Malta Guide Dogs Foundation calls for mobility, access rights for guide dog users

International Guide Dogs day is observed annually on the last Wednesday of April. It highlights the critical role that these highly intelligent service dogs, also referred to as “working dogs” or “seeing eye dogs”, play in enabling persons who are blind or partially sighted to travel safely, confidently and independently.

To avoid contracting Covid-19 and observe proper social distancing practices, persons who are blind or partially sighted – especially those with underlying medical conditions – are now forced to either stay at home with no access to essential services, or to find creative means to travel independently when absolutely necessary.

A local guide dog in service while the guide dog owner shares his experiences with schoolchildren

This is where the role of a properly trained guide dog becomes essential. Their use significantly decreases the need for physical interaction of a blind or partially sighted person with others. Since it was established in 2006 by three local entities, the Malta Society for the Blind, Torball Society of the Blind and the Gozo Aid for the Visually Impaired, the Malta Guide Dogs Foundation has lobbied with Government and local policymakers to develop and implement legislation to eliminate discrimination against the use of guide dogs in public spaces.

MGDF also wishes to encourage the public to extend social distancing practices to guide dogs, and to inform persons who are blind or partially sighted that, although there is no evidence of dogs contracting Covid-19, research has shown that they can act as a fomite (surface) for the spread of disease – that is, they can carry the virus or parts of the virus on their coats, nose or mouth.

So, it is necessary that proper hygiene be practised more frequently, not only for yourself, but for anyone who will be caring for your guide dog if you are unwell or suffer from an underlying medical condition.

As the world develops strategies to cope with the effects of this pandemic and to eventually eradicate it, the MGDF will continue to insist that persons with disabilities, especially those who are blind and partially sighted, are not deprived of their mobility and other rights, enshrined in the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), and that they remain on the government’s agenda as they continue to strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).