An blind activist buddy of mine is on the war path. This time it’s about guide dogs on Swedish Rail:
“Three years ago I got a guide dog. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. Since then, my life has changed fundamentally. I exercise to an extent that I never thought possible. My physical condition has improved enormously and I feel much better to my soul. I used to avoid going out. Navigating a noisy city full of lamp posts and speeding cars was so demanding that I would avoid it completely for long periods. But since I got my dog, things have changed. It’s a pleasure to run around town with him at my side. A bit like regaining sight! In many ways I move as well and as freely as a seeing person. And of course it has done wonders for my self esteem.
But I’ve also come a cross a few frustrating problems. No law prohibits the discrimination of guide dog owners. Restaurant owners, shopkeepers and bath house staff can shut me out without risking legal repercussions. And I have met with discrimination, so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve filed a few complaints with the Ombudsman for the Disabled, but that’s just a symbolic act as there is no anti-discrimination law for such cases.
Now the Guide Dog Owner’s Association has set up a petition to convince Swedish Rail that people with guide dogs should be allowed to sit in any one of a train’s carriages. For several years, we have only been allowed to sit in designated pet-owner seats, which equates a guide dog with a pet.”
I replied to my friend that I kind of support his cause, but that those pet-seats on the trains are intended to protect another disabled group which is much more numerous than the guide-dog owners, viz people with fur allergies. Explained my buddy: as pet-owners and horse-riders are extremely common and wear the same clothes regardless of whether they’re bringing their pets along or not, all public spaces in Sweden are already heavily contaminated with fur. There are only about 300 guide dogs in the country (pop. 9 million), and only about 1% of the adult population reports serious allergic reactions to dog hair. All in all, it would pose no measurably increased problem for allergics if guide dogs were allowed everywhere on Swedish Rail trains. Such dogs are specifically trained to sit calmly with their owners. And the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association agrees.
My buddy’s arguments (he asked to be anonymous, since the last time I blogged about him he got mailbombed by people who wanted him to take up their causes) convinced me, and I’ve signed the petition.
The man in the picture is not my activist buddy, though he’s pretty cool-looking too. I found it at the Guide Dogs for the Blind website.