Rights of assistance dogs and their owners
Shops and retail outlets
The Equality Act and DDA in Northern Ireland provides for blind and partially sighted people to have the same right to services such as supermarkets, shops retail outlets as everyone else.
It includes 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.
Reasonable adjustments may include:
- providing a sighted guide and assistance around the shop and with shopping
- being aware that additional time, effort and skills are sometimes needed when providing services to blind and partially sighted people
- in self-service checkouts, staff should offer assistance
- offering help with the bill, paying and giving change, etc.
Making general provision for blind and partially sighted people within the retail outlet or shop
- ensure the entrance is clearly signed and highlighted from the surrounding walls; and the route to the entrance is clear, easy to find and follow, with any potential obstructions removed, or clearly highlighted if they cannot be removed
- the removal of ‘A’ boards and goods displayed outside shops along the circulation routes as these are a particular problem for blind and partially sighted people and pose a potential hazard
- tactile paving surfaces may be required to provide warning at a dropped kerb road crossing or at the approach to steps encountered along the route; or to provide guidance for instance if the entrance is not on the direct route
- for large retail outlets or supermarket chains, provide appropriate taxi / car drop off point near the entrance to enable blind and partially sighted people to find the entrance easily
- choose décor with good colour contrast and lighting
- make sure that all the circulation routes are free of hazards, e.g. displayed goods, special offers, freestanding wine coolers
- ensure that glazed walls and doors are highlighted appropriately
- provide audible alarms and systems
- display good signage which is legible. The signs should have contrasting features i.e. good contrast between the text and its background, in the recommended size and font. They should also contrast clearly with the surroundings in which they are positioned
- provide information in alternative formats for customers, e.g. Braille and large print of relevant information. If this is not possible, staff should offer to read the information
- ensure trolleys and baskets do not pose an obstruction near the entrance
- perhaps a meet and greet member of staff or a help button is positioned at the entrance of large stores to provide assistance to blind and partially sighted shoppers
- provide sighted guide around the shop and assistance provided at checkouts for blind and partially sighted shoppers who request this
- assistance with releasing a trolley via the coin system
- stores or shops publicising any special arrangements in place for blind and partially sighted people e.g. where they can get assistance, what services are available, dedicated staff to help at cash machines etc.
- large complexes or shops to provide tactile maps on the layout of shop or location of departments
- assistance with locating goods on special offer or sale
- accessible chip and pin systems with large clear buttons is provided
- blind and partially sighted shoppers are allowed the option to sign instead of using a chip and pin if this is the preferred option
- option to provide large print receipts when requested
- assistance is provided to use escalators in large retail premises
- checkout staff to read the bill, repeat back to the blind or partially sighted person the money given to them as change
Additional provision and assistance for guide dog owners and their dogs
- change policy and practice to amend a ‘no dogs’ policy to allow for assistance dogs. ‘Assistance dogs welcome’ signs, available from Guide Dogs, may be displayed
- never distract or harass the dog. Check with the owner before any contact is to be made
- never feed the dog. Guide dogs are working animals and are fed a strict diet at regular times; any additional food may cause the dog to be sick or adversely affect its health in other ways
- in seating areas ensure there is sufficient space for a guide dog so that it can remain with its owner
- large retail complex to consider providing a spending area for assistance dogs
The best place for a guide dog is with its owner, who will have both the skills and the relationship with their dog that ensures a high level of control.
Remember that a guide dog owner is no different from any other customer. They should be treated with the same level of courtesy afforded to all customers.