Blind man whose dog was barred from Northern Ireland restaurant awarded damages
A blind man who was turned away from a restaurant because he was with his guide dog has been awarded compensation.
James Cosgrove was left embarrassed and upset after the incident at the Bangla Indian Restaurant in Bangor.
Mr Cosgrove, who is from Newtownards, relies heavily on his dog, Imogen.
However, after visiting the restaurant last May the 51-year-old was told he could not bring the golden Labrador retriever cross inside.
He has been awarded £1,250 plus his legal costs after bringing a case against the restaurant.
Mr Cosgrove said: "I go everywhere with Imogen.
"On the day this happened, I felt terrible being denied admission in front of other people.
"Even though my friend explained what the law is, it made no difference."
Mr Cosgrove and his dog had gone to the restaurant accompanied by a sighted friend. A waiter told them that no dogs were allowed in the restaurant.
Mr Cosgrove's friend explained that the dog was a guide dog, not a pet, and that not to allow them in because of the dog was unlawful discrimination.
The waiter checked with management, who confirmed that either they could tie the dog up outside or order a carry-out.
Mr Cosgrove was upset and embarrassed by the whole incident and left.
He later took a case, backed by the Equality Commission.
The owner of the Bangla Restaurant agreed to pay Mr Cosgrove £1,250 plus legal costs and apologised unreservedly to him.
Mr Cosgrove said he hoped lessons could be learnt.
"Because I was able to take my case with the help of the Equality Commission, the owner of the restaurant has apologised and agreed to look at changes to the restaurant's policies so that this doesn't happen to someone else, and that's really what I want," he added.
The restaurant's owner undertook to liaise with the Equality Commission to ensure that the restaurant's policies, practices and procedures conform with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Disability Code of Practice.
Mary Kitson, senior legal officer with the Equality Commission, said disability discrimination was common.
"This is a straightforward case in which lack of knowledge of the law led to unlawful discrimination taking place," she said. "Disability discrimination is, sadly, more common than people might think - our legal team gets more calls every year about disability discrimination than any other equality ground.
"The Bangla restaurant representatives will be meeting with our advice and compliance staff, who will help them make sure that their policies are compliant with the law and give them guidance on how to make their business more welcoming to people with disabilities."
Andrew Murdock from Guide Dogs NI said businesses in Northern Ireland needed to have more awareness of the law.
"Guide dog owners continue to face difficulties in accessing everyday services and facilities that the rest of us take for granted," he said.
"Looking forward to an evening out, only to be turned away at the door because your guide dog is not welcome, is the humiliating experience that many guide dog owners like Jim face all too often.
"The law is clear on this and we welcome this settlement and hope it will raise awareness of this issue."
Owners of guide dogs have important rights under the Equality Act 2010. The Act means people with disabilities have the same right to services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants as everyone else. Service providers also have to make "reasonable adjustments" for guide dogs and their owners. Making reasonable adjustments can mean giving extra help, such as guiding someone to a restaurant table. It certainly includes allowing guide dogs into all public places with their owners.