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Guide Dog: Trip Out in The Cold Vacation Scuttled At Last Minute

Editor's Note: Canadians are used to seeing blind people accompanied by guide dogs. In fact, access to public places is so taken for granted that many of us have forgotten about the early struggles for acceptance.

A comment by Colonel Baker, founder of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, is typical of the early resistance to the guide dog among blind people and the public at large. He called the concept of using a guide dog "undignified". Needless to say, someone with that attitude would not be likely to lead the campaign for equal access.

Laws had improved somewhat by the early 1970's, but there were still problems. In 1971, Paul Gabias went with a friend and his guide dog to Place des Arts in Montreal for a concert. He walked past the protesting ushers and took his seat just as the concert began. During the intermission the police came and carried him protesting from the auditorium. It seems that Quebec law permitted, but did not require, access to blind people accompanied by a guide dog. After dragging him out of the service entrance of Place des Arts, the police officers added insult to injury by offering to drive him home. He kicked the cop where it counted!

That display of youthful intensity led to a conviction for disturbing the peace. It is hard to imagine that a blind person visiting Place des Arts today would have any problems at all. We have come a long way. But there is still much work to do. In some ways our success at improving attitudes in Canada has contributed to the naive assumption on the part of the general public that everyone operates by "our rules".

The following article was in the January 12, 1997, edition of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Doreen Demas, a member of the Winnipeg Chapter of the NFB:AE did not get her winter vacation. The travel agency and the tour company, although sympathetic and anxious to solve the problem, demonstrated their lack of experience with blind guide dog handlers when they offered to exchange her tickets to Mexico for a tour of Hawaii.Hawaii, as everyone familiar with guide dog issues knows, quarantines every dog arriving on the islands for six months. The Mexican hotel offered as a substitute for the one she had booked was in a very inconvenient location for anyone without access to a vehicle. We in Canada do not have the power to change the laws of other countries. We do have the power to educate ourselves and to insist that travel agencies and tour companies we use ensure that similar situations will not arise in the future.

Doreen Demas was supposed to be relaxing on a Mexican beach today, but her winter trip was scuttled at the last second by a Cancun hotel manager who barred her guide dog from his posh hotel. "I'm really disappointed," Demas said yesterday, "I worked hard for this vacation and I was looking forward to it. I'm supposed to be packing now and it's just sinking in."

Demas, who is visually impaired, booked the week-long trip with a friend who is also blind, last September through Thomas Cook and Signature Vacations. Right from the start, the tour company and Continental Plaza Hotels were aware Demas' guide dog, Vixen, would be coming on the trip. Then on Friday, a fax from the hotel manager arrived at the travel agent's desk, saying the black lab wasn't welcome at the four-star hotel.

"It was a shock and I felt really horrible about it," agent Elaine Furukawa said. "It's like the manager had no idea what a guide dog is. He didn't understand at all." A rep from Signature Vacations in Cancun was despatched to the hotel to plead with the manager to change his mind, but to no avail. "He didn't budge," Furukawa said. "We tried to find another hotel, but at this time of year, Cancun is all booked up."

Signature's director of sales said last night that Demas will get a full refund, and the company hopes to help her plan her next vacation. "To be honest, it's one of the first times we've run into a situation like this, with a seeing-eye dog," said Pat Rachey, adding that some places are not as sensitive to the needs of the handicapped. Another hotel in Cozumel was willing to accept the dog, Rachey said, but Demas turned it down because it wasn't the same calibre of hotel. Now Demas is left wondering if she'll ever get a winter holiday. This has never happened to me before and I've travelled all over," she said. "I assumed everything would be checked out. Now it seems everyone is just pleading ignorance."

Dean Cousens, executive director of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Manitoba division, said he was shocked by the hotel manager's uncaring attitude. "My experience is that very, very seldom do you hear these stories. Most people are very accommodating, but there's still an awful lot of work to be done."

Comments

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