Blind man stunned by guidedog insensitivity

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Copy of ST p6big sec!!  Basheer Claasen 074.JPG (39125844) THE STAR Basheer Claasen, of Vorna Valley in Midrand, was asked to complete his shopping at a local Spar without his guidedog after customers complained about its presence. Spar has since apologised for his humiliating experience. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng

Johannesburg - A blind man was appalled when he was asked to remove his guidedog from a Joburg grocery shop because the dog “might eat some of the food off the shelves”.

Basheer Claasen was midway through his shopping at the Vorna Valley Spar when he was told by a manager that customers had complained about his guidedog and he should please leave it outside while he completed his shopping. The manager suggested that Claasen complete his shopping with the help of a store employee.

Last month, trainers from the South African Guidedog Association (Saga) gave Claasen and his dog Zigzag three days of training on how to safely navigate the 2km route from his house to the Vorna Valley Spar. This is to give Claasen increased independence and allow him to do his shopping.

Claasen said it was humiliating that someone would suggest he should leave his dog, which is a trusted companion, outside a store in order to gain access. “I treat him (Zigzag) like my son… I trust my dog more than I trust a person to lead me around.”

He said that since getting his guidedog, his life was easier and more enjoyable.

“This is clearly a lack of education and knowledge about guidedogs.

“In this day and age, how can people still be ignorant about guidedogs, and people with disabilities in general?”

Claasen and his girlfriend laid a complaint with Spar on their Facebook page.

Gareth Saunders, the retail operations executive for Spar South Rand, responded by saying the manager in question had admitted his mistake and apologised. “Our policy is absolutely that we allow guidedogs into our store for visually impaired people,” he said. “I don’t think the man on duty at the time has had experience of guidedogs before.”

Saunders said they hoped to do extra staff training with Saga in the store.

Claasen’s girlfriend, Bonita Blankenberg, who is also visually impaired, is still very angry about the incident.

“I just feel we are living in a society where there is no reason for anyone to make uninformed remarks. There’s lots of information around,” she said.

Gail Glover, the guidedog services manager at Saga, said that when guidedog users encountered a problem in a shop, they should take it to the most senior member of staff, and that would frequently resolve the issue. “Not everybody out there understands what a guidedog is,” said Glover.

“There can often be a problem with security guards as there is such a high turnover of staff in this area.”

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