“Each refusal is crushing, confidence shattering, rejecting, and traumatic. I always feel that I don’t want to go out after.”
Disabled Access Day exists to celebrate and demonstrate great examples of access available to all people around the UK. The event – which began in 2015 – “[highlights] fantastic access that already exists in places, experiences such as touch tours, relaxed performances, sensory experiences, signed events, level access and of course a warm welcome!”
The day is a great opportunity for disabled people to try new and fun activities – or visit somewhere new – without the fear of inaccessibility or refusal that too often comes with leaving the house as a disabled person.
While Disabled Access Day celebrates the progress made, and the access that does exist for disabled people, it is also a poignant reminder that too often our society is inaccessible and shuts people out. Celebrating accessibility shows that it is still the exception, rather than the norm, and disabled people are excluded from society on a regular basis.
The Equality Act of 2010 prohibits discriminating against people with assistance dogs. Despite this, at least 75% of guide dog owners have reported being refused access to a restaurant, shop or taxi. In just the space of one year, 42% of assistance dog owners have been refused entry to a taxi because of their dog.
Not only is this illegal, but it can also be hugely damaging to the safety, confidence and independence of visually impaired people.
One guide dog owner described these refusals as “crushing”, and other guide dog owners, and their friends and family, say refusals have made them feel:
Other guide dog owners have been harassed and abused in public, with people:
These experiences – and the fear of experiencing them again – create a hostile environment for visually impaired people and exacerbates the oppression they already experience as disabled people.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines disability by stating, “…disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
By denying guide dog owners equal access to restaurants, shops, taxis, buses, dentists, hotels, and more, guide dog owners are being prevented from fully participating in society. These refusals compound the oppression and marginalisation that visually impaired people face and disable them beyond their pre-existing impairment.
One guide dog owner from London noted;
“It is events such as these [access refusals], rather than my visual impairment per se, which make me disabled – building a barrier between those liable to be refused and everyone else.”
We can all play a part to call out and challenge this oppression, by campaigning for:
The Guide Dogs’ Access All Areas campaign focuses on access refusals and empowers visually impaired people and their friends and family to challenge these refusals when faced with them. Non-disabled and sighted people should also join this campaigning, and amplify the voices of disabled people to call out this injustice.
By naming, shaming and complaining to inaccessible businesses, lobbying our MPs, sharing good and bad practice on social media, and making sure everyone knows the law on guide dogs, we can all play a part in creating a more accessible and just society.
Please consider supporting the #AccessAllAreas campaign, and writing to your MP here. We need the government to make disability equality training a requirement for all taxi drivers: https://e-activist.com/page/38834/action/1?en_chan=fb&locale=en-GB&ea.tracking.id=jeuejbyz&fbclid=IwAR1cX9Sjv7kAKcNFKoFclcG1_P5KgFN9NyS1Tryh-PPcDw0uKgkOhOqbNyc
To get involved further, get informed! Find out more about how often this discrimination happens, where and why, so you can support Access all Areas. https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/how-you-can-help/campaigning/access-all-areas/
Blog by Hannah Wright, trainee at Guidedogs UK