Webster the guide dog. Picture: Supplied.
Cape Town - More educational awareness is needed at grassroots level to counter the discrimination visually disabled people face daily.

The SA Guide Dog Association (GDA) said every person with a working dog is going to experience the problem of being denied entry at premises because of their dog.

Mobility instructor and regional manager Cheryl Robertson said: “The problem comes from the security guards, who are not educated, as they are the entry point.

“There is a lot of ignorance. Sometimes it's because people just don't know how to react and some just don't like dogs.”

Robertson shared her views following an Equality Court ruling which declared that the denial of access to guide dog owner Amanda Bester and her dog Reo at the offices of the Department of Home Affairs in Mossel Bay was unfair discrimination.

Bester was denied entry in August, 2017. The Equality Court ordered that the department take steps to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. The measures must include the placing of visible signs at all entrances of the department that Guide and Service Dogs are allowed, and the ongoing training of employees and security guards employed and/or contracted to the department on the treatment and handling of disabled persons and, in particular, the identification of guide and service dogs.

The department is also to issue an apology to Bester and report back to the court, within three months, on progress it has made in implementing the court order.

Bester’s was the second reported complaint that highlighted the discrimination faced by people with disabilities who use working dogs.

Last year, Durbanville Hills Winery reached a settlement with Paralympic swimmer Hendri Herbst at the Equality Court after denying him entry to its restaurant. The winery agreed to apologise and pay him R50000. Durbanville Hills will further contribute R50000 to the GDA.

“Society is not aware, or maybe doesn't understand, what a guide dog's purpose is. Not everyone has the money to pursue litigation or take the matter further. We want it to become a law - that working dogs can be allowed at any place,” said Robertson.

Robertson said the GDA was running awareness campaigns, educating people. She said guide dogs differed - working dogs used by the blind have a black leather harness, while those with a red coat are used to guide or comfort autistic people, and a blue jacket indicates that it's a training guide dog.

Herbst said he is encouraged most of the cases are coming to the fore.

“In the past, the cases were swept under the rug. We need private stakeholders and the government to raise awareness about working dogs. These dogs are here to help people with disabilities - they are trained,” he said.

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Cape Argus