Source: Citizen (Extract)
Posted: June 07, 2024

There are weekly complaints of assistance dogs not being allowed into public places such as restaurants.

The Tshwane metro has taken commendable steps towards fostering accessibility and inclusivity by welcoming guide dogs into municipal buildings and public transportation.

This initiative has been facilitated through the adaptation of Tshwane’s public infrastructure to cater to assistance dogs. It includes the provision of designated relief areas, accessible entry points, and sufficient space for smooth navigation.

According to Lindela Mashigo, spokesperson for the Tshwane metro, assistance dogs play a vital role for many people with disabilities, offering indispensable support that bolsters mobility, safety, and independence.

Mashigo emphasized that existing laws, both at the local and national levels, are in place to guarantee accessibility of public spaces and buildings for individuals accompanied by assistance dogs.

Nevertheless, despite these advancements, certain blind individuals continue to encounter discrimination and exclusion in specific public areas, such as restaurants.

Pieter van Niekerk, spokesperson for South African Guide-Dogs for the Blind, highlighted the prevalent lack of awareness within both the corporate sector and the general public regarding the roles of guide, service, or autism support dogs.

Van Niekerk lamented that this lack of understanding often leads to the refusal of access for individuals accompanied by assistance dogs to both public and private establishments, as there is confusion in distinguishing between an “assistance dog” and a pet.

Van Niekerk emphasized that it is precisely due to this challenge that they have developed their own access education program. They eagerly seek partnerships with corporations, governmental bodies, and public entities to integrate this into their policies and informational initiatives.

Despite notable strides in accessibility, the organization continues to receive weekly grievances regarding the refusal of assistance dogs at certain restaurants.

“We’ve addressed numerous instances where our constituents were barred from entering restaurants, and we’re currently handling a recent incident in Brooklyn,” he disclosed.

Van Niekerk underscored that such actions represent a blatant infringement upon the rights of visually impaired individuals, perpetuating detrimental stereotypes and stigma.

He implored restaurants and all public establishments to recognize the significance of guide dogs and embrace them warmly.

“We’ve been tirelessly advocating for awareness and education regarding guide dogs and their invaluable assistance to individuals with visual impairments,” he affirmed.

Additionally, they have been actively collaborating with numerous businesses to ensure they understand the role of assistance dogs and extend a warm welcome to guide dog handlers.

Van Niekerk acknowledged that while there is still progress to be made, the advancements in Tshwane represent a positive stride towards fostering a more inclusive and accessible society.

“We commend the efforts of the Tshwane metro in championing accessibility and inclusivity,” Van Niekerk expressed.

“Through collective effort, we can ensure that all public spaces embrace guide dog handlers and individuals with visual impairments,” he concluded.