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Assistance Dogs (Guide Dogs)

Most people associate assistance dogs with guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired. While this is generally correct, assistance dogs can help anyone with a disability. People with hearing impairments, physical mobility issues, epilepsy, autism, or psychiatric disabilities may fall into this category. Thousands of people rely on assistance dogs every day to help them carry out activities that many people take for granted, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Service dogs are not pets. In practise, guide dogs do not interfere with the daily operations of businesses or premises. They are taught to always sit at their owner’s feet, not to climb on furniture, and not to bother other people. Given the critical role that assistance dogs play for their owners, it is also unlikely that they will be left alone in a property.

What the law says

The Equality Act 2010 (for England, Scotland, and Wales) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (for Northern Ireland) give assistance dog owners important rights. It is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their disability. It is therefore illegal for a holiday cottage owner to treat people with disabilities less favourably than anyone else because of their disability or because they have an assistance dog with them. The Equality Act of 2010 requires ‘reasonable adjustments’ to be made in order for this to occur.

Reasonable adjustment examples:

There is no set criteria of what constitutes a ‘reasonable adjustment’. It is the responsibility of each service provider to interpret this in a way that is reasonable and relevant to their business. What is reasonable for a large hotel chain may not be reasonable for a single holiday cottage owner. What is reasonable for a rural, pet-friendly holiday cottage with a large enclosed garden and plenty of dog accessories may differ from what is reasonable for a town house that opens onto a busy road, has four flights of narrow stairs, and is furnished throughout with white sofas and cream carpet. However, there are a few “reasonable adjustments” that can be made to all holiday rentals.

It is reasonable for any short-term rental owner to waive a no-dog policy. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, “refusing access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in the most exceptional circumstances” is illegal. Refusing assistance dogs because other people may be allergic to them or consider them unclean is also illegal, and charging an assistance dog owner extra for cleaning would be considered discriminatory. It would also be illegal to raise your damage deposit or impose a new charge, especially for guests with service dogs.

Religious considerations

Religious grounds cannot be used to exclude guide dog and assistance dog owners: Religious or cultural beliefs can raise sensitive issues relating to dogs. However,

The Equality and Human Rights Commission successfully reached agreement on this with a number of religious groups including the Muslim Shariat Council. (See ‘Know Your Rights! Assistance Dog Owners’ DRC, 2003). Guide Dogs staff can also advise on this.

Making general provision for blind and partially sighted people

There are many ways that you can make your premises more accessible to blind and partially sighted people: Choose décor with good colour contrast and lighting. Make sure that all the circulation routes are free of hazards. Provide audible alarms and systems. Display good signage

which is legible. The signs should have contrasting features. They should also contrast clearly with the surroundings in which they are positioned. The Guide Dogs for the Blind charity recommends that large print should be “a size 20 Arial font with a good contrast between the text and the background, for example a black font on a white or yellow background.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but adhering to these best practises will go a long way toward making reasonable accommodations for someone who relies on the assistance of an assistance dog.

Additional provision and assistance for guide dog owners and their dogs

Change your policy and practice to amend a ‘no-dogs’ policy to allow assistance dogs. Never distract the dog. Never feed the dog. Guide dogs are working animals and are fed a strict diet at regular times. Provide a water bowl for the dog. Remember that a guide dog owner is no different from any other guest of the accommodation. They should be treated with the same level of hospitality and courtesy afforded to all customers.

How to communicate with blind and partially sighted people and provide sighted guidance

Remember that holidays are important to everyone, regardless of whether or not an assistance dog is required. We all want to feel comfortable and relaxed while away from home, so as holiday property owners, we have a responsibility to point out anything that may not be suitable for any potential guest. Highlight any physical characteristics that are difficult to change, such as low ceilings or doorways, uneven floor surfaces and steps, or changes in floor height. Such information should be made available to all guests, not just those with accessibility needs, so that each guest can make an informed decision based on their individual requirements.

It is reasonable to demonstrate a proactive willingness to assist. For example, ask a visitor what you can do to make their stay as comfortable as possible. If you have any questions about a guest’s specific access needs or their assistance dog, simply ask them or contact the appropriate organisation. During the booking process, it is critical to maintain a good dialogue with the holidaymaker in order to ensure that the property as a whole is suitable for the guests’ needs and to manage guests’ expectations.

Date of guidance: January 2023

Disclaimer – Guidance Sheets are written by experienced Members of the ASSC and other experts. The information in the ‘Guidance Sheet’ is provided by the ASSC for use by Members in support of their own independent business decisions. It does not constitute advice or instruction for which the ASSC can be held liable in any way whatsoever. All Members and other readers remain responsible for the consequences of any decisions taken whether in the light of information gained from this Guidance Sheet or not.

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