Guide Dogs, Discrimination and Enforcement – Is Religion Relevant?

 

The unlawful discrimination experienced by many Guide Dog users is a constant drain on our energies. Many, if not most Guide Dog owners will know the low level tension we experience every time we book a Taxi or enter an unfamiliar restaurant. Will this activity, normal and a source of comfort for most others, result in our case in an access denial, causing aggravation, argument and confrontation.

 

The law is on our side and is completely unambiguous, I know of no unsuccessful legal claims made by a Guide Dog Owner in relation to discrimination. Increasingly though this issue of discrimination is being associated with religious belief, especially Muslim belief.

 

This is how the Daily Telegraph reported a case on the 26 January  2017.

“A Muslim taxi driver refused to take a blind couple with a guide dog because of his religion.

Charles Bloch, 22, and Jessica Graham 21, had booked a cab with a Leicester firm. The couple are registered blind and had Mr Bloch’s dog, Carlo,
with them. Abandi Jamal Kassim would not let the dog into his cab,
saying:
“It is about my religion.”

Mr Kassim, 43, yesterday admitted a breach of the Equality Act when
he appeared before the city’s magistrates. He was fined £340 and
ordered
to pay £50 compensation.”

 

There are 2 points of interest for me from this reporting. The first is the amount of fine and compensation paid. 

 

Last year I had a similar incident where a Taxi Driver refused to pick me up because I had a Guide Dog. The initial defence mounted by the firm was to deny that I had ever had a booking for a Cab which is obviously the default response in reaction to complaint. However luckily I had retained the confirmation text sent to my phone by the firm giving the vehicle model and registration number.

 

Consequentially, in my case also, the discriminating Cab Driver pleaded guilty and was fined of £750 including compensation of £250. Whilst each case must be judged on its merits it does seem odd that nuisance and distress to me personally is assessed at £250 whilst the equivalent detriment for a couple is assessed at only £50.

These sums are also thrown into shocking contrast when we consider the sums awarded in County Court cases. In October 2016 the Evening Standard reported on how a Limehouse Newsagent who had refused access to an assistance dog had been told to pay combined fines and costs totalling £22,000.

 

 The Truth though is that I am not sure that I would want fines of this nature for my Taxi Discrimination claims. The prospect of a £22,000 liability is potentially life crippling for most people, creating a debt burden likely to affect traders and their family for a life time. I want to amend behaviour but not at the cost of ruining lives for service providers and their families.

 

What is a more constant discomfort for me is the focus and alignment of reports of discrimination against Guide Dogs Users as emanating from those who follow Islam as a faith. In my discrimination case I was at pains to; at no time investigate the religious attitudes of the driver who discriminated against me. I have experienced negatives attitudes to my dog from people from many backgrounds. I am concerned however that the issue of Discrimination, completely unjustifiable in itself, is now being used as a racist stick to beat a beleaguered Muslim Community with. 

 

Guide Dogs as a An organisation has pointed to the existence of successful Guide Dog partnerships operating in Muslim families, examples of Mosques where special arrangements are made to accommodate Guide Dogs accompanying Muslim worshippers have been cited in Television documentaries, and most importantly that the Muslim Parliament has issues a Fatwa declaring that it is wrong for Muslims to discriminate against people requiring a Working dog like a Guide Dog. This is not to deny that work has to be done in raising awareness amongst the Muslim as well as other communities but a necessary relationship between having a Muslim faith and consequent discrimination against Guide Dogs is simply not there. To that extent the Driver cited in the Telegraph report was ignorant of the tenets of his own faith.

 

There are other personal reasons why I am so discomforted by attempt to join my anti-discrimination bandwagon by people with potentially racist motives. I was brought up in a family environment where I was taught that racism was wrong and a great social evil. I took these attitudes into my younger political life, and whilst I do not retain all of the ideals of my radical youth my commitment to anti-racism has remain strong.

 

Part of the reason for this comes from just a personal insight into the great cancerous evil racism can create. In my youth I joined an organisation called Rock against Racism. In that connection I did, for two memorable nights act as a bodyguard for Tom Robinson, of 2-4-6 Motorway and Sing if you’re Glad to be Gay fame. Tom Robinson had received threats of violence from a neo Nazi group for daring to perform as an openly gay musician. As I was, at the time, reasonably sighted and 6ft 4 I decided, along with some friends of similar stature,   to offer protection. We apparently provided enough deterrent to persuade these Neo Nazis to not to follow through on their threat. 

 

After that my life started to change though. I eventually had to endure constant harassment. Much of this was irksome and not dangerous. I would be woken up in the middle of the night by the Gas Board responding to hoax alerts of leaking gas, ditto for being disturbed by the Fire Brigade with hoax calls about fire in my house. I was plagued by people knocking on my door responding to adverts placed, in my name, in the local paper claiming I was selling cars and other items  for absurdly low prices. Every week I started to receive goods on approval and trial, ranging from Bullworkers to the Complete Beatles Single Collection, ordered falsely in my name, requiring me to arrange to return these items.

 

Some threats were more explicit. I started to receive death threats in the mail, accusing me of the crime of being a “Traitor to the Aryan Race”. I received Funeral Cards inviting me to my own funeral. I received letters threatening me that if I continued my anti-racism stance I would be targeted for elimination. I was at apparently level 8 in the list of racial enemies and that by the time I reached level 10 I would be dead. 

 

The next stage was more overt. My home started to be targeted. I had paint daubed all over my front door. Windows in my house were smashed when bricks were thrown through them. Sadly it was the windows of completely uninvolved women in a flat downstairs that had their windows mistakenly broken. I took all the evidence to the Police and predictably, for the time, they simply laughed and in effect told me that they had more sympathy with my racist harassers. I cannot prove it but I formed the very strong impression that they knew who was behind the campaign and actually were prepared to collude with it. Such was life in the 1970s. It was bad enough as a single man; I cannot imagine the stress this would all have caused if this was to have happened at a later time with the wife and children I was to eventually live with.

 

Now I am clear that the behaviour of this ignorant racist scum who were never in the end brave enough to face me in person represents the actions of a very small minority. However I was aware that I was having an insight into the world of harassment that black, Asian, Jewish and Muslim families have had to daily endure for years. It is one thing to know about harassment in theory. It is completely different when it is personal.

 

I also realised that the actions of the ignorant racists can only flourish in an atmosphere of the general racist climate. This is the real danger of the casual racist.  They provide the succour and confidence for the malignant few.

 

So I will never budge against my commitment to anti-racism. It is a dangerous cancer which destroys trusts in communities and destroys the prospect of positive social development.

 

I want support for the right to use my Guide Dog because I believe in a society where discrimination is wrong and ultimately evil. I do not want this to be a stick with which to beat the Muslim Community. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims against ignorant Islamophobia. Discrimination against Muslims because of their faith and discrimination against people because of their disability comes from the same evil well. If we are to learn anything from the past and the experience of the 30s in the uncertain future we face, it is the need to support each other rather than raising the bitter hostile face of racism and indifference to the needs of those who may be strangers in our midst. 

 

David Griffith

 

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Loader is a Dream

One of the most treasured apps to run on an iPhone or iPad for a Blind or Partially Sighted person is the marvellous Voice Dream Reader application. The recent update to the app has now included a valuable Loader function.

Voice Dream Reader, for the uninitiated, will convert into a talking book any document such as ePub, PDf, Word and a multitude of other text formats. It uses all the high quality inbuilt human sounding voices that Apple now supply, plus you can cheaply purchase high quality alternative voices in the unlikely event the free offerings are not sufficient for your needs. Although not specifically designed for Blind or Partially Sighted people the app developer has been at pains to ensure that the app is completely accessible to a blind person using Appleís inbuilt Voiceover Screen Reader. The developer is sensitive to a range of reading needs. For example he has included a highlight feature which will highlight each word of a book visually on screen as the text is read aloud. This can help people with other reading difficulties, including those with dyslexia.

All the features you would expect in a book player are here, including the ability to place bookmarks, automatically resume from last playback, variable speed of narration, and comprehensive book navigation features.

What this means is that even sighted people may find this app useful. You can listen to your copy of Pride and Prejudice whilst you are doing the housework or washing up, or even whilst driving to work.

The app has developed in power over the years and now offers an all in one reading solution, including the ability to listen to actual recorded audio books as well as its original conversion of text into audio. In theory you could even use the app now as a music Player.

There are really only 2 limitations to using the app, neither of which are the developers fault. . The first is you cannot read purchased iBooks or Kindle Books as neither Apple nor Amazon will allow other apps access to their copy protected material. Despite this there are thousands of alternative accessible non copy protected book options out there so the app remains useful.

The second problem is that in previous years Apple have made transferring material onto their portable devices like iPads and iPhones cumbersome, especially for those of us who have had to struggle with the arcane areas of iTunes and File Transfer. The developer has tried to help by extending options to copy material off the web, use DropBox and import through Mail Attachments.
Now, however, Apple has provided new iCloud features which make all this much easier. Voice Dream has quickly seized this opportunity to revolutionise the experience of importing books.

Welcome to the new brilliant Loader facility in Voice Dream. To use this feature you either need to have iCloud for Windows installed or a Mac with iCloud Drive setup. You should also make sure you have the latest update to Voice Dream.

On a Windows PC, if you have not already done so, you will need to install iCloud Manager for Windows. You can download this from
https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT204283

ON A Mac things should work by default but you can check by going to system preferences and making Shure that iCloud Drive is turned on.

Back on the PC; accept the invitation to create a free iCloud Drive. You can upgrade to a paid for bigger file storage later if you wish, but the free space supplied should be fine for our purposes.
Once iCloud Drive is setup life becomes easy.

On the Mac just press command shift Drive to reveal iCloud Drive in Finder.
On Windows you will find iCloud Drive under your name in your normal user folder on your C Drive. You may also find a Shortcut to your iCloud Drive on your Desktop.

Finally you need to make a onetime change in Voice Dream Reader settings on your iPhone, iPad or iPod. Go into settings and check the box which says iCloud Sync.

Now if you want to add content from either your PC or Mac into Voice Dream just go to your iCloud Drive, find the Reader folder, and inside that you will
Find the Loader folder. I have set up a shortcut to this on my Desktop.

Into this Loader folder just copy any documents, eBooks or audio books that you want to read in Voice Dream.

You can put as many files in there as you like, in theory up to the capacity of your device.

Now open Voice Dream Reader on your phone or iPad and after a short while you will find your eBooks or Audio Books loaded ready for reading in your library. This is all automatic. You do not have to manually sync or restart Voice Dream. I have just copied an Audio book into the Loader Folder, went to my iPhone, where Voice Dream was already running, and after a minute my book was automatically shown in my library with the tag new attached.

This is how all Apple Programs should work and should sound the death knell for iTunes type data transfer. It is a bit like using the automatically add to iTunes folder for your music transfers.

The only note of caution is that, like the automatically add to iTunes folder, no files remain in the Loader Folder after an import. This means if you want to preserve a copy of your material on your Mac or PC you should copy files into the folder rather than move material there.

This feature does however mean that you can track the progress of your files from your PC or Mac. As soon as the folder is empty you know that files have been imported into Voice Dream.

Well done to both Apple for making this possible and Voice Dream for taking advantage.

David Griffith
David Griffith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to the Future

newer and more powerful is not always better in the technology world.

 

Like many other Blind people I am fascinated at what the latest technology can provide to increase my independence. There is no doubt that the experience and opportunities for Blind and Partially Sighted users of computers, smart phones and the latest range of voice activated gadgets are immense compared to what was available 20 years ago.

However progress is not linear in all areas. This weekend my main Windows 10 Desktop broke down and is off with an engineer.

This means that I am typing this on my old Windows 7 laptop. this machine normally see comparatively little use, mainly taken out for holidays etc.

Although the laptop is not as powerful as my desktop, going back to it has been a pleasure. Much has been made of the advance of Windows 10 and I had sort of gone along with that.

However this weekend using my Jaws Screenreader at least, I have found that there is so much better that works on Windows 7 compared to the version 10 I was using only last Week.

For those unfamiliar with a Screenreader, this is speech technology which enables blind and partially sighted people to use computers without sight. Whilst I normally have a monitor attached to my Desktop machine, I never turned it on, instead using a keyboard and headphones to drive my PC.

I still have an old copy of Jaws 16 on this laptop but, although I invest £100 a year in upgrading to each latest and greatest version, I am not taking this copy up to 18.

This is because I have found this older version is working so nicely.

For example , an older version of iTunes is working absolutely fine. The interface is snappy. Jaws can cursor up and down the hundreds of the list of Artist column with no problems. In contrast On Windows 10 with Jaws 18 I can only review up to 5 artist names before Jaws starts simply saying “list” repeatedly. This is not very helpful.

As another example I sometimes use the Thunderbird email program . In the time warp of my old laptop I am able to read emails with no difficulty in normal view. Under Windows 10 I can only read emails in the much more inconvenient tabbed view. In this same time warp Thunderbird is again enabling Jaws to identify spelling mistakes as I type, a feature I cannot get to work under windows 10 for love nor money.

A couple of further examples complete the point.

I use the Amazon Audible service for some Talking Books. On this laptop audible works smoothly , recognising my Talking Book Playing devices. Under Windows 10 the experience is very different. Devices are not recognised and I receive repeated annoying requests to re-activate both the main Audible software and my Talking Book devices. this re-activation window is impossible to complete with a screenreader running, even if you have sight, so is effectively inaccessible unless you turn off your access software. Time to call a long suffering sighted relative for even more help.

Finally Although there are not so many features in Windows 7 as in Windows 10 the older Operating System has worked well with Jaws, consistently announcing important notification messages

In Windows 10 I hear not messages but anonymous unexplained notification sound. this forces me to investigate the clunky Notification Centre which is poorly interpreted by Jaws 18. On Windows 7 Jaws 16 reads important announcements clearly , rather than my hearing unhelpful tones. This seems so much slicker and helpful.

This whole experience has reminded me that even in the world of technology, not all that is newer is necessarily better. If I am to read print books I need to scan them. Even now, despite trying newer technology, The best and most accurate scanning technology I possess consists of an ancient XP Acer Netbook which most people would laugh at today, allied to a 10 year old document Scanner I purchased before taking a Masters Course in 2006. People are even more surprised to find that I use the free scanning tools available in the even older Office 2003. I still find this setup outperforms more expensive solutions costing over £2,000. For example my EyePal Camera scanner cost £1,600 and the specialist Kurzweil Scanning software came in at £665. I dread the day my old XP setup will die as it will be impossible to replicate.

So all that is shiny is not necessarily more. The search for new features can reduce basic functionality. Technology companies like Freedom Scientific (who produce Jaws), should be striving to keep good basic functionality, enabling a smooth every day experience. Unfortunately this is not their strategy, rather they are focussed on adding enticing new features every year to retain and extend their customer base. They clearly feel it is difficult to justify the steep upgrade hike of £100 to £150 a year if all they offer is continued good functionality. After this weekend I think I would trade some of the bells and whistles for good continued functionality.

Like many Blind People I will still be on the look out for possible technological opportunities which whilst not necessarily life transforming, will offer perhaps a marginal edge in coping better with sight impairment.
transforming

However this laptop at least will remain an upgrade free area.

David Griffith
18:17 06/11/2016

 

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Nyle at Class

Nyle at Class

 

When I recently enrolled on a History class I faced a mobility challenge. The class was held outside Walthamstow, in Wanstead,  an area unfamiliar to us.

 

For the first time in a while then,  my Guide Dog Nyle had to learn a completely new route. 

 

Sue, my wife, helped us by accompanying us on a test route survey. We failed though, unfortunately, to remember the first rule of route planning. Survey the route completely before training your dog.

 

 In order to reach our return Bus Stop Nyle needed  to Guide me across the A12 where it crosses Wanstead High Street. . This is obviously a busy and major crossing with traffic traversing at high speed. We focussed over much on this busy crossing, failing to spot a further difficult crossing beyond the A12. We discovered that going this first route presented risks. 

 

We eventually worked out that by adjusting our route to a different crossing point we could use a longer but safer route. The problem was that Nyle obviously did not agree and insisted on guiding me to the original unsafe crossing point. He could tell it was the quicker of the available routes.

 

We reached an impasse. However a phone call to Guide Dogs trainer Dave Watson elicited some useful advice. The next week, armed with a tube of Primula soft cheese we returned to the problematic crossing. Sue placed a big lump of cheese on the required Pelican pole and we walked back a few paces. Nyle was suddenly much more interested in finding this crossing. We gradually worked our way back, each time placing cheese on the pole. Nyle assessed us as eccentric, placing food for him on a pole but he did not complain.  Eventually he lost complete interest in the original unsafe crossing.

 

 The only problem then was the confusion of pedestrians on the day, one of whom was obviously bewildered, attempting to remove the cheese as Nyle and I were arriving on a test run.

 

Since then it has been pretty much plain sailing and Nyle has guided me home safely on many occasions.

However, the first class contained drama of a different kind. On arrival we discovered that another Guide Dog, May, was attending the class with her owner Chris.

After initial excitement we thought our dogs would settle in the normal way. Surprisingly May cried and whimpered throughout this first class.

 We were both a little mortified, thinking Nyle had somehow unsettled May. However what transpired was that all our assumptions were completely wrong. May’s cries were nothing to do with Nyle.   She was actually unwell with stomach pains. Happily a visit to the Vets resolved this for May and since then they have behaved immaculately in the class, obviously jointly fascinated in hearing the accounts of Victorian London.

 

So Nyle has eventually gained another of his multitude of strings for his Guiding bow. It is a sobering reflection that without his help there is no practical chance that I would even have considered attempting to attend this class in an unfamiliar area. Another indication of the precious treasure that is our Guide Dogs.

 

David Griffith

 

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