No Guide Dogs Allowed?

By Brandon Smith

In 2002, I was told about a program that provided computer training to the visually-impaired. The training center, located in a private home, was operated by a husband and wife who (themselves) were visually-impaired. It was a noble idea; two people providing their expertise and giving back to the community. An added bonus: the student received a computer upon completion of the program.

There was just one problem…

No guide dogs allowed.

The couple did not want dogs in their home. They claimed that dogs were ‘unsanitary.’ Predictably, this caused uproar in at least half of the blind community. “How dare they not allow a student to bring their guide dog?”

Are the directors of this training program within their rights to deny an individual to bring a guide dog? Plus, two visually-impaired individuals-guide dog owners or not-should understand the important services these animals provide. The flip side is guide dog schools stress the importance of having good orientation and mobility skills with a cane so leaving the dog at home is an option. But is it necessary? Should the guide dog owner be forced to leave half of their traveling team at home because an establishment does not allow dogs?

Of course, there are private property rights to consider. In defense of the couple, personal space and comfort is an important factor to consider. Not everyone enjoys the companionship of animals, or having animals inside their home. It was argued the couple’s training center should abide by the same laws as commercial buildings since this facility was providing a service to the general public; however, this wasn’t a commercial property.

There are many viewpoints to consider in this debate. It’s a choice of free market or feel good, force or freedom. Should we force business owners to do the right thing, or let customers decide? Do we respect personal space if it’s used to provide a public service, or do we respect the rights of individuals with disabilities?

Is there a compromise?