Allowing guide dogs with the blind is a right, not a privilege

TODAY Voices, 13 September 2013 (print edition)

In the letter, “Up to eateries to decide on allowing guide dogs on premises” (Sept 12), the writer cites hygiene and the possible discomfort of other customers as reasons for allowing eateries to decide if guide dogs are welcome.

Firstly, allowing a guide dog for the blind to enter eateries is not a ”privilege”. It is a civil and human right. Guide dogs serve as their owners’ eyes, granting the latter greater independence via fast, efficient and safe travel.

Denying guide dogs entry to eateries is akin to banning those using aids such as wheelchairs, crutches, white canes or hearing aids from patronising these places.

The second concern pertains to hygiene. The authorities, via the Environmental Public Health Act, have deemed guide dogs clean enough to be allowed into eateries.

Likewise, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) has advised that they be allowed into halal eateries, with appropriate hygiene measures. It should be noted that guide dogs are bathed, groomed and undergo regular health checks.

They are also professionally and intensively trained service animals. The Guide Dogs Association of the Blind has already clarified that guide dogs are trained to minimise any disruption caused by their presence.

When not actively working, they lie under their owners’ seats and do not bark, wander about or sniff others.

Lastly, Singapore is a highly urbanised country and society where many people have little contact with animals. As such, there always will be a significant proportion of the population who are uncomfortable around, or even fearful of, domesticated animals such as dogs and cats.

Allowing eateries carte blanche to decide whether to allow guide dogs on their premises based on their customers’ comfort level is thus undesirable. It could lead to a scenario in which guide dogs are banned in most places.

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA) urges the converse. As in developed countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, Singapore should enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that clearly defines the rights of people with disabilities.

It should include hefty penalties to deter violations as well as appropriate safeguards against abuses of such rights by the disabled. In the case of guide dogs, eateries should allow them without preconditions, but should also be allowed to evict any that end up being disruptive.

The DPA notes that the other writers (“Time for mindset change towards the less able”, “Talks, circulars can educate public on guide dogs”, Sept 12) are in support of guide dogs and the rights of people with disabilities, who have long been a marginalised, misunderstood and neglected group.

As we aspire towards a gracious, inclusive society via public education and moral suasion, let us also ensure that their rights, in accordance with Singapore’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, are respected and enforced via legislation.

Alvan Yap
Advocacy Executive
Disabled People’s Association


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