A Seattle Restaurant Illegally Denied Entry to a Man With a Guide Dog · The Wildest

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A Man With a Guide Dog Was Denied Entry to a Seattle Restaurant—Now His Story Is Going Viral

The artist and influencer took to social media to document the discrimination.

by Sio Hornbuckle
May 13, 2024
Paul Castle with his service dog
Courtesy of @matthewandpaul

Last week, Paul Castle , an author and illustrator who has amassed a huge following for his entertaining and informative Instagram videos and TikToks , took to social media to share a distressing story about an underdiscussed — and disturbingly common — form of discrimination. Castle is legally blind — he has lost ninety percent of his eyesight due to the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa — and he’s often accompanied by his guide dog, Mr. Maple. But when he recently tried to enter a restaurant in his town of Seattle, he was stopped by a waiter who insisted that there were no pets allowed, he explained in a video that instantly went viral

Castle assured the waiter that Mr. Maple was a service dog and showed the waiter Mr. Maple’s harness, which is labeled “Guide Dogs For The Blind.” The waiter responded, “You don’t look blind.” 

Castle then tried to explain to the waiter that many blind people have some vision, and that Castle was able to look at the waiter but with a “pinhole of vision.” But the waiter still refused service.

“He said, ‘Do you see any other dogs in this restaurant?’ I said, ‘Honestly, no, I’m blind. There could be,’” Castle shared in his video.  

Then, Castle offered to come back to the restaurant with Mr. Maple’s paperwork — which is already more than is required of anyone with a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But it still wasn’t enough. The waiter threatened Castle, saying, “If you step foot back in this restaurant with that dog, I will call the police.”

It’s illegal to deny entry to a service dog

What the waiter did was completely illegal — which makes his threat to contact the police even more absurd. “According to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), staff may ask two questions: First, is the dog a service animal who is required because of a disability? Second, what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? That’s it,” Kaelynn Partlow , an autistic therapist and advocate who trains service dogs, told us. “They cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, a special identification card or training documentation, or ask that the dog demonstrate the work or task.”

An establishment can only ask a person with a service dog to leave if the service dog is poorly behaved or not housebroken. There are rare instances when service animals may be excluded “if admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program” — but these exceptions don’t apply to everyday restaurants. An example of an exception, according to the ADA, would be in an area of a zoo where a dog’s presence may cause specific animals to become aggressive.

The same isn’t true for Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), which aren’t necessarily allowed in public spaces. Unlike ESAs, service dogs are specially trained to perform certain tasks and are required to receive ADA accommodations.

This kind of discrimination isn’t uncommon

Unfortunately, discrimination against people with service dogs isn’t rare; Castle’s story illustrates a much larger problem. A recent study by Guide Dogs for the Blind found that 83 percent of respondents had been denied access to services (in this case, rideshare services) because of their service animals. The denials led to psychological impacts like stress, frustration, and demoralization. 

“This is happening so frequently that people are questioning whether they should get a guide dog or not,” Chris Benninger, the CEO and president of Guide Dogs for the Blind, told KIRO 7.

Castle is hoping that his story can be a learning experience for others. He decided not to share the name of the Seattle restaurant and instead returned himself to speak to the waiter and the manager. “It’s not about so much reprimanding people as educating them,” Castle told KIRO 7.

Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.

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