For Salma Abdo, who is vision impaired, her Guide Dog, Clare, gives her the independence to get to where she needs to go safely and independently, but sometimes her ability to do this is hampered by those who are not aware of access laws.
Since she was matched with Clare about seven years ago, Ms Abdo, who has an Arabic-speaking background, has helped to educate the community as a Guide Dogs NSW/ACT PR and motivational speaker by sharing her story at seminars, schools and media events. With recent research conducted by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT finding every week one NSW or ACT resident who is blind or vision impaired and relies on a Guide Dog to get around is being refused access to or questioned about entering a restaurant or café, Ms Abdo’s role is invaluable in assisting other Guide Dog handlers.
Along with eateries, Guide Dogs are legally allowed to enter all public places, including shops and supermarkets, cafes and restaurants, pubs and clubs, hotels and motels, hospitals, medical practices and dental surgeries. Fines of up to $880 could apply for those who refuse to allow a Guide Dog to enter their premises. Ms Abdo, who has been vision impaired since birth due to glaucoma and cataracts and became legally blind when she was 14, said she can’t imagine her life without a Guide Dog. “
Clare has given me independence. It’s like having my own car. I can just go wherever I want, whenever I want,” she said. “We are a team that works together.” “She takes me to the train station, bus stop, Woolworths, pharmacy, Kmart and other places I ask her to find,” Ms Abdo said. “She is not a pet, but a highly skilled working dog that cost more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train.” The Chester Hill, Lidcombe and Auburn communities know Ms Abdo well and many have been inspired to help educate others about the role of Guide Dogs.
This has included Masters Pharmacy owner Michael Teghlobi who has a model Guide Dog collection box at his Lidcombe business which has become a talking point for his customers to find out more about the free services offered by Guide Dogs. He was prompted to promote the cause as he has known Ms Abdo since she was a child and has witnessed her confidence and independence increase since having Clare. Ms Abdo also speaks highly of a Chester Hill café that goes above and beyond to make sure her visits are enjoyable.
“They try to do anything and everything for us,” she said. She said although awareness was growing about access rights for people with Guide Dogs, she still often had to explain to business owners that Clare is legally allowed to enter all public places. That is why, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT partnered with the NSW Police Force to develop a ‘Guide Dog Access Rights’ card last year. This card is designed to assist people with Guide Dogs when they are denied access to a public place, business or form of public transport.
It outlines the legal rights of Guide Dog users as well as the relevant Guide Dog access laws, offence codes, definitions and that fines could apply for those who refuse to allow a Guide Dog to enter their premises. Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO, Dr Graeme White said while the public generally do the right thing, people with Guide Dogs continue to face many barriers when going about their daily lives, which strips them of their independence.
“Imagine how you’d feel if you weren’t allowed into your favourite a café. 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,” he said.