One in three Guide Dog Handlers put in danger when refused access or service because of their Guide Dog
Over a third of Guide Dog Handlers across Australia have reported being denied access to a public venue or form of transport because of their Guide Dog in the past year. Alarmingly, the same proportion reported a discriminatory refusal left them feeling unsafe or in danger during their time as a Guide Dog Handler.
This is according to a new survey by Guide Dogs Australia ahead of International Guide Dog Day (IGDD) on April 27, 2022.
Taxis or rideshares were responsible for two thirds of these instances where Handlers reported their safety was compromised, followed by cafes, restaurants and bars, and retail outlets.
Around half of Handler respondents said they had been left stranded in an unfamiliar or wrong location, with a similar proportion reporting being verbally mistreated during the refusal incident.
Female Guide Dog Handlers were more likely than male Handlers to have said they’ve experienced a refusal in the last year. Males and females were equally as likely to have been put in danger as a result of a refusal over the course of their time as Guide Dog Handlers, with rideshares and taxis the leading cause for both. However, 76% of female Guide Dog Handlers report feeling unsafe and scared after the incident versus 29% of males.
Sydney based Liz has been a Guide Dog Handler for 7 years, now paired with Poppi, says she experiences refusals in public regularily and has previously been left feeling very unsafe due to a highly traumatic and dangerous refusal situation.
“Recently I was using rideshare and ended up being put in danger by a driver who did not want my Guide Dog in his vehicle. In an attempt to avoid taking me, but still maintaining his access to the app he told me he had arrived, after following the drivers instructions, I tried to get into two cars nearby, both ended up being a strangers car.”
“The driver who turned out to be two blocks away, eventually cancelled. It is shocking that he sent a vulnerable person who he knew was blind towards the cars of strangers, as well as never trying to find me and ultimately not picking me up at all.”
“I want to raise awareness that I am not taking Poppi with me as my pet. She is highly trained and working with me as my eyes. Poppi is the reason I get to participate in daily life activities, experience independance and enjoy a sense of freedom.”
In response, Guide Dogs Australia’s Rethink Refusal campaign aims to educate businesses, industries and the community on how a Guide Dog refusal – illegal in the first place – can have further implications for the immediate safety of a person with low vison or blindness.
In all states and territories across Australia, a Guide Dog in harness with their Handler is legally allowed to enter all public places, including public transport and taxi/rideshares, with it being an offence to deny or charge a fee for the entry of a Guide Dog.
Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Ryan Jones said, “While the public generally do the right thing, this survey shows that there can be quite frightening flow on effects when a Guide Dog Handler is refused their legal Access Rights.”
“We’re asking the community to rethink the implications of telling a Guide Dog Handler ‘No’. No one should have their safety compromised or be put in a dangerous situation because they can’t catch a ride late at night, enter a venue, café or restaurant or stay at their chosen accommodation. Who else would you leave in the dark?”
Mr Jones said the survey also revealed that refusals can leave a lasting impact on a Guide Dog Handler’s daily routine. “Guide Dog Handlers told us that having their basic Access Rights denied or questioned is overwhelmingly frustrating. They also told us that being left in an unsafe or dangerous situation, makes them feel anxious or scared in the aftermath. Shockingly, two fifths of Handlers survey said they have changed travel habits because of an unsafe incident; a quarter stopped going out as much or at all after the event.”
“This is the exact opposite of the freedom and independence a Guide Dog is meant to bring into someone’s life,” Mr Jones said.
Guide Dogs’ Rethink Refusals campaign, launched for International Guide Dog Day, shares video and resources that highlight the importance of education among the service industries of their legal obligations to Guide Dog Handlers.
The campaign is indicative of the broader work Guide Dogs undertakes with industry bodies, government departments and private companies to provide access consulting services and training to ensure places in our community – including private property, public environments, workplaces, sporting venues, and a range of other spaces – comply with Australian Disability Access Regulations.