Is it illegal to deny access to a working dog?
What is a working dog?
A working dog provides immeasurable assistance to a person with a disability. A Guide Dog assists a person with visual impairment by safely guiding them around obstacles, provides companionship and offers independence and mobility. A Service Dog assists a person with a physical disability by performing tasks that include opening and closing doors and retrieving items that are out of reach. An Autism Support Dog makes outings a possibility and less stressful as they support with the child’s urge to bolt and run away.
Are there legal implications for denying a working dog access?
Yes, there are.
A working dog is an essential part of a person with a disability. Denying access to a person with a working dog is a form of discrimination. This is against the law in South Africa. Many South Africans are unaware of what a registered working dog is. S A Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind provides extensive training to its working dogs to ensure that they are well socialised and behaved in any environment and situation. These dogs know that once their harnesses or jackets are fitted, they are at work.
Section 9 of the Equality Act in South Africa states that no person may unfairly discriminate against any person on the ground of disability, including:
- a) Denying or removing from any person who has a disability, any supporting or enabling facility necessary for their functioning in society;
- b) Failing to eliminate obstacles that unfairly limit or restrict persons with disabilities from enjoying equal opportunities; or
- c) Failing to take steps to reasonably accommodate the needs of such person.
Establishments within the food industry are regulated by the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act which states the following:
- In terms of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, No. 54 of 1972 (“the Foodstuffs Act”) and regulation R962 (10)(i) governing general hygiene requirements for food premises and the transport of food, no animal, subject to the provisions of any law, is to be kept or permitted in any room or area where food is handled, except for guide dog accompanied by a blind person, who may be permitted in the sales of serving area of the food premises.
- It is submitted that the provision logically extends to working dogs who are Service Dogs in the areas of Autism or Service Dogs required for disabled persons (other than blind persons) on the basis of the principles discussed above in relation to the Equality Act and Constitution.
How does this apply to your company?
1) In terms of the abovementioned legislation, should you refuse access and/or service to a person with a disability with their Guide Dog/ Service Dog or Autism Support dog, appropriate recourse in the Equality Court or other appreciate forum may be sought against you and your company.
2) You should aim to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and not discriminate on the basis of their disability (visually impaired, autistic or physically disabled who requires the assistance of working dogs)
3) You should grant persons with disabilities full and equal enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of all other patrons- including access and enjoyment.
4) Your company should make an environment that is accessible to physically and visually impaired individuals.
5) S A Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind (GDA) will advocate for the access rights of people who are disabled who use a working dog that has been professionally trained by the Association (or any working dog trained by a member organization of the International Guide Dog Federation or a member Organisation of Assistance Dogs International). GDA will assist people who use working dogs to take advantage of the legal rights that they are entitled to.
We are covered by the South African Constitution and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Earlier this year, Judge Saldanha handed down a landmark judgement, the first in South Africa with the denial of access of a working guide dog.
For more links to the legislation, see below: http://www.justice.gov.za/legislation/acts/2000-004.pdf /https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201409/35906rg9862gon962.pdf