New research from Guide Dogs shows the majority (81%) of guide dog owners responding to a recent survey have experienced access refusals – where they have been illegally refused entry to businesses or services because they were with their guide dog. And of these people, almost three in four (73%) said they experienced an access refusal at least once in the past 12 months.
An access refusal is when a guide dog owner is told that they cannot enter a business, access a service or is challenged about their entry because they have their guide dog with them.
Worryingly, access refusals remain a persistent issue for guide dog owners. Research conducted by the charity in 2019 found that 76% of guide dog and assistance dog owners had experienced an access refusal.
Access refusals are not isolated to one particular industry. Guide dog owners reported experiencing access refusals at food and drink establishments, taxis and private hire vehicles and shops.
And these refusals are having a negative impact beyond the moment they occur. Almost half (49%) of guide dog owners responding to a question in the survey said they change their plans or restrict visits to certain places because they are worried about being refused entry or being challenged.
In response to the mounting issue, a group of guide dog owners have stood up to illegal access refusals for people with guide dogs. The group hope to educate the public and businesses and grow understanding for how experiencing an access refusal can leave nearly one in five respondents feeling frustrated (21%), sad (17%) and humiliated (19%).
The six guide dog owners (above, alongside their dogs) have gathered to showcase the impact access refusals have on their lives via a series of striking images highlighting the venues they have been denied entry to. They are backed by the charity Guide Dogs who have launched their ‘Open Doors’ campaign, spearheaded by a new, free app that allows guide dog owners to easily and quickly report illegal access refusals.
Additional research found nearly half (47%) of retail staff and 19% of hospitality staff were unaware that refusing a guide dog is illegal, and one in two (51%) said they would struggle to identify a guide dog or assistance dog from a pet dog.
There’s also a lack of awareness of the issue amongst the general public, with more than a third of people (36%) admitting they didn’t know refusing entry to a guide dog owner is illegal.
Despite this, three in five (60%) are clear they want to see businesses take action against discrimination. In fact, more than half (51%) claim they would be more likely to visit a venue that prioritised accessibility and inclusivity over one that didn’t.
Brian Lawson, a guide dog owner pictured above, shares why campaigning against illegal access refusals is important to him.
“Like many guide dog owners, I have experienced access refusals. It is upsetting and makes me feel rejected and worried about making future plans. One of the worst occasions for me was being refused by a taxi after visiting my dying relative, despite having pre-booked and confirming I am a guide dog user. I hope this campaign helps to change the dial and make a long-lasting change by educating the public and business owners alike, so that these types of refusals don’t happen again to anyone like me.”
Blanche Shackleton, head of policy, public affairs and campaigns at Guide Dogs, said, “Guide dog owners deserve to be able to live their lives the way they want and feel confident, independent and supported in the world. The law is clear, and yet guide dog owners continue to experience access refusals, which are almost always illegal. Our research shows that 81% of guide dog owners have been refused access to a business or service at some point, and around half of respondents said they changed or restricted their plans because they were concerned they would be refused access because of their guide dog. Businesses and services need to do more to ensure they have open doors to guide dog owners.
“We have listened to the concerns of guide dog owners and in response, we have launched the Open Doors campaign. The first element of this is the launch of our game-changing new app that makes it quick and easy for guide dog owners to report access refusals to us, get support, or educate businesses on access rights. We’re coupling this with our ask of government to strengthen the law in relation to access refusals to end them once and for all.”
Guide dog owners and the general public alike can identify businesses that are welcoming to guide and assistance dogs by looking out for the charity’s ‘Open Doors’ sticker in their window.
Guide Dogs will also be launching their High Street Heroes campaign between 7- 13 November. Volunteers will be encouraged to visit their local high street to engage with shops and businesses, encouraging them to display an ‘assistance dogs welcome’ window sticker.
For more information about the Open Doors campaign or to sign the petition in support of stronger legislation in this area, visit the Guide Dogs website.