Dear President Gabias:
Thank you for your note.
In your message, you asked my thoughts concerning whether a “assumption of legitimacy” approach versus a “certification” approach applied to the use of guide dogs was more in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The World Blind Union (WBU) is developing a formal submission to the Canadian General Standards Board as it considers adopting standards for all service dogs, including guide dogs.
While we recognize the government’s interest in being able to distinguish legitimate service animals from pets and other animals, we feel strongly that any effort to establish defining standards must not limit or otherwise curtail the free and independent movement of blind and partially sighted individuals.
The UNCRPD, Article 20, Personal mobility, safeguards the right to free and independent movement as follows:
States Parties shall take effective measures to ensure personal mobility with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities, including by:
(a) Facilitating the personal mobility of persons with disabilities in the manner and at the time of their choice, and at affordable cost;
(b) Facilitating access by persons with disabilities to quality mobility aids, devices, assistive technologies and forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including by making them available at affordable cost;
A certification requirement may work against the right of blind and partially sighted individuals to exercise personal mobility “…in the manner and at the time of their choice …” by imposing a precondition to their freedom of movement. It is analogous to limiting people with disabilities to only using pre-approved wheelchairs as a condition of triggering their human and civil rights. In other words, the state may wish to impose standards on the manufacture of wheelchairs, but limiting an individual’s right to access based on the individual’s use of a government recognized wheelchair would unreasonably limit the individual’s rights.
The distinction comes down to the purpose of the certification requirement. If it is to protect blind people from poorly trained guide dogs, the government could argue that certification is needed. The WBU would regard such a certification as unduly paternalistic and state overreach; however imposing training standards may be applied without unfairly restricting the rights of blind and partially sighted individuals. If, however, the right of blind and partially sighted individuals to travel freely throughout the community is limited to the use of a government approved guide dog, it would be a violation of the UNCRPD and its requirement that states parties facilitate “… the personal mobility of persons with disabilities in the manner and at the time of their choice …”
I know this may seem very nuanced; however we believe it is the critical distinction. Extending the earlier analogy, the government may have a legitimate interest in imposing manufacturing standards on the production of wheelchairs, but such an interest must be separated from the right of the individual to access. In other words, it would be a violation of the UNCRPD for a business to demand proof that a wheelchair meets government imposed manufacturing standards before providing access to its facilities.
An example is the use of human guides for blind and partially sighted individuals. It is possible that the government may wish to impose training standards and certification on individuals and organizations that wish to advertise guide services as a commodity; however it would not be acceptable for the government to condition the blind or partially sighted individual’s rights on the use of a government approved human guide. The blind or partially sighted individual must be free to use human assistance, including friends and family members, without limitation. The ability of those friends or family members to market their guide services could be subject to government certification, but the limitation must not impair the blind or partially sighted individual’s freedom of independent mobility.
As indicated earlier, the WBU will prepare a detailed response to the Canadian General Standards Board. In the meantime, I hope I have addressed your question about the need to separate an “assumption of legitimacy” approach from a “certification” approach. The first is essential to protect the rights of the individual while the latter is only legitimate to the extent that the state is seeking to establish some level of consumer protection, provided it does not compromise the rights of the individual.
I wish you the very best success as you help the Canadian General Standards Board understand the delicate balance between the government’s interest in protecting the interests of consumers from the rights of those same consumers to travel freely without limitation to their human and civil rights.
Fredric K. Schroeder, President
World Blind Union