Groundhog Day

20 06 2009

I am deaf and to assist me, I chose to have a hearing dog. A hearing dog is classified as a registered assistance dog with Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK), whereby hearing dogs should be afforded the same access to public places as guide dogs. With the DDA now in place, service providers need to show they are compliant with the regulations. But are they complying, or merely paying lip service?

I went into a large local supermarket with my hearing dog Smudge. It’s not my favourite store, but it’s on my way to work and handy to pop in to. As always, my dog was wearing his official purple working coat which specifically states “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” in bright white lettering on the side, and a white ADUK logo on the top. You can’t miss the dog (he’s beautiful!) and you can’t miss the coat either.

Whilst I was shopping, a store assistant approached me, and told me that dogs were not allowed in the store. I explained to him that my dog is a “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” which is a registered assistance dog like guide dogs for blind people. He enables me to get around more safely. The assistant did not believe my explanation and insisted that I leave the store. I requested to speak with the manager and he referred me to one of his colleagues (who, obviously, was not the manager). He also told me to leave. I explained again, that my dog is not a pet, but an assistance dog. I once again requested to speak with the manager.

This second person took me to another person, who turned out to be the security officer! The security officer ordered me to go outside. I refused and explained yet again that my dog is an assistance dog and deserves the same treatment that applies to guide dogs for the blind, and that they are allowed by law into all food stores in the UK. He would not listen. I requested, yet again, to speak to the manager.

I was taken to this lady who turned out to be, from what I could gather, the Customer Services Supervisor. I explained again about my dog. I produced the official identity cards which I hold for my dog: one certifying that he is a trained hearing dog, and one from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People with a statement from the Institute of Environmental Health Officers which says,

Hearing Dogs are allowed entry to restaurants, supermarkets and other food premises. Their very special training means they are not a risk to hygiene in such premises.

I showed these cards to her and she obviously had not a dippy clue about access rights for assistance dogs and did not believe me. I requested that she contact Asda Head Office and confirm my rights and the appropriate treatment of my assistance dog. In the meantime, all the other staff involved were standing there and staring at me and even laughing at me. It was horrible treatment which was extremely offensive. I had done nothing wrong, except to be unfortunate enough to have a disability!

This lady returned after making her phone call and confirmed that my hearing dog was allowed into the store, and I was allowed to continue with my shopping, albeit very unhappy with the contemptible treatment I had received.

Is it my responsibility to train their staff in diversity awareness? No. It is their responsibility as a service provider to have equality and diversity procedures and policies implemented across the company, and to ensure that members of staff at all levels comply with requirements at all times. I had gone into this particular store in January (without my hearing dog) and spoken to the floor supervisor about disability access, and explained the situation. She had assured me that she would inform all staff and at my next visit – with my dog – she came up to me and informed me she had told all the staff. Unfortunately, she seems to have missed out on at least the Customer Services Supervisor, the Security Officer and two members of staff.

So I wrote to Asda’s CEO and Diversity Manager, and told them what had happened. I told them that I felt aggrieved and very upset at such discrimination against me, for reasons relating to my disability. That I did not want to encounter any further barriers preventing me from having full access to all goods, facilities and services on offer. That it is unacceptable for restrictions to be placed upon me due to the attitudinal barriers on the part of staff who are dealing with me.

Did you know?

  • Under the DDA it is unlawful for a person with a disability to be discriminated against, or treated less favourably, because of their disability.
  • The Act requires all employers and service providers covered by the DDA to take steps in applying reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.
  • The Act requires that people providing goods, services or facilities, and owners and managers of premises, should comply with the requirements.
  • In addition, the Act includes an anticipatory duty on providers. They should work with disabled people to explore what reasonable adjustments can be implemented.

I had no reply from Asda.

Two months later, I went into the store again, accompanied by my hearing dog, wearing his working coat. I did my shopping and as I was about to leave the store, a security guard approached me and told me dogs were not allowed on the premises. I requested his name and he refused to give it to me. Eventually, one of the assistants gave me his name. I was apologised to by staff and told that it would not be a problem to bring my hearing dog into the store if he wore his coat when he came in.

Can you believe this?!!

I explained that he does wear his coat every time he comes into the shop and that despite this, I have been stopped on numerous occasions. I was then told that the security guard had seen the dog but did not see the coat. Huh! I was so annoyed, an assistant came over to me and tried to give me a bunch of flowers and apologise. I don’t want apologies or sodding flowers, I want things to be PUT RIGHT.

I fail to understand why someone can’t see a hearing dog’s coat as the coat is almost the same size as the dog and clearly visible, it has a white assistance dogs logo on the top, and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People written in large white letters on the coat. Am I expected to explain to staff that I can’t hear and the reason for the assistance dog every time I come into an Asda store? Am I expected to walk around with a placard explaining why I’ve got a dog with me in a food store? Or hand out flyers? As a disability awareness trainer, I’d be very interested to know of the current ways of training staff that companies utilise these days, as I seem to be completely out of touch.

Clearly, no action had been taken since I wrote to Asda so I wrote to the CEO and the Diversity Manager again. This time, it was a much longer letter. During my research when writing this letter, I discovered some interesting information. Asda’s diversity strategy is clearly outlined on their website, where it states;

At Asda, each of our stores offers a wide range of disability and family–friendly services, and all of our colleagues are fully trained to help make the shopping experience as easy as possible. From the Braille guns we use on packaging, and our hearing loops and Minicom text service, to the baby changing facilities with free nappies and feeding rooms — we aim to make our stores accessible to all.

Obviously their staff have not been fully trained, as they claim. They constantly make my shopping experience inaccessible. My hearing dog cannot be left outside the store for their convenience. He is fully trained to Institute of Environmental Health standards and to Assistance Dogs UK standards.

Their website stated they are Two Ticks accredited by JobCentre Plus for being positive about disabled people, they are a partner of choice for Remploy, and that they aim to treat all customers exactly the same;

We aim to treat every member of our diverse team exactly the same — and our customers too for that matter — regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnic origin, age, beliefs or whether they have a disability. Career opportunities and promotions at Arseda are based entirely on merit.
In fact, we’ve been awarded the two–tick disability symbol from Job Centre plus for making sure that people with disabilities are fully supported in the working environment. And we are also the proud partner of choice for Remploy, the organisation that helps overcome barriers to employment for disabled people.

I wonder does their policy exclude people with assistance dogs? Making a branch accessible is as simple as telling all the staff that work there about access rights for disabled people and their assistance dogs, whether those dogs be a guide dog for the blind, a hearing dog for deaf people, a dog for the disabled, a support dog, a canine partner, or a dual purpose guide and hearing dog.

I question the value of their membership of the Employer’s Forum on Disability (EFD). The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Policy and top level commitment’;

Service to disabled customers will form an integral part of the company’s product and service standards. A company-wide policy will be agreed by the top team and communicated to the rest of the company.

The service to disabled customers at Asda is clearly not up to the expected high standards of service given to non-disabled customers. Why has their company policy on services to disabled customers not been communicated to this Asda branch’s staff? Has such policy been communicated to other Asda branches?

The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Staff training and disability awareness’;

Specific steps will be taken to raise awareness of disability among employees involved in developing, marketing and delivering products and services to customers. Training will be made available to communicate service standards and to equip employees to achieve these.

Uh. When? Where? I would be most interested to know what steps were taken to raise awareness of deafness and hearing dogs among the employees involved in delivering products to customers, i.e. the staff at this particular branch. Clearly, no deaf awareness training was delivered that I can see evidence of. Deafness might be invisible but ignorance isn’t.

I wrote to my local MP and told him what had happened. His reply;

Thank you for keeping me up to date on your correspondence with the Co-operative store as well as Asda. I was pleased to learn that the former complaint with the Co-Op has been resolved, whilst the latter store remains unable to train its staff appropriately.

As you state, how can someone see your dog, but not his distinctive coat indicating he is a working dog. With or without awareness training, I still feel it difficult to believe someone wouldn’t use their initiative and think for themselves. Or are we raising a generation of robots who cannot make the link between a working dog and a policy of no animals in a food store. It is surely not difficult to have a policy of no animals, except for and then list (with pictures if needed) the exceptions. I despair.

I got a (rather unprofessional) reply from Asda’s customer services, claiming that they had written to me in February but clearly I had not received that letter. They apologised and said all their staff are trained and they take discrimination very seriously.

Then I received a letter from the new manager of the Asda branch concerned, apologising very nicely and asking that I ask to see her when I next paid them a visit, and she would apologise in person. She also included £20 in vouchers. She said it appears one of her colleagues made an error of judgement and that they had not been laughing at me. Colleagues cannot pass their probation without completing disability awareness training; the colleagues involved had been re-briefed. At that particular store, they even have a profoundly deaf member of staff, and they have also had collections for assistance dogs. So they really are very aware of accessibility and won’t tolerate discrimination.

Problem sorted. Or so I thought.

I went into Asda today and was stopped by a stroppy young girl who informed me dogs are not allowed into the store. I told her to fetch the manager. While I was waiting, one customer told her my dog is an assistance dog, and she retorted that dogs are not allowed into the store. Another customer said to me, he doesn’t know what is wrong with people these days, why don’t I just carry on shopping. While he made a fuss of my dog, I replied that no, I’m going to complain. Absolutely right, he said!

The manager came out and I thanked her for her letter, and explained that I had been stopped yet again. She apologised, she had told all the staff, and I said it’s simply not good enough. I asked for an explanation from Miss Stroppy who said my dog was touching the shelf. Which was empty. The manager explained to her that my dog is a hearing dog and is allowed into the store. I really do think young people are so insolent these days. The manager couldn’t apologise enough, and I told her that I am EMBARRASSED. I walked away and carried on shopping.

Five minutes later, she came up to me with a huge bunch of flowers and apologised again. How moving. How nice. Hopefully, this new manager will teach her inherited team of almost-humans that disabled people can’t be treated like shit.

Or in other words, How to get a Huge Bunch of Flowers for Free without Giving Your Man the Eye.


Clause 14 – from the other side

21 02 2008

A lot of debate has been going on about Clause 14. An awful lot of debate about a deaf person’s right to choose to have a deaf or hearing child. Have your eyes glazed over yet? They won’t after reading this.

To summarise, Clause 14 says that people who have inherited conditions (disability, illness or serious medical condition) –

  • will NOT BE ALLOWED to be egg or sperm donors
  • CANNOT use embryos that have inherited conditions (leading to deaf or disabled babies)
  • What does this mean? It means that –

  • freedom of choice is limited (reminds you of Hitler, perhaps?)
  • it’s possible that less deaf and disabled babies will be born as a result (this smacks of eugenics)
  • but most chillingly, attitudes towards disability and deafness will change for the worse (dragging us back hundreds of years)
  • You can show your support to stop Clause 14 from becoming law by writing to your local MP. A copy of a letter you may want to use can be found HERE.

    But what people may have forgotten about is the other side to all of this.

    The human side.

    Just imagine if Clause 14 was made law. What about the person that is born disabled then? Just close your eyes for a second. You’re human with human emotions, and have the power to reason, just like everyone else. You happen to have a part of your body that doesn’t work. Let’s say, you have Down’s Syndrome. You know you have Down’s. Heck, that’s ok isn’t it? The problem is other people’s attitudes. Now, imagine ….. one day, you find out about Clause 14, and you suddenly realise, that perhaps your parents didn’t or don’t want you. Other people don’t want you around. Just because you have Down’s. When all along, you thought you were loved. Wouldn’t your world just cave in?

    Read Dave Hingsburger’s full story here.

    I remember having this horrible gnawing feeling of exclusion at school. I went to a hearing school. People would stare at me as if I had two heads. Just because they had been told I’m deaf. I clearly remember a group of first years walking past me in the corridor one day. I knew one of them, as her older sister was in my class. She had obviously told the rest of her class that I’m deaf, for they all turned and stood there staring at me as if I was a green alien beamed down from Mars. At meal times, no one would let me sit at their table, if there were few spaces left – the caterers regularly set a few tables less at the weekends as a lot of boarders went home, so you had to hunt for a place to sit. I had to beg to sit somewhere. Just because I couldn’t hear them and join in. At Physical Education, no one wanted me on their team and I was always the last one picked. Just because I couldn’t join in their banter. I had to put up with this kind of crap for five years. It scars you. It burns you to the core. I still deal with crap like this today, but thankfully I don’t have to live with the people concerned, I can walk away from them. They can’t.

    Now imagine …. if your parents and family felt like this. That you’re somehow ‘wrong’ and shouldn’t be here. Your fellow students. Your work colleagues. Your social contacts. Anyone you came into contact with.

    It doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s Hitler all over again. And this is why we must stop Clause 14.

    In my opinion, ‘disability’ is a politically incorrect term – wouldn’t a better one be ‘having different abilities’? And what’s ‘wrong’ with being different, anyway?

    Until you have experienced exclusion through no fault of your own and walked a mile in those shoes, you can’t imagine how horrible it is to be on the receiving end of it.

    Please write to your MP today and help to stop this crap.