“Firstly, allowing a guide dog for the blind to enter eateries is not a “privilege”. It is a civil and human right. Guide dogs serve as their owners’ eyes, granting the latter greater independence via fast, efficient and safe travel” (Allowing Guide Dogs With The Blind Is A Right, Not A Privilege, Mr. Alvan Yap).
One would be hard-pressed to disagree with the perspectives articulated by Mr. Alvan Yap, that guide dogs should be allowed into establishments without preconditions (“Allowing Guide Dogs With The Blind Is A Right, Not A Privilege by Mr. Alvan Yap, September 13, 2013). Furthermore, the lack of awareness on the significance and responsibilities of guide dogs means that public education campaigns – particularly with Singapore’s recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – will be beneficial.
Yet – insofar as guide dogs are hygienic, properly groomed, and professionally trained – some detractors have raised objections that other people could be allergic to fur-bearing animals, or that they might feel uncomfortable in the presence of dogs. Shouldn’t the rights of these patrons be respected too? Can we, in these circumstances, prioritise these rights?
To me, a fixation to have everything and anything codified in law blinds these individuals to the importance of accommodation and compromise. Common sense and calmness should prevail in these instances. In other words, it is not a question of “which party has the greater need” or “who is right or wrong”, but a matter of “how can we – within these constraints – accommodate the needs of these parties in these public and private facilities”? Just as it is ludicrous and offensive to turn a person with a disability (for whom the guide dog is a source of empowerment and independence) away because another might feel uncomfortable, severe medical allergies should not be conveniently trivialised.
There are no established protocols, no instruction manuals; but all it takes is for someone to step in and mediate. And of course for the parties to be reasonable, and understanding.
This, I suppose, reflects the essence of Mr. Yap’s message. A gracious and inclusive society is not just one that operates within the confines of a legal framework, but one which has the sensibility to solve seemingly-impossible situations amicably and respectfully. Now that is a meaningful vision of Singapore worth aspiring towards.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.