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MEP visits Forfar as EU guide dog research raises questions

Scottish Conservative MEP Ian Duncan, and Alex Johnstone MSP, today visited the Guide Dogs Scotland training centre in Forfar, to highlight a recent study into access rights for guide dog users across the EU.

The study, commissioned by Dr Duncan, found a wide variation in the access rights of guide dog users across the EU, depending on which member state they reside in.
With over 2.5 million blind people living in the EU, a total of eight member states lack sufficient legislation regarding the access rights of guide dogs, with some having no laws on the issue at all. The Equality Act 2010 has helped ensure guide dog users in UK have some of the best legal protections across Europe, but it is clear there is still more to do.
Dr Duncan published the findings during a visit to the Guide Dogs Scotland training centre in Forfar today.Commenting Ian Duncan said:
"I commissioned this research in order to try to build an accurate picture of the experiences of guide dog users across the EU. I am pleased that the UK emerges from this study well, but it is clear that more can be done to improve access for guide dog users. In particular, the variation in levels of support for our blind citizens across the European Union is truly shocking and must be dealt with."
“It was great to be able to witness first hand the hard work that goes into the training of each and every guide dog in Scotland. The centre in Forfar is a real asset to the area, but also makes an immeasurable contribution to the lives of blind and partially sighted people across the country.”
"I take some comfort from the findings that the UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to access rights for blind citizens. We obviously have more to do, but we are well ahead of others and from our position of relative strength, we should be putting pressure on the others to get to the same level. It is only fair and right."
Alex Johnstone MSP said:
“The Guide Dogs Centre in Forfar is well known in the local community, but it was great to experience a small part of what is involved in training a guide dog. Attempting the obstacle course today assisted by one of the dogs in training has given me a new appreciation of the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people on a daily basis, and the incredible aid that a guide dog can be.
“I hope this research will encourage other countries to up their game when it comes to access rights, and ensure the UK continues to strive to make life easier for guide dog users.”
Jane Horsburgh, Policy Manager of Guide Dogs Scotland said:
“Guide dog owners, like all assistance dog owners, rely on their dogs to feel confident and supported. Being turned away by a business leaves people feeling angry, upset and embarrassed. It can rob people of their independence and can leave them unable to do the everyday activities such as travel by taxi, go to the local shops, or eat out with their friends or family.”
“It is encouraging to see from the report that the UK is ahead of the curve in legal terms. Unfortunately, however, despite legal protection, guide dog and other assistance dog owners still experience this form of discrimination every day across Scotland and the rest of the UK and this needs to change.”
Some of the findings of the research include:
- France has had a long-standing and properly enforced policy toward guide dog users since the 1980s; users, by law, have free and uninterrupted access to all places and facilities open to the general public.
- Similarly, guide dog users in the UK find themselves protected by the 2010 Equality Act which requires 'reasonable adjustment' on the part of private and public buildings to accommodate disabled persons. Of course, there is still progress to be made- too many buildings and public areas remain difficult or even impossible to access by the visually impaired, but the report finds that Britain is on the right track.
However, the report found that the Netherlands has only just started preparing such legislation, a step that Cyprus has yet to even take. Meanwhile, blind people in Bulgaria are the most disadvantaged in Europe with only 45 operationally trained guide dogs (among a population of 7.2 million).  It has been estimated that a staggering 18,000 persons potentially need guide dogs and only as of 2013 can their users be accompanied by their dogs in banks, and only then following a European Commission ruling.
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