M&S launches guide dog awareness training after blind shopper turned away

The M&S assistance dogs app on a smartphone
The M&S assistance dogs app on a smartphone
13:37pm, Tue 03 Nov 2020
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Marks & Spencer has launched guide dog awareness training for its staff after a customer was refused access to the retailer’s store in central London earlier this year.

Managers at the retailer worked with John Dickinson-Lilley, a former Paralympic ski champion, when staff at M&S’s Charing Cross branch told him he could not take his guide dog, Brett, inside.

Mr Dickinson-Lilley said: “Disabled people want to be welcomed in the same way as any other customer and I want to be able to use my platform as a retired GB athlete to advocate for disabled people including the two million people with sight loss across the UK.

M&S guide dog training (PA Archive)

“After the experience I had at M&S’s Charing Cross store, I was delighted to be invited to work with the accessibility team on its new assistance dog training resources – it showed genuine commitment and leadership.

“This is by far the most inspiring response I’ve seen from any retailer and demonstrates just how much M&S cares about making its shops accessible.”

M&S launched the training to coincide with Purple Tuesday, which aims to raise awareness and offer support for businesses to better help millions of disabled customers and employees.

Zoe Mountford, lead sustainability manager for M&S, said: “The experience John received at our store was simply unacceptable and we knew we needed to take action to prevent it from happening again.”

She said the new online training course for staff was developed alongside the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to avoid future refusals.

It also offers advice for staff on hidden disabilities and basic sign language gestures for deaf customers.

Samantha Fothergill, senior legal adviser at RNIB, said: “We know that guide dog refusals in shops and restaurants, as well as taxis, continue to be a major problem for blind and partially sighted people.

“To have a leading retailer like M&S introduce training to ensure that what happened to John doesn’t happen again is extremely encouraging and will help their customers with sight loss feel comfortable and confident when shopping in their stores. By setting this example, we hope other retailers will follow suit.”

Under the Equality Act, businesses cannot refuse entry for a guide dog but, because the law is a civil one, rather than a criminal offence, police are unable to intervene beyond reminding retailers of their responsibilities.

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