International Guide Dog Day highlights discrimination faced by handlers
Despite clear laws allowing service animals into public places, those who handle guide dogs continue to face discrimination when entering restaurants and stores, according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
The non-profit organization, which supports Canadians who are blind and partially sighted, says it hears daily complaints of handlers being turned away because of their support dogs, turning International Guide Dog Day into an important learning opportunity.
“It’s unfortunate that, for people who use guide dogs, the number one barrier that they face has nothing to do with how much sight they have. It’s a lack of education by the public,” Victoria Nolan, who works with the CNIB’s Guide Dog program, told CTV News on Wednesday.
“The law is different from province to province, but everywhere in Canada it is the law that guide dogs have the same access to public places as people do.”
In 2017, the CNIB launched its own guide dog training program, dedicated to raising and training guide dogs based on feedback the organization has received from Canadian’s with sight loss.
The program provides trained guide dogs to users at no cost, and even provides follow-up support and training throughout the dog’s life.
“Barney has made an incredible difference in my life -- independence, companionship, safety, security,” said Cindy Shone, who is partially sighted.
But Shone has also experienced the discrimination that Nolan says is based on a lack of public knowledge.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, actually, because you have every right to be there with your dog,” Shone told CTV News.
In an effort to increase awareness, the CNIB has published a “Know Your Rights" section on its website, offering handlers easy access to human rights legislation in each province.
The penalty for not allowing a service dog entrance to a public space ranges from $100 to $1,000 across the country.
The organization hopes its training program will help connect more service dogs with those in need.
“I think having more guide dogs out there working is definitely going to help to spread that message,” said Nolan.