Shanmugam calls for clearer rules on guide dogs

Shanmugam calls for clearer rules on guide dogs
Mr Alvin Ng (left) and his guide dog Seretta meeting guide dog Esme and its owner Cassandra Chiu (in white) before the Gratitude in Darkness dinner at River View Hotel on Friday night

He called for a "more supportive regulatory framework", adding that he came to know of some difficulties faced by those who are visually impaired who use guide dogs after meeting psychotherapist Cassandra Chiu in February.

 


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Life with Esme, the guide dog

SINGAPORE - Last Saturday, psychotherapist Cassandra Chiu made the news when her Facebook post about how she was treated at a Forever 21 clothing outlet went viral.

Ms Chiu, who is blind, had her guide dog with her at the store, and was repeatedly stopped by staff.

Such incidences, sadly, are common in her life.

"Many Singaporeans have not understood or accepted the use of a guide dog. They are not ready yet," said Ms Chiu, who is the second person in Singapore to be matched with a guide dog.

Under the law, such dogs are allowed everywhere, including on MRT trains, in hospitals and in halal restaurants, except hospital operating theatres and the zoo.

But the 33-year-old said she often faces negative reactions whenever she takes Esme, her Labrador guide dog, into shops, eateries and other indoor public places.

She has been scolded and refused entry into places when Esme is with her. Once, at International Plaza, she and her friends were rejected by three restaurants in a row.

When this happens, she tries to show the staff the legislation regarding guide dogs and her Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped member's identification card, in order to explain her need for a guide dog, usually to no avail.

Once, she was even pushed down an escalator by an angry shopper who couldn't understand why Ms Chiu had to take a dog into a mall. Ms Chiu had to be tended to by paramedics.

That is why there are few guide dogs here, as blind people are unable to get past the fear of rejection, she said.

Ultimately, it is "down to the retail manager of the shop and how understanding and sympathetic he is to the use of a guide dog", she said.

"Many basically don't care, even though there is legislation in place."

 

This is unlike in countries such as the United States, Australia or Japan, where rejecting a blind person with a guide dog can be seen as discrimination. A company or person who treats a person with a guide dog differently can be subject to prosecution.

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