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Man’s best friend OK by us

Thursday, 30th April, 2015

Adrian Eckert said Broken Hill has been very accepting of him and his guide dog, Casey. Adrian Eckert said Broken Hill has been very accepting of him and his guide dog, Casey.

By Darrin Manuel

A new study has revealed that people with guide dogs are still being refused entry to cafes and restaurants, but Adrian Eckert says such discrimination is hardly a problem in Broken Hill.

Mr Eckert, who was blinded in a car accident in 1987, said that he has only ever been asked to keep his guide dog outside a shop on one occasion in the past 23 years.

In that instance he said he was at a restaurant for a work matter and not to dine, otherwise he would have demanded entry.

“If I was there to eat I would have explained myself; I know my rights,” he said.

“But otherwise everyone has been A-OK, and we never seem to have any problems when we’re away.

“The dogs are always clean and well behaved... and they give you the independence to do what you want to do.”

“Everyone is Broken Hill has been beautiful to us,” said his wife Kelli

Not every community is as accepting as Broken Hill however, with new research commissioned by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT revealing that over half of the State’s guide dog owners have been discriminated against in the past year.

In 40 per cent of those instances the person was illegally refused or questioned by cafe or restaurant staff.

The survey showed discrimination caused humiliation and anxiety, with many guide dog owners changing their routines by avoiding trouble areas or going out without their guide dog.

To address the issue, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT launched a new advocacy and education campaign, ‘It’s time to end Guide Dog discrimination’ to coincide with International Guide Dog Day yesterday.

The day celebrates the important role guide dogs play in enabling people with vision loss to stay safe and be independent.

“While the public generally do the right thing, our survey shows people with guide dogs continue to face many barriers when going about their daily lives, which strips them of their independence,” said Dr Graeme White, CEO of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

“Imagine how you’d feel if you weren’t allowed into a cafÈ. Guide dogs are not pets. They are highly trained to open up the world for people who are blind or vision impaired, not close it down, which is effectively what discrimination does.

“We’re calling on the NSW public to help bring discrimination against guide dog users to an end.”

That message has been echoed by NSW police, who reminded business owners of their legal responsibility to treat the visually impaired fairly.

NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford said NSW police officers will respond to reports of discrimination from guide dog owners and issue fines where appropriate.

Officers can issue on-the-spot fines of $165 and penalty notices of up to $880 for refusing entry to a guide dog user.

“It’s a crime to refuse entry to a person with a guide dog,” said Assistant Commissioner Clifford. “The NSW guide dog access laws have been in place for more than 30 years and like all forms of discrimination, there’s no excuse for it.”

Supporters are encouraged to take a stand against Guide Dog discrimination by joining the conversation on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with #lawsforpaws.

Those seeking more information can phone 02 9412 9300 or visit www.guidedogs.com.au.

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