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Dogs, disability and everyday life!

On a personal note, I love dogs. Wherever possible, I spend all my time with my two poodles (in fact, one is curled up on my feet as I write this). So this blog post may be subject to extreme bias in favour of all dogs everywhere.

Dogs can play an amazing part in the lives of people with disabilities. I suspect the most well-known service animal for people with disability is the guide dog. Guide dogs have been servicing blind people and people who are vision-impaired since the first UK-trained guide dog came to Australia in 1950. But since then, dogs have found other vocations in the lives of people with disabilities including as hearing dogs, autism assistance dogs and physical disability service dogs. The common thread among all of these service dogs is that they provide people with disabilities with greater independence in everyday tasks such as work, school, shopping and travel. They help people to crossroads, pick things up off the floor, calm down when the environment is too much and even hear sounds that their person can’t.

But as fabulous (and super cute!) as these dogs are, we know that people with disabilities can face serious discrimination when using their service dog to do those everyday life things! In the media, we hear about people with vision impairment being denied taxi and Uber rides because they have their guide dog and in cafes and restaurants. While there is not as much media exposure of people with disabilities accompanied by other service dogs being discriminated against, I am confident it is happening… often. Like all cases of everyday discrimination, you need to know your rights. So let’s talk about them.

If you get around town with an assistance animal, you have the right to access public places, including shops and public transport. This right is written in law in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and also in State and Territory anti-discrimination laws. When you are refused access to a public place or service, you can call it out on the spot. If it does not resolve, you can make a disability discrimination complaint against that business or service provider.

Of course, it can be awkward and intimidating to call this out on the spot. When you are faced with someone telling you can’t come in, or you need to get out, whoa! That can be really confronting. If you feel safe and confident to do so, you should absolutely ask to speak to their manager or the owner of the organisation. However, if you don’t feel safe or you just don’t feel up to it on that (not every day is the best day to rally against the consistent stream of ablism the community has to offer!), take note of who you spoke to (if they have identified themselves), the date and what happened. With that information in hand, you can go home and write a complaint yourself, or you can contact a lawyer or advocate to help you. Again, some people are super confident in writing their own complaints, and other people get a lot of some assistance with that process. Either way is fine!

So here are the takeaway messages on dogs, discrimination and everyday life:

  1. Dogs are super cool.

  2. You have the right to access public spaces, places and services if you have an assistance animal with you.

  3. If you are refused this right, you can make a disability discrimination complaint against the business.

  4. Dogs are super cool.

(As always, the blogs are never legal advice. If you need legal advice on your disability rights, you should speak to a lawyer about your specific circumstances! A dog-loving law firm like EQL would definitely be up for that chat.)


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