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Guide Dogs: Of Mutual Accommodation

Firstly, allowing a guide dog for the blind to enter eateries is not a “privilege”. It is a civil and human right. Guide dogs serve as their owners’ eyes, granting the latter greater independence via fast, efficient and safe travel” (Allowing Guide Dogs With The Blind Is A Right, Not A Privilege, Mr. Alvan Yap).

One would be hard-pressed to disagree with the perspectives articulated by Mr. Alvan Yap, that guide dogs should be allowed into establishments without preconditions (“Allowing Guide Dogs With The Blind Is A Right, Not A Privilege by Mr. Alvan Yap, September 13, 2013). Furthermore, the lack of awareness on the significance and responsibilities of guide dogs means that public education campaigns – particularly with Singapore’s recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – will be beneficial.

In other words, it is not a question of “which party has the greater need” or “who is right or wrong”, but a matter of “how can we – within these constraints – accommodate the needs of these parties in these public and private facilities”?

Yet – insofar as guide dogs are hygienic, properly groomed, and professionally trained – some detractors have raised objections that other people could be allergic to fur-bearing animals, or that they might feel uncomfortable in the presence of dogs. Shouldn’t the rights of these patrons be respected too? Can we, in these circumstances, prioritise these rights?

To me, a fixation to have everything and anything codified in law blinds these individuals to the importance of accommodation and compromise. Common sense and calmness should prevail in these instances. In other words, it is not a question of “which party has the greater need” or “who is right or wrong”, but a matter of “how can we – within these constraints – accommodate the needs of these parties in these public and private facilities”? Just as it is ludicrous and offensive to turn a person with a disability (for whom the guide dog is a source of empowerment and independence) away because another might feel uncomfortable, severe medical allergies should not be conveniently trivialised.

There are no established protocols, no instruction manuals; but all it takes is for someone to step in and mediate. And of course for the parties to be reasonable, and understanding.

This, I suppose, reflects the essence of Mr. Yap’s message. A gracious and inclusive society is not just one that operates within the confines of a legal framework, but one which has the sensibility to solve seemingly-impossible situations amicably and respectfully. Now that is a meaningful vision of Singapore worth aspiring towards.

A version of this article was published in TODAY.

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Guide Dogs: Of Mutual Accommodation

  1. Hi Jinyao, I’ve commented on your letter on the TODAY webpage where it originally appeared, and reproduced my comment below (typos and all, ouch).

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and for your support!

    Alvan

    ***

    Dear all, thanks for your feedback. I’m replying here because my reply is too long to be published.

    Mr Kwan makes an excellent point in that using one’s common sense and being gracious are important when it comes to such situations. I thank him, too, for his support and heart for the disability community.

    I agree everyone has rights, and the rights we want to be entitled to should not infringe on those of others, else they are no longer valid.

    Let me clarify a few points Mr Kwan and others have brought up though.

    * Disability / anti-discrimination laws are not something newfangled and ‘western’. Such laws are established in many countries, whether developing or developed ones. Some examples:

    Australia: Disability Discrimination Act (1992)
    Malaysia: Persons with Disability Act (2008)
    UK: Equality Act (2010)
    Japan: Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons (1992)
    USA: Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)
    China: Law on Protection of Disabled Persons (1990)

    We do not have to follow them blindly, of course. We can learn and adapt from them; we are a (famously) pragmatic lot – if it works, let’s use it. If not, don’t. But we first have to agree such a law is needed. And if not everyone does for whatever reason, I respect their views. Here, I’m explaining why I feel it is essential.

    (Just to point out the use of guide dogs and exceptions to their usage – it’s not ‘anywhere and anything goes’ situation – is also an established practice elsewhere.)

    By the way, Australia and UK are multicultural, multi religious, multi-lingual countries like Singapore. True, Singapore is majority-Chinese, while Oz and UK are majority-white, but all three countries have significant and thriving ethnic and cultural minorities. So I’m puzzled by the argument that Singapore is somehow so very different from them in this aspect.

    * In a proposed disability law, there are safeguards to prevent abuse of its usage by the disabled. For example, it can mandate that guide dogs which turn out to be disruptive can be evicted.

    Or if another customer has allergies to dogs, the guide dog owner can be asked to move to another spot or even outside (I’m sure the guide dogs owners themselves will be understanding and comply – even if not, the law compels them to move).

    * One may ask, why the need for a law? Why make it so legalistic and complex? Why not simply bank on people’s common sense and civic-mindedness?

    In an ideal world, public education and awareness, and people’s inherent moral sense and decency would make it unnecessary. And I do believe that vast majority of people in Singapore are open-hearted and understanding and empathetic to be inclusive of people with disabilities among us.

    Yet there is always the minority who, for whatever reason, do not ‘give way’ or use their common sense – this applies both to the disabled and non-disabled. Yes, there are people with disabilities who are unreasonable, have an entitlement mentality and uncivil – just as there are non-disabled ones who behave in such a manner. (Though, to be fair, people with disabilities are usually the ones on the receiving end of some of the most outrageous and blatant discriminatory practices, whether in school, at the workplace, or even as a customer. Just ask any friend, family or person you know with a disability.)

    And this is where the law comes in – it has a valuable deterrence effect. Much as our laws against littering and a whole host of other offences with fines as penalties do. Doesn’t mean we send out an army of police officers to nab offenders, oh no.

    And lastly, it does help to a certain extent. As a deaf person, to take a simplistic example, right now, I have no legal right to ask that important videos – say, information videos by ministries – be subtitled or transcripted. I am thus denied full and equal access to information, and I have to depend on the goodwill and kindness of the relevant people/company/govt agency to do so – and they may or may not comply. With the backing of the law, my rights to have the same level of access will be protected and guaranteed.

    Of course, having such a law doesn’t mean the issue is totally resolved, but it will signify the government is serious about this, have an important symbolic and deterrence value, and helps mitigate the worse excesses of discrimination.

    Once again, thank you for the civil discussion. 🙂

    Posted by disabledpeoplesassociation | September 18, 2013, 12:15 pm
    • Thanks Alvan! Really liked your letter, but got irked by some of the comments that followed it. I’m guilty of not knowing enough about guide dogs and relevant legislation (your clarification has been helpful), but will do my part.

      Have a wonderful week ahead!

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | September 18, 2013, 1:37 pm

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