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21 November, 2016

New Guide Dog handler passports

Ian giving Guide Dog, Bryson a hug.

Cards provide photo identification to assist police and businesses

From January next year, Guide Dog handlers will carry photo identification cards recognised by the government that can be produced in the case of a business illegally refusing them entry.  

The move to Guide Dog handlers carrying photo ID cards is the result of a NSW Police request to align all authorisation cards for guide, hearing and assistance dog agencies.

The ‘Guide Dog Passport’ will include a photo of the handler and a description of the dog on the front, and an important statement on the back about rights of access for people with a guide dog, on the back.

Ian Florek, who was born blind and received his first Guide Dog when he was 18-years-old, welcomes the new-look card, as the existing card only displays the handlers name with no photograph or details about the dog.  

“I’ve had a Guide Dog for the past 51 years and I think it is much more widely known these days that 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, but from time to time you come across someone who is not aware,” Ian said.

He said recently he visited a hotel to have a meal and on arrival was told he would have to sit outside on the footpath. On another occasion, Ian was asked to leave his Guide Dog outside because staff were worried other patrons wouldn’t like a dog inside the restaurant, which is also an illegal request.

“The ID cards are useful for these occasions. You can just hand it to them and say please read the back of this,” Ian said. 

“The passports will be particularly useful for new Guide Dog handlers. When I got my first Guide Dog if people said you can’t come in here, I felt like I wanted to crawl under a table. These days I’m much more assertive, so I hope the card gives new handlers confidence,” he said.

 Penalty notices of up to $880 can be issued for discrimination

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford said the card would assist police to readily identify a person as a Guide Dog handler if they were called as a result of a business illegally refusing access. 

“Police officers will respond to reports of discrimination against a Guide Dog handler and issue fines where necessary,” he said.  

“NSW Police can issue on-the-spot fines of $165 and penalty notices of up to $880 for refusing entry to a person with a Guide Dog.”

Ian, who has been a client of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, the leading provider of Guide Dogs and other services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently, for more than 50 years, said his seventh and current Guide Dog, Bryson allowed him to live his own life and find meaningful work.

“Having a Guide Dog has given me so much confidence that I really did feel like I could get a job,” Ian, who has spent most of his working life as a switchboard operator, said.

However he admits that incidents where he is refused access really dent this confidence, so the Guide Dog Passport along with an access rights card help.

Access should not be a barrier for Guide Dog handlers

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 were denied entry into 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." 

The new “passport” will have a three year expiry date with all cards having a consistent renewal date.  

Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.