GEORGE NEWS - There are none so blind as those who will not see.
This is the sentiment held by Dr Wilhelm van Deventer, a local man who is almost completely blind, in response to an unpleasant experience on a GO GEORGE bus on Wednesday 6 February.
According to Van Deventer he, his newly acquired guide dog Webster, and their trainer, Percy Tlholoe of the guide dog association, were deeply embarrassed by a bus driver who claimed no dogs are allowed on board. He sees the incident in a very serious light and has reported the matter to the South African Guide Dog Association for the Blind and the Human Rights Commission.
Van Deventer says this denial of guide dogs' rights was an extra heavy blow as just last week George Herald published a feel-good story about him and Webster, a beautiful blonde Labrador, in which he praises Georgians for their friendly attitude towards the blind and their dogs.
The distressing incident was the last thing Van Deventer expected while they were waiting at a bus stop in York Street, as Webster was in full attire with a harness and lead and sporting a clear notice "Guide dog at work".
"Two buses didn't stop, but it could have been that they were full or going in a different direction. The second driver did in fact indicate to Tlholoe that the next bus was on its way. The third bus stopped at 09:32, opened the door and told us no dogs are allowed. Tlholoe started to explain that it was a guide dog, but he closed the door and drove off."
He says Tlholoe phoned the GO GEORGE office and was assisted by a very helpful lady. "Percy was still on the phone when at about 09:50 the fourth bus stopped. We entered the bus, but the driver told us we are not allowed to sit down.
"Thloloe again explained that it was a guide dog. A male passenger also tried to tell the driver that it was a guide dog. The driver then radioed somebody and had a long conversation about whether to allow Webster or not. The GO GEORGE lady on the phone insisted to talk to the driver, but he refused."
He says Tlholoe told him to sit down with Webster, which he did. "The passengers were all very friendly and Webster felt at home. In last week's George Herald I thanked shops, banks, restaurants, law enforcement and the general public for their cooperation and positive reactions. I still maintain my gratitude, but it is clear that GO GEORGE advertisements are misleading."
He says George and surrounds are currently home to 11 guide, service and social dogs. "This coming Sunday another one arrives. And then there are also many guide dogs and their owners visiting George as holiday and tourist destination throughout the year."
After venting his dissatisfaction in an e-mail to the municipality and various other interested parties, Van Deventer received a call from GO GEORGE manager James Robb. "Mr Robb was very apologetic and regretted the unfortunate incident. It doesn't change what happened, but I appreciate his call and he said he would urgently attend to the matter. Hopefully this will encourage GO GEORGE to not only put out advertisements and write-ups regarding their guide dog-friendly policies, but to also train their staff, particularly their drivers, properly."
Robb confirmed he had contacted Van Deventer. "We offered him our sincere apologies for this most unfortunate incident. We are devastated that this should happen since one of GO GEORGE's core values and priorities is the accessibility of our buses to people with special needs. We are investigating the incident and will definitely take whatever steps are necessary to rectify the lack of understanding on the drivers' side, and to prevent this kind of unacceptable treatment of a valued passenger from being repeated."
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