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Guide dog refusals, Deafblind signing

MP Alex Chalk talks about his efforts to change the law governing businesses which refuse guide dog owners access to commercial properties.

Stories about guide dog owners being refused entry to businesses and taxis are depressingly common.
But the MP Alex Chalk has been raising awareness about a discrepancy which sees taxi drivers who don't know the law being treated differently to the owners of bricks and mortar premises like restaurants.

We hear from Dr Amy Kavanagh about her campaign to urge people to ask before manhandling blind and visually impaired people who they think need help.

And Emma Boswell tells us about a world record attempt with her employers Sense and Mazars - to create the biggest half hour-long deafblind manual signing lesson.

Presented by Peter White
Produced by Kevin Core

Available now

19 minutes

In Touch Transcript: 02-10-2018

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

 

IN TOUCH – Guide dog refusals, Deafblind signing

TX:  02.10.2018  2040-2100

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

PRODUCER:            KEVIN CORE

 

White

Good evening.  Tonight, the MP who wants a change in the law to give greater protection against discrimination to guide dog owners.  And the marathon designed to give greater understanding about deafblindness and a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

 

But first, the charity Guide Dogs says that over the period of a year almost half of owners have been denied access to services because they were using a dog.  And by no means all of them would have the confidence to react like Leicester student Charles Bloch did as he tried to get into a taxi.

 

Clip

Taxi driver

…I don’t take dogs.

 

Bloch

By law you can’t deny us.

 

Taxi driver

With me it’s about my religion.

 

Bloch

It might be but it’s against the Disability Act of 1995.

 

Taxi driver

Let me call the office back.

 

Bloch

They’ll tell you exactly the same thing.

 

Taxi driver

Let me call the office.

 

Bloch

Go on then.

 

Taxi driver

Are you going to be send another car?

 

Bloch

No, no I don’t want another car, I want this car.

 

Taxi driver

Oh no he says he doesn’t want any other car.

 

Bloch

No, I want this car.

 

Taxi driver

Yeah cancel it.

 

Bloch

No.

 

Office

Yeah okay.

 

Bloch

If you drive away I’ll sue you.

 

Taxi driver

Yeah, I’m ready to [indistinct words].

 

Bloch

Oh, go on then, good luck.

 

White

Well Charles did report it to the local authority.  The driver was fined and acknowledged that he hadn’t understood the law, which says drivers can’t refuse to take a guide dog in their cab unless they have a dispensation on medical grounds.  

 

But a recent incident in Cheltenham has alerted local MP Alex Chalk to the limitations of the law to protect guide dog owners in other circumstances.  He told me what happened.

 

Chalk

Well it was a constituency issue, so a constituent of mine who has a guide dog found himself trying to go and have a curry in Cheltenham and was refused access and found that predictably upsetting and dehumanising and it ended up on social media and there was a huge amount of consternation.  But when he came to speak to me about it I was very concerned, as was he, that the options for people who’d suffered that kind of clear breach of the Equality Act were really not there in terms of seeking assistance with enforcement.  And that’s why the more I looked into it the more I saw that there was a problem with the act and I decided to take the issue up.

 

White

And what you found was a distinction between what happens as far as, say for example a taxi driver refusing admission, and someone who’s being refused admission to premises.  Can you just explain what that is?

 

Chalk

Exactly right.  So, there’s a distinction in the act between wheeled premises, if you like, like a taxi and bricks and mortar premises.  So, under Section 168 of the Equality Act if you are unlawfully refused access to a taxi well that’s a matter that is punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 and the police can get involved.  But if you’re refused access to a bricks and mortar premises – a café or a restaurant – your options are really this:  1. Do nothing; 2. You could go and unleash the gates of hell, as it were, on social media and see what happens and lose all control of the situation, but your other only option is to go and seek a civil remedy, which in plain English means going through the whole hassle and inconvenience and strain of launching your own civil proceedings down at Gloucester County Court or whatever, at cost to you personally and potentially to get a civil remedy of a fine.  Now that’s not a very appealing option for individuals and I don’t think they should have to bear that entire burden and it seemed inconsistent and wrong to me.

 

White

Part of your concern, I think, was about the reaction to this and what actually happened in this case.

 

Chalk

Yes, it did end up on social media and there was a real storm about it and the individual curry house owners themselves offered a fulsome apology, a sincere apology, which was accepted.  And one of the really important reasons why we need to change the law is so that individuals who have been wronged can have a proper process driven procedure for resolving this issue rather than having potentially entirely disproportionate responses on social media, which is not what my constituent wanted at all.

 

White

Relatively few taxi drivers, who’ve discriminated against people with guide dogs, face prosecution.  Isn’t it the case that powers aren’t any good if you don’t have the will to use them?

 

Chalk

Well that’s a really important point, of course, that’s right, so you’ve got to ensure that there are sufficient resources.  But the situation at the moment is one step ahead of that, which is that even if there was the will and the resources there isn’t the legal power to do so.  So, in other words, neither the local authority nor indeed the police could go and have a word with that restauranteur and say well this is a breach of the Equality Act, I might not take proceedings on this occasion, first time of whatever, words of advice but they can’t do that now, whereas they can do it to a taxi driver.  And that strikes me as a very odd distinction because it’s no less unpleasant or less dehumanising if you’re refused access to a curry house, for example.

 

White

You mentioned councils there, this would mean them taking on more enforcement work.  We know their budgets are dominated by social care commitments and very squeezed, do you think their departments can really take on more?

 

Chalk

I think the point is that actually these sorts of complaints in somewhere like Cheltenham where I live and where I represent are not routine weekly occurrences, so we’re not suggesting that this is going to sort of open the flood gates.  But this ought to be relatively straightforward, simple and proportionate investigations – was someone refused access with a guide dog or an assistance dog and was that refusal lawful – again that ought to be fairly straightforward and not terrible resource intensive – what actions are going to be taken and what record is going to be kept.  So, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thing to ask authorities to do.  And after all they still are licensing authorities and they’ve got to have every – all the information required on whether to renew that licence and that must include whether they’ve been good on equalities.

 

White

But to do this there will need to be a change of powers, this surely will need a change to the Equality Act, how likely are you to get that do you think?

 

Chalk

Well Rome wasn’t built in a day, we’ll see.  But the response from the minister in the debate, Justin Tomlinson, who’s – he’s personal commitment to these issues, as a former disability minister, is unquestioned and he was incredibly helpful and apparently sort of grateful for this having been raised.  I’m cautiously optimistic that we can achieve an improvement and I’m getting assistance from Guide Dogs, the charities, on how we work up a proposal for government and as I say I’m cautiously optimistic that we can change the law.

 

White

Alex Chalk MP.

 

Let us know what you think and indeed what’s worked for you in situations like this.  

 

But the protection Dr Amy Kavanagh is looking for is from people whose intentions are good, but who she thinks are just going about helping her in the wrong way.  Offering appropriate assistance is something we often discuss on In Touch but why did Dr Kavanagh think she needed to go to the lengths of a Twitter campaign to get her message across?

 

Kavanagh

I was born with sight loss, I’ve been registered partially sighted since I was a child but I only started using a white cane in the last year and it was quite a shock to me how much I get pushed and pulled and grabbed and it became problematic, it was causing me anxiety on my commute.  It all started with me, essentially, just kind of saying on social media – this keeps happening to me – and then a lot of people responded.

 

White

Give some examples of the kind of assistance that you’ve had in the last year that you don’t find helpful.

 

Kavanagh

Well I don’t really class it as assistance, if I’m honest Peter, I think that being grabbed or pushed without warning is never helpful.  Tuesday, I was stepping on to a train carriage, I was using my cane to perceive the depth, to judge the step that I had to take, and out of nowhere a woman grabbed both of my arms and pulled me into the carriage.  Now at my local station there’s a step of about 30 centimetres from platform into the train, that could have caused me a serious injury.  And I said to her – please don’t do that, I can manage by myself, if you want to help me please ask.  I think anyone would find it a bit unnerving.

 

White

Let’s do the constructive thing here:  What’s the perfect way to behave, how do you want your help to be offered?

 

Kavanagh

Well it’s kind of what the hashtag says, it’s just ask, don’t grab.  Ideally introduce yourself – hello, my name is Amy, can I offer you any assistance today.  And then really importantly listen to that response because I’m sure we’ve all experienced people getting to that first step and then suddenly you’ve been dragged across the road when actually you wanted to go into the shop.  And remember to say goodbye, so you’re not left talking to a wall.

 

White

You know of course that a lot of people will say – well I was just trying to help, I meant well, I meant to help – and you’ll also know that a lot of the help we get is constructive and good.

 

Kavanagh

Yeah, any really constructive and positive help is always welcome.  I try, when it’s safe and I’m able to do so, to just calmly explain to someone – oh I know you were trying to help me there but actually what you did was frightening, I’m a bit disorientated now, in future just check in with someone, just say hi quickly, can I help you.

 

White

I’m interested in this because I mean we’ve often raised this issue on In Touch of inappropriate help, I have to say that just from my own experience we don’t seem to have made much impact on it over the past 50 years, people are still doing it.  Are we expecting the impossible, in a way, of people who, let’s face it, don’t see that many blind people around?

 

Kavanagh

It is a difficult campaign to really get out there.  I think really the major win for me would be to get something as part of the national curriculum – better disability awareness.  But I think this is an issue that we all face and we have got to keep being vocal about it.

 

White

But is there a danger, perhaps, of doing more harm than good – you know making people feel well if that’s your attitude that’s the last blind person I’ll give help to?  I can promise you I’ll get emails and letters like that after this broadcast.

 

Kavanagh

I’m sure but I think really people who genuinely do want to help, who have really good intentions, whenever I have been able to really calmly and politely say – ooh actually please don’t pull me across the road, can I take your arm – people learn something, people want to help.  And actually, if people aren’t willing to listen then maybe we don’t want them grabbing us.

 

White

Dr Amy Kavanagh

 

And the charity Sense is also looking for more understanding but it’s gone about things in a rather different way.

 

Sense represents people with the dual disabilities of sight and hearing loss and in London earlier today they mounted an attempt at a world record. The idea – the biggest ever half hour lesson in how many deafblind people communicate.

 

Emma Boswell is deafblind herself and she’s leading the signing marathon.  She has Ushers syndrome, one of the frequent causes of dual disability. 

 

Well before the event, and using tactile signing with her male interpreter, she explained how people communicate using touch.

 

Boswell through interpreter

The first main method is deafblind manual.  Twenty-six hand movements signifying the alphabet and being able to spell communication on to somebody’s hand.  There are other types of tactile communication as well including hands on sign language, whereby the deafblind person traces the hands of the person using BSL – British Sign Language.  Other thing to mention, Peter, is something called tadomer as well, which is whereby a deafblind person will follow communication by putting their hand on the throat and neck of somebody who’s speaking.  And that’s following the vibrations caused by speech.

 

White

Just tell me a bit more about that – I mean what actually can you tell from throat vibration, how does that actually work?

 

Boswell through interpreter

Essentially, they outstretch their arm and put their hand under the throat and chin of the speaker.  And through the palm of the hand they can feel the vibrations of speech and it can be used in a combination with lip reading as well.

 

White

Can that actually give you precise words?

 

Boswell through interpreter

I think it can, I think it’s a combination of feeling the jaw move and feeling the vibration from the vocal chords.  It’s not strangling the speaker – don’t get me wrong – but it’s just being able to understand communication at close proximity.

 

White

Just give us a sense of what’s going to happen at the marathon and what are you trying to achieve?

 

Boswell through interpreter

With the 250 people there hopefully a lot of learning tomorrow, that’s for sure, and I’m hoping to be part of a world record and a first, that’s going to be a big achievement.  But I think awareness, awareness for deafblind people, awareness for people who might not even know how to communicate with somebody who is deafblind or might be a little bit anxious about touching somebody because we’ve all done that thing in the train station or the bus stops – seeing somebody who is blind or deafblind, and not being confident to approach them.  But I think we can bring some really good awareness, hopefully we’ll have achieved a lot more than just a Guinness world record.

 

White

Has technology come up with any alternatives to manual signing?

 

Boswell through interpreter

Well I would say some technology is very helpful for people who are deafblind but not everybody uses the same type of technology.  iPods are brilliant providing somebody can see.  There’s another side to it as well where people will struggle and the world is becoming more reliant on technology as time goes by, sadly some people will be left behind because it’s inaccessible.  But in terms of manual communication there’s nothing like the human touch and having a person to communicate with you.

 

White

Have you had situations where you’ve really been surprised to find that somebody actually did know the deafblind manual or could communicate when you wouldn’t have expected it?

 

Boswell through interpreter

Do you know what, yes and this happened quite recently.  I went to do a school visit and a little girl came up to me and said I can do that and she could communicate with me absolutely fantastically and she was as thrilled as I was because she could reach out and communicate to me and it was incredibly impressive that she had the confidence just to come up with me, she couldn’t have been anything more than about 11 or 12.  So, yeah, it’s brilliant.  When people come up to you and they can communicate with you it’s wonderful because all communication is good.

 

White

Just one potentially embarrassing question, because it will have to be your interpreter who gives you the information that I’m giving you, but what makes a good interpreter?

 

Boswell through interpreter

What makes a really good interpreter is somebody who asks the client – what do you want from me, what can I do, how can I help you to communicate in the best way possible.  So, it’s really that attitude, first of all.  What I find frustrating is when communication breaks down because then you’ve just lost your part in the conversation, you can’t follow.  The interpreter is a really important go between and somebody who is patient and helpful and can help to make communication truly work.

 

White

Do you think you’re going to hit your 250?

 

Boswell through interpreter

My fingers are crossed tight, even though I’m doing sign language at the moment and keeping my legs crossed instead but it’s a truly unique occasion and it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to learn, to spread some awareness and to stop deafblind people becoming isolated.  It’s a real opportunity in the making.  So, I don’t think you can put a price on that.

 

Boswell through interpreter at marathon

Morning, this is Emma Boswell and all the people and the crowds are gathering before me, I’m slightly nervous and I’m just beside my stage and it’s difficult to say how many people are here today but we’re aiming for 250 and it looks pretty full to me, so I’m hopeful by the end of the count we will have got the number we need.  I’m slightly nervous but I’m sure I’ll be fine once I get on to the stage.

 

Announcement

Start, ready, three, two, one.  [whistle blown]

 

So, working in pairs, work out who’s going to be the writer, who’s going to be the receiver.  Okay and what I want you to do is spell something to your partner.  Choose something, whatever it is, it can be hello or how are you whatever and see if your partner can guess it.  Okay?

 

Kramer

So, I’m Richard Kramer, I’m CEO of Sense.  It’s fantastic to see everyone have a go, communicate and everyone has said they’re going to have a go, they’re going to go home and they’re going to teach their names to their loved ones and their children.  So, hopefully we can spread the word that people communicate in so many different ways.

 

Accouncement

X, Y, Z, round of applause.

 

Boswell through interpreter at marathon

Well teaching the lesson, crikey I was nervous to begin with but it became something of a thrill.  It’s absolutely brilliant, it felt wonderful.  Achieving an audience of 350 people today has been brilliant but I have every hope that next year we can perhaps double it or even more, that would be fantastic.

 

White

The record attempt there organised by Sense and the accountancy firm Mazars.

 

And you heard Emma Boswell there, speaking through her male interpreter.

We want your comments and your stories, you can call our action line for 24 hours after the programme on 0800 044 044.  You can email intouch@bbc.co.uk or click on contact us on our website, from where you can also download tonight’s and other previous editions of the programme.  From me Peter White, producer Kevin Core and the team, goodbye.

 

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