Over the years I have met with Guide Dog users and campaigners in Parliament and in Castle Point, and I have been pleased to support them and raise awareness for the access issues blind and partially sighted people sometimes face.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for a taxi or minicab driver to refuse to take an assistance dog or to charge extra for carrying it. It is also against the law to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog, yet a Guide Dogs survey found that three out of four (76%) assistance dog owners had been turned away due to their dog, with restaurants, newsagents, and high street shops also commonly refusing access.
It was shocking and disturbing to hear how common these incidents of discrimination are for assistance dog owners. No one should be turned away on their local high street because of their assistance dogs. While I'm very pleased that Castle Point Borough Council already requires taxi and private hire vehicle drivers to take disability equality training as a condition of their licence. It is still important to raise awareness that it is illegal for taxi drivers to refuse access to guide dog owners. I am proud to support Guide Dogs’ Access All Areas campaign to tackle the ignorance that causes access refusals, and make sure businesses are held accountable when they occur
I have also spoken to Guide Dogs about the challenge’s pavement parked cars and ‘street clutter’ create for blind and partially sighted people, as they may have to risk their safely by walking into the road just to get by. I took part in a blindfold walk was organized by Guide Dogs is part of an awareness drive in Essex.
I was guided around busy streets in Tarpots, Benfleet shadowed by Gill Jones, Guide Dogs Orientation and Mobility Specialist. Although the streets I walked down were incredibly familiar, that all changes when you can no longer reply on your sight. It was very easy to lose my bearings after only a few minutes of walking down the street. Once blindfolded you have to rely on other markers, such as tactile surfaces by crossings. This experience was a truly unique insight into how hard visually impaired people have to work to avoid obstacles. By simply being more considerate about where and how you park your car, you can make a huge difference to not only issues blind and partially sighted people, but people in wheelchairs and people with pushchairs.