Bedfordshire Police say they are treating an incident, in which a woman with a rare genetic eye disorder was told she couldn’t bring her guide dog inside a Bedford shop, as a possible hate crime.
Lucy Applegate, 30, went to Josens on Harpur Street to look for shoes for her daughter who will start school in September.
While waiting to be served, with her guide dog Nacho sitting patiently beside her, the owner approached Lucy and told her to leave.
“He came up to me and just said “you can’t have a dog in here”,” said Lucy. “I explained that he was a guide dog but he complained that if the dog touches anything he won’t be able to sell it.”
Lucy says she tried to explain that not allowing service to someone with a disability or refusing to allow an assistance dog into a shop is against the law, but the shop owner refused to budge.
“I started to get upset and two ladies walking by saw this and came in to help,” added Lucy.
“They also explained the law but the owner kept shouting and was so rude. One of the ladies went off to get a police officer from Lime Street.”
Lucy told us that even once the police officer arrived, and had also explained the law, the owner refused to change his mind and allow her into the store with Nacho.
“Nacho is my eyes,” said Lucy. “He’s been with me now for just over a year and we’ve worked hard to build a relationship together.
“He could tell I was getting upset and started to get upset too, which meant he drooled a little on the floor making the owner shout even more.
“He complained that the shop was now covered in germs and that he didn’t allow guide dogs because one had “messed his shop up” in the past.”
At this point the police officer suggested that they leave the store and that the police would look into this further.
“This incident is being treated as a hate incident and we have spoken at length to the shop owner,” said PC Stacey Hayes, from Bedfordshire Police.
“It is completely unacceptable for someone to be turned away from a shop because of their disability and we have been liaising with Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Bedford BID to help prevent this from happening in the future.”
Emily Papaleo, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) network manager for the east, said: “It is shocking to see just how widespread everyday discrimination against blind and partially sighted people really is.
“Our legal services team works tirelessly to challenge discrimination, including illegal access refusals, but we believe it is vital that people are aware of the law and have the tools they need to tackle illegal practice themselves.
“Working in partnership with Guide Dogs, we’ve recently launched our new toolkit that we hope will inform and empower even more guide dog owners to know their rights, recognise unfair practice and challenge discrimination should they encounter it.”
Equality Act 2010
The law states that disabled people, including guide dog owners and other blind or partially sighted people, have important rights under the Equality Act 2010.
This act allows for blind and partially sighted people to have the same right to services such as supermarkets, shops and other retail outlets as everyone else.
Service providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people can access services. This includes amending a ‘no dogs’ policy to allow guide dogs and other assistance dogs.
The Equality Act 2010 covers England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 and Disability Discrimination Order 2006 provides similar protection.
Lucy was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa three years ago. The condition is an inherited genetic disorder that affects the retina.
It kills the light sensitive cells in the eye causing the person’s eyesight to deteriorate. Lucy says she can still see partially but will one day lose her sight completely.
Lucy says it’s been difficult living with the condition: “I’m going blind and I don’t have a lot of confidence.
“It takes a lot of confidence to live with any disability. I have two young children and my husband is now my carer.
“Everyone else in Bedford has been brilliant and other shop keepers know Nacho by name. I will try not to let this beat me but it’s difficult.
“It’s taken a long time to get to where me and Nacho are and something like this just makes me want to stay at home. it shouldn’t be like that.
“I just hope that by telling people what happened, it helps stop the same thing happening to someone else.”
Manjit from Josens told the Bedford Independent: “I was not aware of the law about guide dogs which have (sic) been pointed out by the police. Apologies have been made to the family.”