Woollies welcomes guide dogs, apologises for incident

Gail Spooner arrived at the coffee-shop last Thursday hoping to have a catch-up over a cup of coffee with her friend Tracy Oliphant. However the coffee shop manager told her they could not allow her into the shop with her guide dog.
Outraged at the discrimination the women took to social media to vent their disappointment over the incident.
“My friend and I went to the coffee shop at Woolworths, Cascades to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, we were rudely refused entry because I am blind and have a gorgeous guide dog,” said Spooner saying that the manager on duty barred her entry as he “didn’t want to offend other customers”. To make matters worse when the women expressed outrage at the manager’s decision he responded by ridiculing Spooner with a mock imitation of being blind.
“Young man, that you not only offended and embarrassed me, you downright insulted me intimating my blindness and my dog were offensive, “posted Oliphant on behalf of her friend.
South African Guide Dog Association Public Relations manager Pieter van Niekerk, told Maritzburg Sun that incidents discriminating against blind, autistic, and physically disabled people occur on a daily basis.
“When these cases are brought to our attention we contact the company in question and also bring the matter to the attention of the relevant authorities so that this never occurs again,” said Van Niekerk.

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He urged victims to know their rights which are enshrined in the constitution, particularly the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 (Equality Act).
Van Niekerk conceded though that even though there is a legal framework protecting against discrimination, there is a challenge in educating society, particularly the role that guide dogs play for disabled people.
“Society does understand the working dog to a certain extent but still needs to be educated properly in order for events like this to never happen again – 90% of the time it is people who are uneducated about the laws regarding guide dogs who discriminate against blind people and their guides, particularly security guards and retail employees,” added Van Niekerk.
Woolworths South Africa distanced themselves from the actions of the implicated manager and have apologised. “We have contacted the affected customer to apologise and resolve the matter. Woolworths has always welcomed guide dogs into our stores and our policies ensure all staff are aware of this stance. However, it appears there was a misunderstanding with this staff member. We take feedback of this nature very seriously and will reassess our training efforts for our staff in store and at our coffee shops ,” said the company in a statement.

Bongeka Sibisi

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