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Guide Dogs taking the lead to improve accommodation access for vision impaired

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Guide dog handlers are still challenged by accommodation providers

New research released by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT on International Guide Dog Day reveals that a third (33 per cent) of guide dog handlers had their access rights challenged when visiting hotels, motels, caravans and other accommodation. Some guide dog handlers also reported being refused entry completely or asked to pay an additional bond because they were accompanied by a guide dog.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, with the support of Disability Discrimination Commissioner Mr Alastair McEwin, has launched its Taking the Lead education campaign today to demonstrate the importance of working with industry bodies to educate hospitality staff on how they can better serve patrons who are blind or vision impaired.

As the leading provider of guide dogs and other mobility services for people who are blind or vision impaired, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has worked closely with various hospitality and transport industry bodies in the past to provide educational materials and training to staff to ensure they are aware of Australian guide dog access laws.

Dr Graeme White, CEO of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, said the organisation has influenced positive changes in the community in recent years to improve guide dog access. However, more needs to be done to increase education around guide dog access rights within the accommodation industry.

“Put simply, a guide dog is allowed to go anywhere that a member of the public can, with the exception of operating theatres and the zoo. The purpose of a guide dog is to give people who are blind or vision impaired a greater sense of independence and freedom. While the public generally do the right thing, our survey shows people with guide dogs continue to face many barriers when going about their daily lives, which strips them of their independence,” Dr White said.

“Imagine how you’d feel if after a long trip, you arrived at your accommodation ready to relax only to be told that you’re not welcome because pets are not allowed. Guide dogs are not pets. They are highly trained to open up the world for people who are blind or vision impaired, not close it down, which is effectively what discrimination does.

“Our organisation plays an important role in advocating on behalf of people with sight loss to ensure the community is a safe, accessible and easy place in which to live and work. The Taking the Lead campaign signifies the start of a new push that will ensure all hotels, motels and other accommodation venues in NSW and ACT are made aware of the access rights of Guide Dog handlers.”

Disability Discrimination Commissioner calls for better awareness at industry level

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has developed a new education kit for the accommodation industry, which will inform staff about a guide dog’s function, how to behave around a guide dog and how to offer help to a guide dog handler if it’s needed. It will also provide clarity around guide dog access laws, which have been in place for more than 30 years. All working guide dogs are legally allowed in any public place, and it is a crime to refuse entry to someone because of their guide dog.

In 2015, to empower guide dog handlers to stand up for their rights, NSW Police and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT developed a business card-sized Guide Dog Access Rights card, outlining the relevant laws and fines. It states that NSW police officers can issue on-the-spot fines of $165 and penalty notices of up to $880 for refusing entry to a guide dog handler.

“Education leads to change, and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is taking the lead to ensure the NSW and ACT hospitality industry is always welcoming to all patrons, including guide dog handlers. I hope this campaign helps people who are blind or vision impaired travel with greater ease,” Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin said.

There are currently over 250 guide dog handlers in NSW and the ACT and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is working hard to increase the number of dogs available, as only one in four people who need a guide dog, have one.

Ends

For more information about the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT education kit, please call 02 9412 9300 or visit the Taking the Lead education campaign page.

About International Guide Dog Day

International Guide Dog Day celebrates the important role Guide Dogs play in enabling people who are blind or vision impaired to be safe and independent. Guide Dogs Australia (GDA) is an organisation that represents Australia’s six state-based Guide Dog charities, and together, we have been taking the lead as the nation’s premium provider of Guide Dogs and orientation and mobility services for the last 60 years. We assist people with sight loss gain the freedom and independence to move safely and confidently around their communities, and to fulfil their potential.

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