Blind woman faces charge to take guide dog on coach

A COACH company may have discriminated against a blind elderly woman after trying to charge an extra �19 to cater for her guide dog.

Russell Claydon

A COACH company may have discriminated against a blind elderly woman after trying to charge an extra �19 to cater for her guide dog.

Heartbroken Lesley Bannister has been forced to cancel her visit to the famous gardens at Wisley after a Suffolk bus firm told her she would have to pay an extra fare to guarantee her place.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is willing to take up the case and warned the bus firm could face legal action under discrimination legislation.

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Mrs Bannister, in her 70s from Broom Street, Great Cornard, near Sudbury, was set on making the September trip to the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens in Surrey which have a special scented area for blind people to enjoy.

But when she went to book her ticket through H.C Chambers of Bures she was initially told it would contravene their insurance policy to carry the dog. In a further call she was then told she would have to pay an additional �19 for her yellow Labrador guide dog Nina - who she has used as her eyes for the past two years since being registered as blind five years ago.

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She said: “I am not worried about a legal case. I would like the coach company to have a rethink about their attitude.

“Other coach users are so, so helpful they welcome my guide dog and make arrangements for us and these are the only company who have not. I feel it is sad a local company to where I live takes this line.”

Bill Alker, a spokesman for the RNIB, said: “I have never heard of anything like this before. The company has a duty towards people with a disability and we would not expect someone to be asked to buy a ticket for their guide dog.”

He added: “Lesley Bannister may have grounds to complain (under the Disability Discrimination Act) and is welcome to contact RNIB's Legal Rights Service for further advice.”

Mrs Bannister added: “It was really disappointing - I would have to pay almost double to go on the trip. It seems as if the coach company is discriminating against blind and partially sighted people like me who need to use a guide dog to travel.”

Alec Chambers, whose company operate wheelchair-adapted vehicles, said they had sought advice from the RNIB regarding dogs on buses such as theirs after Mrs Bannister's call and had been advised another seat would need to be offered. He said at no stage were they told they would have to offer a free seat.

“We rang Mrs Bannister back offering her the seat beside her free on the condition that if the coach filled up and we needed that seat then we would contact her again,” he said. “We suggested that it was unlikely that we would need the seat as the coach was only half full at the time Mrs Bannister made her inquiry. If Mrs Bannister wanted to guarantee the seat next to her then she could pay for it and if the coach was not full we would refund the money before travel. Mrs Bannister said she would call us back when she had made up her mind what she wanted to do.”

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