Access Refusals

By Gavin Neate, Founder of the WelcoMe App)


"You won’t have failed to notice an increase in “access refusals” for assistance dog owners over the past few months. These have occurred in supermarkets, restaurants and with taxis predominantly or at least these are the incidents that have gained the most media coverage.


BBC News correspondent Sean Dilley was told he wasn't allowed to take his guide dog Sammy into two London Tesco stores


Of course discrimination around disability is not just an issue for assistance dogs owners with over 70% of all disabled people reporting poor service in industry studies but for assistance dog owners its generally not a poorly designed building that is the barrier but the intransigence of the staff members they meet. You will of course seldom hear “you’re disabled therefore you can’t come in” spoken out loud and those publicly exposing such views would obviously be committing commercial suicide should they do so. The truth is though that “discrimination” is generally less obvious than a policy and more often than not a reflection of a lack of efficient preparedness or refusal to engage with progression within societal expectations.


Blind student 'shaken' after being turned away from restaurant because of guide dog






There is no escaping that physical access is disabling through poor design. Ramps, widened doors, lower light switches, lower counters and accessible toilets are all recognised as important in the design process and will increasingly feature as necessity’s for a buildings to gain a completion certificate.

Even custodians of listed buildings are finding ways to make their buildings more physically accessible.


St Paul’s Cathedral is finally getting a permanent accessible entrance this year


..however access “refusals” are not physical they are by definition social and involve a situation where a human tells another human that because of something outside of their control, they are not welcome. Where a building presents an unarguable physical barrier impossible to improve on in the moment to have a human stand in front of you, block your way and to all intents and purposes tell you that you aren’t welcome will encourage the red mist in even the most stoic of disabled visitors. 


So, why don’t staff know what a guide dog is and the laws governing them with regards to access?


Disabled woman 'humiliated' after Wetherspoons refuse entry because of assistance dog


There are many factors at play here, not least that at the end of the pandemic, as we opened up our world again, many businesses were forced to take on new staff. Staff that didn’t know disabled folks living in the local area or hadn’t had time to be trained or gain valuable day to day experience. The challenge for businesses was very real. When you need someone to start immediately do you train them on the job or do you take them on and just hope that they don’t get involved in an incident?

..and even when training has been given, how can we be sure relevant information has been taken on board and stored for later use. Most major brands will say that disabled customers are important to them and that their staff have received training, and yet these instances still occur and will continue to until we work out how better we can serve disabled people in our communities.

One day all buildings will be accessible but unless all staff understand the dangers presented through social discrimination the problems presented by a lack of awareness will remain.



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