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Blind rider fights guide dog ban

A BLIND horse rider is taking Para Equestrian Ireland to the Equality Tribunal after they refused to allow her to take her guide dog on a foreign training trip.

Joan Salmon, who is the only blind member of the Paralympic horseriding team, claims the committee discriminated against her by refusing her permission to bring her guide dog, Smudge, to the event in Scotland. She argues that blind people should have their guide dogs with them whenever possible.

Ms Salmon, who became blind as a result of complications from diabetes, was due to present her case at the hearing on Thursday this week. She is an experienced horsewoman who competes in dressage and has represented Ireland in the past two Paralympic Games.
The National Council for the Blind of Ireland is supporting Ms Salmon in her discrimination action. Des Kenny, chief executive of the council, is among the witnesses who will testify at the hearing.

The row over her guide dog travelling with her to events began two years ago. Up until then she had attended international events without her guide dog. In 1996, she won a bronze medal for dressage at the Atlanta Paralympics and in 2000 she competed in the Sydney Paralympics, both without Smudge.

When she decided to take her dog to Scotland for an event two years ago, the Para Equestrian Committee told her that the animal could not travel. The committee claimed that it did not have the resources or funding required to accommodate the guide dog, and will deny discrimination at the hearing.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland offered to provide an escort, who would travel with Ms Salmon and Smudge to Scotland. But the Committee refused this, as her place had already been offered to another rider.

Ms Salmon’s complaint to the Equality Authority is the second it has received about guide dogs. Last year, a visually impaired man who was refused entry to a Dublin pub with his guide dog was awarded €3,000. John Roche, a Department of Defence telephonist, was told by staff at Madigans pub that it would be against food hygiene regulations to allow the dog in. An equality officer ruled Madigans had contravened the Equal Status Act, failing to do "all that is reasonable to provide Mr Roche with special treatment or facilities to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability".

Last month in England, a blind cricket team successfully sued a hotel for refusing to allow them to bring their guide dogs with them on a pre-arranged booking.

The Eastern Vipers Cricket Club, from March, Cambridgeshire won a landmark settlement for disability discrimination when the guesthouse accepted they had no good reason to turn away the team and their dogs and were awarded £7,000 compensation. The payment is believed to be the highest ever of its kind.

The guesthouse, which cannot be named for legal reasons, was booked in February as part of a summer tour, but the booking was cancelled when the owners realised that some team members had guide dogs, claiming they could not accommodate the dogs.