Gertrude Friese of Offenbach was blinded. She reports on her experience. The city’s Disability Advisory Board is calling for more blind guide dogs to be accepted.
Offenbach – The events that Gertrude Friese is able to recount are startling and infuriating: Friese has been blind since childhood and relies on a guide dog for everyday life. However, in recent years, they have repeatedly suffered discrimination and insults, and been met with a lack of understanding – experiences experienced by many people across Germany who depend on assistance dogs for daily life. “For example, when I visited the gynecologist, the receptionist refused me access to the clinic,” says the 74-year-old. “I was asked to leave the dog at home or put it on the street so I could come in – how do people imagine that?”
A bus driver in Offenbach also wanted to throw her, who was on the bus with her companion dog, out of the car when a woman with a pram wanted to get on—baby carriages were more important than dogs, he said. “I’m not doing it for the sake of conflict, but I insisted I had the right to stay on the bus,” she says. Then Frieze stood in the aisle with her guide dog.
Discrimination against people with disabilities – there is often a lack of knowledge and empathy
But there are such incidents all over Germany, confirms Fries, who is on the Offenbach Advisory Council for the Disabled and the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. When the staff at the café refused to serve them because they did not want to tolerate the dog, many of the guests expressed their solidarity with me and left the café.
Stroking distracts from supportive work
Assistance dogs are specially trained dogs that help people with disabilities,
Supporting disabilities or illnesses in daily life. The best known is the guide dog for the blind, but there are other specialties: There are dogs trained in diabetes, who can smell and display their owners’ blood sugar swings, and animals trained in epilepsy and narcolepsy that can bring emergency medications and are trained to get help.
For people with severe mobility impairments, assistance dogs are trained to open and close doors, operate switches, and help humans undress. Less well known is a dog who has been trained to be deaf, indicating sources of noise. Assistance dogs must be approved by the health insurance company and trained between the ages of one and a half and three years. They stay with their humans for about six years before retiring.
Once a service dog is in their tool kit, they are on duty and should not be talked to or petted as this would distract them from their helping role. Help dogs on the job aren’t animals, but medical aid – access to public facilities such as doctors’ offices, grocery stores, or museums should not be denied. Today, information about assistance dogs is given on Self-Help Day in the pedestrian zone. Information: »pfotenpiloten.org
In addition to a lack of empathy, it’s often ignorance that leads to problems, says Freese. Rainer Marx, chair of the Offenbach Disability Advisory Board, is also calling for more education and awareness of the needs of people with disabilities and disabilities. “What a lot of people don’t know is that when a service dog is in service, it’s considered a medical aid, not a dog,” he says. After all, no wheelchair user will be required to leave their wheelchair in front of the door and then see how they can somehow enter the building. “You have to understand that anyone who has a help dog is also counting on them,” Marks says.
According to federal law, no person with a disability should be worse off, Medicaid is allowed access to participate in public life, and exceptions must be strictly justified. However, there is a lot of ignorance about the attitude of people who rely on assistance dogs. “This badly needs to change,” says Freese.
Discrimination against people with disabilities – the city council wants to improve the situation
The Disabled Advisory Board wishes to improve the situation for people who have assistance dogs in Offenbach, and the goal is for Offenbach to declare itself a ‘dog-friendly assistance municipality’. A few weeks ago, Hanau was the first Hessian municipality to do so – authorities, shops, medical practices, pubs and cultural institutions were informed of the legal status, with stickers on the door they could identify themselves as dog-friendly. “Participation is such an important factor, we can’t exclude people because of bias,” Freese says.
The city will scrutinize the matter with kindness, explains Director of Social Affairs Martin Wilhelm. As a first step, house rules will be changed in all municipal buildings: there are exceptions only for guide dogs, but now there is support from specially trained dogs for other tasks. Accordingly, the city will explicitly name assistance dogs in the house rules. “Anyone who depends on a help dog should not be excluded from public life,” says Wilhelm. It remains to be seen whether people, like Hanau, will participate in the Pfotenpiloten Initiative project to help dog-friendly communities.
The Advisory Board for the Disabled has contacted the Hotel and Restaurant Association to promote admission, and further cooperation is being considered, for example with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce or the Medical Association. (Frank Somer)
Travelers with physical disabilities still find it difficult at Offenbach Central Station. After all, a study on the renovation of the building was recently presented, as a result The train station must be free of obstructions.