Oxford Museum of Natural History changes guide dog policy - Museums Association

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Oxford Museum of Natural History changes guide dog policy

Trainee assistance dogs now allowed in museum following complaint
Patrick Steel
The Oxford Museum of Natural History has changed its policy on guide dogs following an incident earlier this month in which a visitor was refused entry with their guide dog puppy in training.

The Equalities Act requires museums to allow access to guide dogs and their owners, but there is no legal obligation to give access to guide dogs in training.

Dog owners Peter and Rhonda Bratt, who are volunteer puppy walkers for the charity Guide Dogs, and their friend Cas Lester, were refused entry to the museum when they tried to enter with their seven-month old black Labrador and Golden Retriever cross.

Lester tweeted: “Front of House manager insisted it was their policy because the dog wasn't a trained guide dog. When pressed to explain policy she said it was because the puppy 'might eat the exhibits.' We asked if this could be checked. She declined. We left.”

“We have recently been consulting with the Guide Dogs organisation to update the Museum of Natural History’s policy on admitting assistance dogs in training,” said a spokesman for the museum. 
“As this work isn’t quite complete, our front of house staff adopted the current policy, which is that the museum does not admit dogs other than working assistance dogs. This is because animals carry pests which can damage the organic material of many displays in the museum.

“However, following the discussion on Saturday, when a visitor asked to bring in a Guide Dogs puppy in training, the museum’s policy will be to admit assistance dogs in training from now on.

“The museum is continually involved in consultation and collaboration to improve accessibility to all visitors, including those who need assistance during their visit. We are one of five partners in RNIB’s Sensing Culture project to improve access to heritage for blind and partially-sighted people, and we recently hosted Guide Dogs’ regional meeting and held a Meet the Guide Dog day. Touch Tours and audio descriptions of the museum’s displays are also delivered by specially trained staff.

“Through these and other initiatives we are committed to improving the experience of blind and partially-sighted visitors and recognise that the training of assistance dogs is an important part of that process.”

Lester told Museums Journal: “This has had a great outcome. I'm delighted that the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is going to admit trainee assistance dogs from now on, and it’s impressive that they changed their policy so swiftly.”

Clive Wood, Guide Dogs' engagement officer, said: “Guide Dogs is extremely fortunate to have hundreds of dedicated volunteer puppy walkers. They play a vital part in the journey of a puppy to become a life changing guide dog for a blind or partially sighted person.

“A key element in this journey is familiarising the puppies in a range of environments including museums. As a qualified guide dog, they will work with their owner in all sorts of locations.

“Although service providers are not required to allow access to guide dog puppies in training, we do ask for their support and understanding in this important element of the training process. Puppy walkers are given training on how to manage their puppies when out in the community.”
Image (c) Cas Lester

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