Elaine Mitchell, a blind grandmother from Rochdale, was thrown out of her local convenience store by an employee who told her that dogs weren't allowed in the shop. The humiliating incident came just after she built up the confidence to overcome her sight problems and go outside.
The Daily Mail reported that 60-year-old Elaine, a grandmother of 11 who is in remission from cancer, visited Variety Food Stores in the town last week. Despite having a sign on the door saying that guide dogs were welcome, a male member of staff told her she had to leave, because she had her guide dog, Natalie, with her.
The Daily Express said that Elaine had felt humiliated, and as soon as she was outside the shop, she burst into tears. She added that as a result of the incident, she was scared to go out.
The owners of the shop apologised, and said the member of staff had not understood, because his English was not strong enough. It added that they had been in contact with Elaine through Facebook to pass on their apologies.
Is this fair?
Guide dog owners have vital rights under the Equality Act of 2010. It means that blind or partially sighted people have the same right to services - such as shops and restaurants - as everyone else. As part of that right, businesses had to change any 'no dogs' policy, to allow guide dogs and other assistance dogs. They also have to make reasonable adjustments to enable blind people to take advantage of their rights.
However, in reality, discrimination is widespread. A survey by the Guide Dogs association found that three quarters of all assistance dog owners had been refused access to services at some point. Nearly half had been refused access in the past year, and a third within the last six months.
In May, Angela Armin, a blind mother of three, was kicked out of a Foot Locker store in Romford, because her guide dog wasn't welcome. She even asked to speak to the manager, who repeated that she would have to leave. The store later sent her a letter of apology - which of course she was unable to read.
Back in October last year Louise Cannon, a blind woman from Liverpool, was asked to leave a branch of Asda because her guide dog was not welcome. In this instance, she asked to speak to a manager, who apologised and let her continue with her weekly shop. And a year earlier a blind teenager was thrown out of a Thai restaurant in Liverpool because the owner said pets were not allowed.
However, those companies that try to exclude blind people, are taking a major risk, because they can be prosecuted and fined. A taxi driver refused to pick up a blind woman and her dog from Ruislip High Street last November. She reported him, and Transport For London took him to court. He ended up having to pay £895 and a victim surcharge of £150.