You may have read the recent story about a blind rowing champ who was asked to leave the premises of an Esso gas station store. Victoria Nolan attempted to enter the premises with her guide dog when an employee promptly told her to leave the store. Ms. Nolan is not new to this problem, and she contacted the police who extracted an apology from the employee. An Esso spokesperson stated that the company tells retailers to allow service animals onto their premises. Apparently, there was a communication breakdown when instructing this employee about the topic of service animals.
So who really let the guide dogs out? The problem with this story is that guide dogs have been allowed on public premises via the Blind Person’s Rights Act for some 21 years. The Act also prohibits discrimination in housing and clarifies other issues important to people who are blind.
For 21 years we have had a provincial law that many people are still not aware of. A service dog should not be such an issue when discussing new rights under the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service. What is new in the standards is that all service animals are allowed on public places unless excluded by another law, usually for health and safety reasons.
I remember in 2009, when a cab driver’s license was revoked for refusing Ms. Nolan entry with her guide dog. The driver showed no remorse. Then there was another story of a taxi company that would not commit to a policy allowing guide dogs in their taxicabs. My immediate personal reaction was: what are they thinking? The law is the law, and a driver and business owner were pondering whether they would choose to comply with this law? One might think after the driver lost his license and there was plenty of press covering the story that Ms. Nolan would not encounter the same discrimination again. Wrong; and we are likely to see more confusion on this topic in the new year when all service animals are allowed in places where the public is admitted.
Blind persons already have a legal right to pursue their complaints in court and need not wait for businesses and other organizations to comply under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The fines and penalties for non-compliance under the AODA have been explained here. Ms. Nolan can use this avenue to seek compliance, but one complaint does not trigger financial penalties. The AODA requires three complaints against an organization before specific actions are taken. In the interim, educating non-compliant organization is the primary goal. But people who are not blind and require a service animal that is not a dog are likely to meet discrimination, and can complain using the customer service standard as their avenue to seek justice.
I recall a professor in Greek and Roman history who stated a law only becomes a law when the public is irritated enough by a specific action committed by too many people. In this case, people with disabilities have been bothered for far too long and seniors have similar complaints. With 15.5 percent of the population requiring protections, and the numbers only increasing in the future, they are now a large enough group to insist their rights be enforced.
If you have learned about the rights of people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto your public premises, then please follow the regulation. If you own a pet, do not try to pass it off as a service animal, because this will just cause commotion. Before we know it there might be more laws limiting your personal pet’s right of access to certain public places. We are picking up our pooches’ poop now by a law created because owners allowed their pets to defecate everywhere.
A service animal is a necessity and it trumps how we feel. Personally, I love animals, so I am fine with this regulation. I have seen the calming effect of a guide dog in an office environment. I look forward to people with disabilities feeling more secure in the public domain, and if the animal is necessary due to a disability then I’m happy to say, get out of the house, and meet this kinder, educated public that embraces diversity and your service animals.
Suzanne Cohen Share
Access (SCS) Consulting Services