Initiation of a mediation talk – or assistance dogs welcome?

Phew! Today I don’t really know how to start. I am exhausted and wiped out. I only just can keep up my facade. Actually I’d rather hide under the blanket, cry and don’t go outside for a few days.

The first days of the new year were really hard. The rash and the itching which came along with it annoyed me and additionally I had another unkind encounter in a grocery store, which always causes a miserable night with flashbacks and physical symptoms.

I can’t get the topic of the right of access out of my mind. Because again and again or rather frequently it’s me of all people who meets unkind and impolite employees who have no clue about assistance dogs (or at least pretend they don’t) and moreover aren’t able to read. Because otherwise I can’t explain why they can see my dog (a sweet black Labrador), but not the bright yellow!! characteristic cover which she wears, let alone the inscription „assistance dog“. And already I get an unfriendly “dogs are not allowed in here!” thrown at me. The counter question: “Can you read”? seems to be appropriate.

Like I mentioned in previous blog entries (Dear shop assistant or Assistance dog in the grocery store) it’s not always easy and I’ve done everything possible from my side to call attention to the new laws. I wrote letters to every head office, informed them about it and got the okay of every single one of them that assistance dogs are an exception of the dog ban.

Let’s go on to the concrete case:

I arranged a meeting with some friends and we wanted to bake a plaited loaf. Because I didn’t have the necessary ingredients at home we had to go shopping. So I had to take a deep breath, put on Ylvi’s characteristic cover and off we went. I avoid Mpreis at the market place after the last incident (see Dear shop assistant) and the other shops nearby didn’t have the required goods. So there was only Mpreis in Kaufhaus Tyrol left.

After my two complaints to the head quarters and their proof that the information was passed on to the manager, I assumed that the employees were aware of it. Well, I was wrong!


Assistance Dogs Welcome!

We passed some employees and none of them said anything. I already wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, when I was asked by an employee at the cash point next to us, if I just had been inside the shop with my dog? (Unnecessary question, he could see it because of the groceries, which I had put on the conveyor belt. Well. I said: “Yes, sure”. And there came the typical “But dogs aren’t allowed in here”. Ugh. My brain stopped functioning for a short time, because everything inside me screamed “not again” and “run away”!

But Paul had already jumped in and asked the guy if he could read and pointed at Ylvi’s characteristic cover. The employee had quite a stupid look on his face. The shop assistant at our cash point intervened and said that he just hadn’t known yet.

At that moment my brain started functioning again and at the same time my companion asked for the manager. The excuses were useless. I just couldn’t believe it. I had made such an effort to enlighten every single chain store and nonetheless there were employees, who allegedly didn’t know about it.

For me it’s a total horror every time I get approached by someone and have to discuss or rather have to justify why I am going to grocery shops with my assistance dog. Because everyone has known about the law that dogs aren’t allowed inside of grocery stores on account of hygienic reasons so far. But why not about the exception for assistance dogs?

When the manager finally stood in front of us it only got worse. Paul tried to explain to her what was going on, how the legal situation was and that it could get very expensive for the company if I sued them. Because the transition period ended in on New Year’s Eve 2015 and by now every shop has to be accessible for handicapped people. But the woman wasn’t interested in it and made it blatantly obvious through her behavior. She didn’t even look at Paul anymore as he talked to her, but disassembled a cardboard box and removed garbage from the floor. I was appalled. Such an unkind and impolite person! But this seems to be common practice amongst employees of MPreis.

My companion, appalled as well by the employee’s behavior, encouraged me to fill in an application form for a mediation talk and write another letter of complaint to the head office.

When I had filed my last complaint there was in fact an inquiry at the respective chain store about what had happened. But there was no apology. On the contrary. The manager had the nerve to claim it had all been about attaching the sticker “assistance dogs welcome” on the entrance door and that employee in question had been friendly. But I only gave the sticker to her to show her that assistance dogs are an exception. (Which she allegedly didn’t know about). And the lady was far from friendly.

So I wrote another complaint to the head office. I informed them about the incident and that I had taken further action. I engaged the social services department and I also consulted the lawyer for handicapped people.

In Austria it’s your own responsibility to register a discrimination based on disability. By law you are obligated to take part in a mediation talk so that everyone gets the chance to clear up things outside the court room.

Depending on how the head office reacts to my complaint, I will also inform the media and announce my story publicly. Because even I as a “disabled person” have rights and I just want to go shopping in peace like healthy people do.

The night was awful again. I realize that such things take a lot of strength and disrupt my sleep. I was awake frequently and I had horrible nightmares. That’s so unnecessary. All “just” because of a shop assistant, who talks to me impolitely.

Today I got the answer from the head office of MPreis and I don’t want to withhold it from you:

Dear Mrs. Zösmayr,

thank you very much for your renewed suggestion and making contact. 
This gives us the opportunity to clarify the subject. 

Of course we had -on the grounds of your description- a consultation with our management in IBK -Maria-Theresien Straße 31 (KRT). 
Our apprentice, Mr. W, in no way wanted to discriminate against you by asking you about your dog. 
We apologize for the ensued disappointment!

Because dogs are generally not allowed in our grocery stores and our employees are often times confronted with undiscerning dog lovers (no assistance dogs) our employees are sensitized to that effect. 
We ask for your understanding that new employees or apprentices don't know about every regulations and legal requirements from their first day on or can't be immediately informed. 

Because you were accompanied by two other persons you were called on your dog. Mostly people with assistant or companion dogs are alone and therefore they depend on the help and entrainment of a companion/guide/assistant dog. 
In accordance with a consultation with the social department companion or assistant dogs are marked with an obvious characteristic cover, like you described it, or a badge. Furthermore I was told, that the owner has to bring a passport with him, in which the dog is registered as a companion or assistance dog to ensure transparency. 
Showing the ID to our employees and a short information before you bring the dog along to our salesrooms would make things easier and help prevent misunderstandings beforehand. 
We ask you politely for the announcement of your telephone number or a return call so that we can talk about further details and settlement personally.

Dear Mrs. Zösmayr, thank you in advance for your feedback and your understanding.
I wish you a healthy and happy year 2016 and remain
respectfully yours

Mrs. G.

MPREIS Warenvertriebs GmbH
Landesstraße 16,  6176 Völs
Tel: +43 (0) 50 321-4998
Fax: +43 (0) 512 3131-4998

Without saying anything about it (a lot would come to mind) here is my answer:

Dear Mrs. G

no, I don't have any understanding anymore. I just want to be able to go shopping like a normal, healthy person can, too. That I have to depend on my assistance dog because of my disease shouldn't make a difference. But exactly here lies the discrimination against me through your employees.

I don't dare to go shopping without companions anymore because every time I get approached in a very impolite manner. When I bring the attention of your employees to the law I get treated unfriendly and impolitely. Mrs. G. Y. even lied to you, that it was all about the attachment of a sticker, but it wasn't like that at all! And if you don't believe me you may have a look at the camera footage in your stores. There it should be recorded. 

My companion wasn't the reason why I was approached for sure. That's just an excuse and I've had enough of that! Furthermore there aren't only guide dogs for blind people. Assistance dogs also contain signaling dogs and service dogs. And a disability isn't always obvious. For example diabetics, who depend on an assistance dog or people who have severe forms of epilepsy. This task can't be replaced by a human being. Or do you know a human who can predict hypoglycemia without a measuring device? 

I've already told you often times that Ylvi was marked with an official characteristic cover. It's bright yellow and has the official emblem with the writing “assistance dog” on it. You should also know that this labeling isn't mandatory and one can also use the characteristic covers of the training institution. 

The employees are welcome to ask me for my certificate of disability. But please in a friendly and polite way! Because I am a customer, too, and shouldn't be treated like a leper just because I'm in the company of a dog.

A registration at the cash point is a form of discrimination, too, and therefore isn't a possibility.

Also I've already tried that and it didn't change anything about getting approached by other employees.

Again: I just want to go shopping like any normal, healthy person! Or do they have to register at the cash point, too?

The issue will be easier when ALL employees get informed! When you inform them about dogs not being allowed inside the store at the same time you can inform them about assistance dogs being allowed and that they are marked with a characteristic cover or a neck cloth and that they may ask politely for a certificate of disability if they are unsure.

Just those two sentences and we are done.

Further details will be discussed within a personal conversation at the mediation talk in the presence of the lawyer for disabled people and a representative of the social department.

Yours sincerely,
Klara Zösmayr

Since I have been concerned with the topic of the right of access, have written to grocery stores to inform them about the new laws and have been shopping with Ylvi myself, I have the feeling that people don’t really care about it. They don’t want to know about exceptions. They have several excuses why they have approached me. And then they claim they didn’t know about it. But I have proof from the head office that the managers are informed. Which means that this specific manager flat-out lied to me!

This makes me incredibly angry. On the one hand because I really get treated like a leper – Paul and Claudia can confirm this, they were with me a few times – and on the other hand because they don’t hesitate lying to me or to the head office so they don’t have to admit their mistakes.

What has become of “Excuse me, I missed that. I’m sorry”. Or having a look at it, thinking about it for a short time and then saying something about it – or rather not…

If somebody asks me nicely for my certificate of disability I don’t have a problem with it. There were two employees at Merkur, who really were friendly and interested in the issue. I was happy to inform them and tell them about Ylvi, what she can do and why I depend on her. But I don’t like getting treated condescendingly and I won’t forgive that kind of behavior.
“What goes around…”

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