A delegation from Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs recently descended on Canberra, taking the issue of access rights for Seeing Eye Dogs and other dog guides directly to Federal Parliament.
Under law, Seeing Eye Dogs are allowed to enter just about all public places in Australia. Despite this, Seeing Eye Dogs and their handlers are still regularly denied access to restaurants, taxis, cinemas, hotels and other places.
Caption: (From L to R) Member for North Sydney Trent Zimmerman, Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Member for Higgins Dr Katie Allen get to know Seeing Eye Dog puppy Dora at Parliament House.
Chris Edwards, Vision Australia manager of government relations and advocacy, has been partnered with his Seeing Eye Dog Odie for more than eight years.
In the space of one week, Edwards said he was recently denied entry into two rideshare vehicles and a restaurant. Being denied access to a public place is embarrassing and discriminatory for handlers, Chris said.
“The access rights of Seeing Eye Dogs and their handlers are protected by law across Australia, but unfortunately we still need more awareness about where Seeing Eye Dogs are allowed to go,” Chris said.
“The more understanding we have of this, the closer we’ll be to creating an inclusive society for people who are blind or have low vision.”
Among those the delegation met with was Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Anne Ruston.
“Seeing Eye Dogs and other guide dogs play a vital role in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision and it’s important people recognise and understand the access rights they are granted by law,” Minister Ruston said.
To help highlight the issue, Minister Ruston invited Chris and Odie into the Senate, with Odie creating history by being the first assistance animal to ever enter the chamber. Minister Ruston later addressed the Senate on the importance of Seeing Eye Dogs in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision.
Caption: Minister Ruston learns about Bingo's journey to become a Seeing Eye Dog.
Minister Ruston was one of a number of senior politicians and other decision makers the delegation met with while in Canberra, with discussions around other issues facing the blind and low vision community also taking place.
"Vision Australia is committed to advocating on behalf of the blind and low vision community and we appreciate when people take the time to meet with us and better understand the issues our community faces,” Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton said.
"Working together, we can continue to improve conditions and opportunities and support people who are blind or have low vision to live the life they choose."
Caption: Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten gets to know Seeing Eye Dog puppy Bingo