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Lawsuits claim discrimination against blind persons assisted by dogs

Three persons with visual dysfunctions who are assisted by guide dogs in their daily activities have decided to bring a legal action against owners of a restaurant and a transport company, the businesses that denied them access to provided services. In their suit, the claimants seek from the owners apologies in press, a charitable contribution of PLN 50,000 and a PLN 15,000 in damages for moral injury.

Two advocates of Wolf Theiss P. Daszkowski sp. k., Mr Aleksander Woźnicki and Mr Rafał Karbowniczek, represent the claimants pro bono, as a courtesy to the HFHR.

In both cases, the victims had unsuccessfully invoked legal rules that provide for their unrestricted movement with guide dogs. Statements of claims in this case were submitted on Friday, 16 April 2015, with the Regional Court in Warsaw.

During the incoming proceedings, the court will look into two separate incidents. The first one occurred in 2013, when Dorota Ziental-Sobkowicz and Sebastian Grzywacz tried to enter a restaurant in Warsaw. The staff told them their dogs were not allowed inside and proposed a table on the establishment’s patio. However, weather conditions deteriorated rapidly on that day in Warsaw, and the claimants found themselves exposed to torrential rain and a sudden drop in air temperature. The second incident involved Justyna Kucińska, a visually impaired person, who tried to get on a shuttle service bus with her guide dog but was denied access by the driver. She was informed that the shuttle operator’s policy prohibited animals on board.

“A legal action proved necessary because we cannot accept situations where persons with a disability are marginalised or even excluded from the society. In our opinion, the amounts sought by the claimants are adequate compensation for the moral loss suffered by our clients, given the degree of violations of their personal interests”, says Mr Aleksander Woźnicki of Wolf Theiss P. Daszkowski sp.k.

The lawsuits argue that the restaurant and shuttle operator had discriminated against the claimants on the ground of their disability. The defendants’ actions are also alleged to have violated a number of personal interests of the claimants: their dignity, the right to make decisions in their personal lives, the freedom of movement within Poland and the freedom of choice of their residence.

Prohibition of any form of discrimination based on a disability is a commonly accepted legal principle, expressed, for instance, in Article 5 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In advocating full and independent participation in social life, the Convention emphasises that persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation.

“Pursuant to article 20a of the Act on Occupational and Social Rehabilitation and Employment of People with Disabilities, a person accompanied by a guide dog has the right of access to all public utility facilities, including restaurants and means of transport”, HFHR lawyer Dr Dorota Pudzianowska explains. “This provision was introduced in the wake of the case of Jolanta Kramarz, a woman with a guide dog who was denied access to a hypermarket. However, it appears that despite the clear wording of the respective provision, there are still problems with the exercise of that legal right of persons with disabilities” Ms Pudzianowska adds.

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