Blind World Magazine

Restaurants are now free to allow guide dogs in.

October 30, 2005.
Today Online, Singapore.

No need to apply for licence, says NEA, in liberalisation move

IN a further easing of rules to make Singapore a friendlier place for the visually handicapped who rely on guide dogs, restaurant owners will soon be able to allow guide dogs on their premises without having to apply for a special licence. .

A National Environment Agency (NEA) spokesperson told Today: "NEA recently carried out a review and has decided to grant licensees of food establishments the discretion to allow guide dogs on their premises, so long as the dogs are harnessed and kept at the owner's side at all times." .

The change will come into effect by the end of the year, after details are ironed out. Currently, a licence is issued for food establishments where pets are allowed. .

This revelation follows on the heels of SBS Transit's recent announcement that it will allow blind persons with guide dogs to board buses from the beginning of next month. Guide dogs are already allowed in MRT stations and on trains. .

As restrictions are removed from various public spaces, the question is whether Singaporeans are ready to accept guide dogs for the visually handicapped. .

News of the SBS Transit decision two weeks ago sparked a debate in the visually handicapped community and other related organisations. .

Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley, former president of the then Association for the Blind, now the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), and founder-president of the Disabled People's Association, feels that Singaporeans "have to go further and look at the whole infrastructure of training dogs", before they applaud the move to accept guide dogs from the United States organisation, Guide Dogs for the Blind. .

"What are the responsibilities of the visually handicapped person in this issue? Are we prepared to do the caretaking of such dogs, which need special training?" he said. .

Singapore Kennel Club president Jina Williams also pointed out that visually handicapped people are trained with a specific guide dog in a match that has to be carefully made. .

"Changing handlers would require retraining to serve as a guide for someone else," she said. .

"Providing such a service would require substantial investments, and having properly-trained indivi- duals is a cornerstone of such a programme." .

Traditionally, Kennel Clubs across the world are not involved in guide dog training programmes and the Singapore branch does not have the facilities. .

There is a back-story to such conservative sentiments. .

Mr Kua Cheng Hock, who works with currently the only guide dog for the blind in Singapore, a Labrador, Kendra, had brought in one from an Australian organisation in 1982. .

Then, as neither the infrastructure nor the social consciousness was in place to accept the move, the dog was recalled by the Australian organisation after a brief stay in Singapore. .

It was in this light that Mr Chandran-Dudley asked whether the move to bring back guide dogs will involve "creating a need" that may not necessarily exist. .

Busker Chong Jeo Ann, however, thinks the move is long overdue. "We've passed the stage of being ready. It is one optional aide for the visually handicapped," he said. .

SAVH is "fully supportive" of the initiative as well. Its president, Ms Lyn Low, pointed out that visually handicapped women would benefit from the independence, instead of having to approach "complete strangers for directions". .

Professor Au Eong Kah Guan, Alexandra Hospital's head of ophthalmology and visual sciences, acknowledged that the society needs time to get used to the idea but thinks this should not stop guide dogs from entering the country. .

The hospital recently became the first medical establishment to allow guide dogs on its premises. .

Said Prof Au: "Initial users may face more difficulties, but in time, society will get used to this reality."

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