It has taken me some time to sit down and write this post, (nearly 5 months in fact) as it is hard for me to recall the events without sadness and upset, rather than anger and bitterness.
I am a very easy going kinda gal, I do not see myself as someone who carries a chip on my shoulder because I have an eye condition. I also feel that I am open to alternative perceptions and don’t make the automatic assumption that every person that I come into contact with is aware of sight loss or how to interact with a guide dog. After all, why would they?
I have been into places where the staff or members of the public are not aware of the regulations regarding a guide dog, I am more than happy in such situations to calmly and politely explain the law regarding working dogs.
Just because a member of staff is unaware of the regulations is not their fault, the staff in question are usually very willing to listen to my explanation and then help me with my requirements.
There have been occasions where staff are not aware of the regulations and are not prepared to listen, in these instances (thankfully few and far between) I make contact with my local guide dog office, who are more than happy to contact the staff and explain things to them.
However, the incident in question was not one of lack of awareness, it was one of personal attitude coming forward into a professional role. Something that having worked within retail for most of my career is a major ‘no no’
And for that reason, I hope that you understand why this has caused me such upset.
Having spent the morning doing some shopping in my local town, both me and the pooch were tired out and in need of refreshment. So I stopped at a coffee shop, where I could feed my caffeine addiction and allow my guide dog to rest her paws with a nice bowl of water.
Upon entering the cafe, a member of staff approached me and showed me to a table right by the door. I thought nothing of this as the interior of the cafe was quite dark in comparison to the bright sunshine of outside, so it gave me time to settle myslef and allow my eye’s to adjust to the difference in light levels.
Although a bright day, it was very chilly and on removing my coat I realised that the table was in a direct draught from the door, so having adjusted to the light levels I got up to move to a table further within the cafe, as there were several empty tables dotted around.
On moving to a different table, a member of staff came upto me and told me to stay where he had seated me and he would come to me, so I explained that I was moving out of the draught. This was when the ‘politeness’ ended.
He said that I needed to sit where he had put me because of my dog, so I calmly explained that she was a working dong and allowed. I explained that I didn’t wish to sit in the draught, so he said that I could sit at a table at the very back of the cafe. When I asked him why I couldn’t sit at the table I thought was more than suitable, as it had ample room underneath for my guide dog. The member of staff then explained that he did not want my dog to bite or upset the other customers.
Again, calmly I explained that she was a working dog and as such would sit quietly under the table away from anyone else.
That was when the member of staff told me that he was aware of the rules regarding “my dog” but if I wanted to be in the cafe then I would sit where he put me.
At this point, I was struggling to contain my upset and explained that I would not be placed where he saw fit, I explained that as a visually impaired person, my guide dog was my mobility aid and that I felt that he was discriminating against me because of her. He told me that me insisting on having my dog in the cafe was causing great upset to the other customers, who he felt would leave were I to stay and continue to cause a ‘scene’.
I informed him that because of his attitude I would not be staying in the cafe and that he had lost potential business. I bit back the tears as I spoke. As I felt humiliated and forced to leave through no fault of my own.
At this point a man who had witnessed the events stood up and offered to take me to the near by Costa, as he and his family were disgusted by the way in which I had been treated and would no longer stay in the cafe.
I had heard several other murmurs as I was leaving. I did not take the man and his family up on their offer, I just wanted to get away. So I walked for a little while before contacting my local guide dog team and explaining the situation to them.
The member of staff I spoke with in the office was very kind and understood my upset and was able to understand what I was saying despite my sobs on the telephone. She assured me that she would pass the matter on to the public relations officer and that she would be in contact with me.
My local guide dog team were fabulous and got in contact with the cafe in question straight away, but not before they had received two further phone calls by concerned members of the public that had witnessed my ordeal.
After writing a very strong worded letter, the guide dog team received no reply or comment from the cafe.
It was over a month later when two friends, along with their guide dogs went into the cafe for a spot of lunch, that they were privy to wonderful service and staff that were more than helpful to each of their needs.
So, I took it that the cafe or in particular the member of staff that I had encountered had learnt from the letter they had received. That I bit the bullet and went back in, this time I couldn’t face going alone, so took a friend and my son.
The service was fabulous, but I could not relax, I found myself listening to each of the staff members to hear if I could recognise the member of staff that I had previously had the misfortune of speaking with.
I was not relaxed, nor did I feel that I was being fair on my son or friend as I was ‘on edge’ so we drank our drinks and left.
I do not feel that I will be able to return to the cafe in question again.