Created: 9/23/2022 4:52 am
Of: Frank Sommer
Offenbach native Gertrud Frese is blind. She reports on her experiences. The city’s Disability Advisory Board is calling for more acceptance of guide dogs for the blind.
Offenbach – The events that Gertrud Frese is able to tell about are stunned and infuriating: Frese has been blind since childhood and is dependent on a guide dog for everyday life. In recent years, however, she has repeatedly experienced discrimination and insults, and she was met with a lack of understanding – experiences that many people across Germany who depend on assistance dogs have in everyday life. “For example, when I visited the gynecologist, the receptionist refused me access to the practice,” says the 74-year-old. “I was told to leave the dog at home or put it in 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 vehicle when a woman with a pram wanted to get on – prams were more important than dogs, he argued. “I really don’t do it for conflict, but I insisted that I had the right to stay on the bus,” she says. Frese then stood in the aisle with her guide dog, reports op-online.de.
Discrimination against disabled people – often there is a lack of knowledge and empathy
But there are such incidents throughout Germany, emphasizes Frese, who is involved in the Offenbach Disabled Advisory Board and the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. When the staff in a café refused to serve them because they didn’t want to tolerate the dog, several guests expressed their solidarity with me and left the café.
In addition to a lack of empathy, it is often ignorance that leads to problems, says Frese. Rainer Marx, chairman of the Offenbach Disability Advisory Board, also calls for more education and sensitization for the needs of people with disabilities and impairments. “What many people don’t know is that when the assistance dog is on duty, it is considered a medical aid, not a dog,” he says. After all, no wheelchair user would be asked to leave their wheelchair in front of the door and then see how they can somehow get into a building. “You have to understand that anyone who has an assistance dog is also dependent on it,” says Marx.
According to federal law, no one with a disability should be worse off, medical aids are permitted for access to participation in public life, exceptions must be precisely justified. However, there is a lot of ignorance about the situation for people who rely on assistance dogs. “That urgently needs to change,” says Frese.
Stroking distracts from supportive work
Assistance dogs are specially trained dogs that help people with disabilities,
Support impairments or illnesses in everyday life. The best known is the guide dog for the blind, but there are other specializations: there are dogs trained for diabetes, which can sniff out and display blood sugar fluctuations in their owners, animals trained for epilepsy and narcolepsy can bring medication in an emergency 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 their humans undress. Less well known is the dog trained for the deaf, which indicates sources of noise. Assistance dogs must be approved by the health insurance company and are 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 harness they are on duty and should not be spoken to or petted as this would distract them from their assisting role. Assistance dogs in action are not considered animals, but medical aids – access to public facilities such as doctor’s surgeries, grocery stores or museums must not be denied. Today, information about assistance dogs is given at the self-help day in the pedestrian zone. Information: » pfotenpiloten.org
Discrimination against the handicapped – the city council wants to improve the situation
The Advisory Board for the Disabled would like to improve the situation for people with assistance dogs in Offenbach. The aim is for Offenbach to declare itself a “assistance dog-friendly municipality”. A few weeks ago, Hanau was the first Hessian municipality to do this – authorities, shops, medical practices, bars and cultural institutions were informed about the legal situation, with stickers on the door they can identify themselves as assistance dog-friendly. “Participation is an important factor, we cannot afford to exclude people because of prejudice,” says Frese.
The city will examine the matter benevolently, explains Social Affairs Director Martin Wilhelm. As a first step, the house rules will be changed in all municipal buildings: there are only exceptions for guide dogs, but now there is support from specially trained dogs for other tasks. The city will therefore explicitly name assistance dogs in the house rules. “Anyone who is dependent on an assistance dog must not be excluded from public life,” says Wilhelm. It still has to be checked whether, like Hanau, the project of the Pfotenpiloten initiative for assistance dog-friendly municipalities will be involved.
The Advisory Board for the Disabled has now contacted the Hotel and Restaurant Association to promote acceptance, and further cooperation, for example with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce or the Medical Association, is being considered. (Frank Sommer)
Travelers with physical disabilities still have a hard time at Offenbach Central Station. After all, a study on the renovation of the building was recently presented, as a result the train station should be barrier-free.