Anyone reading this column will be blessed with something most of us take for granted - the gift of sight.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to gain just a small understanding what it might be like to live with visual impairment and loss of sight - and I would recommend the experience to everyone.
I took part in a ‘Blindfold Challenge’ where I had to use a ‘long cane’ to navigate and negotiate my way through central Maidstone, on a busy Friday afternoon, completely blindfolded. I was amidst busy shoppers, noisy lorries, all sorts of obstacles on the pavements and had I been alone I would have been in serious trouble.
I was not alone of course. The challenge was arranged by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (Guide Dogs) to promote their 'My Guide' partnership scheme and I had a sighted guide and a fantastic guide dog called George to show me the way. My appreciation for the enormous value guide dogs provide their owners owes a lot of that experience.
All of the above is why I can truly appreciate how distressing it must be for those who have to deal with ‘access refusal’. This 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.
Here are some disturbing statistics: Of 242 guide dog owners surveyed by Guide Dogs, 81 per cent report having experienced an access refusal, and of those, almost three quarters said that it occurred in the past 12 months. 33 said they had experienced a refusal in a healthcare setting in the last 12 months and almost half of those surveyed reported changing their plans or restricting visits to some places because they were worried about being refused access. visits to some places because they were worried about being refused access.
To highlight this issue Guide Dogs recently held an event in Parliament for their campaign ‘Open Doors’. They are asking for the Equality Act of 2010 to be amended to protect against access refusals and I am very pleased to support them in this aim. The event was attended by several guide dog owners who emphasised both how their lives have been transformed by the relationship that they have with their dogs but highlighted the issues of access which many of them still encounter throughout their daily lives.
I am proud to pledge my support to Guide Dogs’ Open Doors campaign and I will be writing to the Prime Minister to highlight these statistics and confirming my support for a change in legislation to protect the visually impaired from discrimination.
To find out more about MY Guide click here and for support visit the website here