'It's shocking' - Campaigners' fury after visually impaired woman accused of being 'fake'
PUBLISHED: 05:30 24 November 2018
BRITISH TRANSPORT POLICE
Disability campaigners have reacted with disgust after a partially sighted woman received a torrent of verbal abuse at a Suffolk station.
The incident, which began at around 10pm on the evening of Wednesday, November 7 at Woodbridge station, is being treated by police as a hate crime.
The victim was waiting for a train with her guide dog when she was approached by a man who started petting the dog and asking questions about her disability.
Feeling intimidated, the woman moved away with her dog – which was becoming agitated – and asked the suspect to stop talking to her.
The man then became abusive and began shouting and swearing at the woman over a 25 minute period, saying “you are not disabled, you are fake”.
On board the train, another passenger challenged the man’s behaviour, resulting in a scuffle.
Penny Parker, from the East and Mid-Suffolk branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind, said the incident would have a “major effect” on the victim, “both emotionally and psychologically”.
“It is a travesty to have lost any of your vision,” she said. “We don’t hand out guide dogs to random people.
“I personally think the bloke is a complete moron. He needs to spend a day in that lady’s shoes.
“She probably felt exceptionally vulnerable to be in a railway station at that time of night. A complete stranger behaving in that way is going to make her feel anxious – it then becomes a big problem for the owner and the dog.
“[The dog] is watching for the train to arrive - it is waiting for her to give it the next command. If someone makes a fuss of it, it is instantly stressed.
“They are putting the owner at risk because the dog is confused. It could walk off the platform because it has had its concentration taken away from it.”
She added: “As far as I am concerned it was a hate crime. Personally I think he should be made to spend a week at the guide dog centre mucking out kennels and learning how valuable these dogs are.”
When asked what could be done to prevent these incidents from happening in the future, Ms Parker suggested investing in body cameras to act as a “security blanket” for vulnerable people.
“I think technology is our answer,” she said. “Either the dog wears one or they wear them, so it is a comfort blanket. Then nobody can accuse them of making up the story. Maybe people would think twice if they see someone is wearing a body camera.
“If anybody out there wants to come forward and buy some cameras, contact me. We will get them out there.”
Emily Papaleo, East of England network manager for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), added: “It’s shocking in this day and age, but we hear of stories like this all too often where people are told that they ‘don’t look blind’ or they face prejudice, verbal abuse and discrimination.
“At RNIB, we urge everyone to see the person, not the sight loss, so that blind and partially sighted people are valued for who they are, not defined by the disabilities they have.”
Ms Parker also spoke about her charity’s efforts to improve education into issues affecting visually impaired people.
“We try as a charity to educate as much as we can,” she said. “We have got a team of speakers to try and educate people on what the dogs are doing and how important it is for people to have their dogs. We do hope that people get on board.
“You would not go up and pet a police dog. You would not go up and pet a customs dog. Why do you think you have got the right to do it to a guide dog?”
It comes after a spate of attacks on guide dogs in Suffolk over the past year – with many owners feeling more vulnerable than ever.
Officers believe the man shown in the above CCTV image has information which could help them investigate.
Anybody who might know who he is should contact BTP by sending a text to 61016 or call 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 1800082309, or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Penny Parker, on behalf of the East and Mid-Suffolk branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind, can be contacted on 07742 330593.