Ensure you bark up the right tree

Guide dog owners who feel welcome can be good ambassadors for a venue, according to Emma Brown.
Guide dog owners who feel welcome can be good ambassadors for a venue, according to Emma Brown.

In addition to complying with legislation, there are real benefits to welcoming guide dog owners, writes Emma Brown of Guide Dogs

UNDER the Equality Act 2010, guide dog and other assistance dog owners have the right to enter the majority of services, premises and vehicles with their dog – this includes pubs, restaurants, hotels and other licensed premises.

Emma Brown

Although most businesses are aware of the legislation, and are very accommodating, the charity Guide Dogs still receives complaints from guide dog owners about being turned away.

A survey undertaken by Guide Dogs in 2015 found that a shocking three quarters (75%) of all assistance dog owners surveyed have been refused access at some point because they had an assistance dog with them.

John, a guide dog owner from Glasgow, said: “It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s a real low point. I recently got refused in Glasgow city centre.

“I don’t normally think about other people around me watching, but that day I felt very small. Being refused made me feel like a second class citizen.”

A guide dog allows someone with sight loss to get out and about independently. By turning away an assistance dog owner, you could risk legal action, as well as bad publicity or reviews.

Guide dog owner Shona, from Edinburgh, said: “The way that people speak to you can be so demeaning.

“I am shocked at times by staffs’ attitudes.”

Three quarters of all assistance dog owners have been refused access.

But it’s not all bad.

Like all customers, when a guide dog owner feels welcome in your pub, restaurant or shop, they’re more likely to become a repeat customer, and tell their friends and family about you.

There are around 500 working guide dogs in Scotland, and they can be clearly identified by their harness with a reflective strip around the front, a reflective section on their lead that states ‘guide dog,’ and an ID tag.

As well as Guide Dogs, there are seven other assistance dog charities in the UK which are covered by the Equality Act.

The handy website assistancedogs.org.uk lists the charities, as well as information on the dog’s role and how to identify them. You can also request a window sticker for your business from the ‘contact us’ section, to show you are welcoming assistance dogs.

Most access refusals happen when staff aren’t aware of the Equality Act and Guide Dogs, so please share our handy leaflet with all your staff, which can be downloaded here »

The leaflet also includes some top tips for helping all customers with sight loss. You could even go the extra mile and enquire about staff training.

There’s also a fantastic, up-to-date leaflet produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has some Q&As included that can be downloaded here »

Guide dogs work in incredibly demanding situations and their owner’s safety depends on the dog’s concentration. Similarly, in a pub or restaurant, we encourage the dogs to lie quietly and not to interact with other diners, so if you see a guide dog working or in your business, please don’t distract with food or by talking to the dog – although a bowl of water may go down well! (Please ask the owner’s permission first).

Emma Brown is the engagement officer for Guide Dogs West of Scotland.