There have been numerous stories in the newspapers recently about guide dog owners being refused entry to shops and restaurants, including the article about one of our trainers who was refused access to a pub in London, which can be seen here. Whilst it’s terrible that this is still ongoing, and trust me I know as I have a hearing dog, I have recently started to wonder why other stories aren’t emerging on a daily basis regarding the barriers and discrimination that disabled people face.
The more I think about this the more it becomes apparent that there are a number of answers to this, but no clear cut answers. It could be that due to the amazing work that the charities, Guide dogs, Hearing dogs for Deaf people and of course us on the Enhance the UK team do, that assistance dog owners are more clued up about their rights and therefore are complaining more. Certainly, guides like our ‘What to do when you’ve been refused access into a place providing a service for having an assistance or Guide dog’ are empowering assistance dog users. I can almost hear your mind whirling asking the question that I asked myself; is it because disabled people don’t understand their rights? And despite the ongoing work of many charities and organisations out there, I believe this is, at least part of the answer.
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was replaced in 2010 by the Equality Act. This act bought together 9 key discrimination laws and about 100 smaller laws in one place supposedly making it easier for those who have one of the protected characteristics of the act to be protected by the law (further information on the act and those protected by it can be seen here). When thinking about writing this article I started to speak about the law with lots of my friends, many of whom have disabilities. Interestingly, several of them still referred to the DDA. Others, although they thought barriers they frequently face were unfair, were unsure if they were unlawful or if they knew they were, simply didn’t know what to do about it. I like to think that my friendship circle is full of cool, well informed and intelligent individuals – so why is this the case?
A recent report from the House of Lords answers these questions, amongst others whilst reviewing the effectiveness of the Equality Act for disabled people, and seeing as it’s 117 pages long as I suspected the answer isn’t simple. In a nutshell though, the government simply isn’t doing enough. From my perspective one of the main issues is that it’s actually difficult to know if something is unlawful under the current act. The Equality Act requires organisations to make reasonable adjustments to avoid putting disabled people at substantial disadvantage. Firstly what the hell is meant by a ‘substantial disadvantage,’ and secondly how can you determine in a sure fire way if something is reasonable or not? There simply has not been enough done to ensure that organisations and disabled people themselves fully understand this duty. It’s my dream one day that disabled people won’t have to face the barriers in employment, services and all aspects of their everyday lives that they currently face, but until the government pulls its socks up, my dream is a long way off.