face coverings in most other settings (including shops) is voluntary.

Whilst in store, I tried on several pairs of trainers, one of which I purchased, whilst the others where returned to the shelves.

My friend and I both handled clothes and put back those we did not purchase, as there seemed to be no separate place for depositing garments destined for quarantine.

In England, the 2 meter social distancing rule has been reduced to 1 meter plus. This means that 2 meters should still apply when practicality allows, but 1 meter is allowable where 2 meters is impossible or unreasonably difficult (for example in the hospitality industry). TK Max had a 2 meter distancing rule, which customers all seemed to be respecting.

Following our visit to TK Max, we went into a nearby Sainsburys. This was much busier than TK Maxx and I was glad to have my mask on (although just how effective face coverings are is still a matter of debate). Unlike TK Maxx, Sainsburys did not appear to have free hand sanatiser available for their customers use, although its possible that we failed to spot its presence.

Conclusions:

Pre COVID-19, I would, as a blind person enter a shop and take the arm of a member of staff who would conduct me round the store, help in the choosing of items ETC. Whilst under the Equalities Act stores (and other businesses and service providers) have to offer assistance to people who are disabled, just how this will happen during the pandemic is a cause for concern. For example would a member of staff be happy for a visually impaired person such as myself to take their arm? My own view is that with the wearing of a mask and the cleaning of the arm once the assistance has been provided, should greatly reduce the risk of transmission of any infection.

I have no idea what the policy of TK Maxx is as regards guiding, as I was guided by my friend. The store staff where pleasant and helpful and I’ve no negative comments. However I can’t help wondering what my experience would have been like had I gone in alone, with my guide dog or white cane.

The apparent absence of a quarantine pile for unwanted items did not entirely surprise me, as I’m not sure how practical such a policy is. Even where such a policy exists it is, of course dependent on customers remembering to place unwanted items on the quarantine pile.

As for masks, I am not sure how effective they are. I don’t wear them on the street, in parks ETC. However I will wear them in crowded shops. Although they are impractical in settings such as pubs and restaurants.

Is It Really A Guide Dog Or The Local Mut?

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.