02 October 2014

Disability Rights Versus Safety Rights

HUKAD_Mark Cohen
Dogs are supposedly man’s best friend, but what if that dog is not allowed to serve its purpose. What if the dog that is tasked to help a person function is prevented from accompanying that person?

This was the issue that has piqued the interest of several netizens over the weekend when reports revealed that a foreigner suffering from a neurological disorder was denied entry by Robinsons Place in Dumaguete City. The reason offered is that the mall would not let his assistance dog inside the premises, reports Local Facebook page Hulagway ug Kasikas sa Dumaguete (HUKAD).

The guards were the first to bar him from entering, pending approval from the management; however, even though Mark Cohen explained to the guards that the dog was not a “pet” but a well-trained service dog, they still would not allow him entry.

HUKAD reported that the first incident happened last 17 August 2014, just 3 days after he arrived in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental. The incident caused a commotion at the main entrance to the mall. When Cohen kept on insisting they allow him inside, the guards called the police. He was brought to the police in handcuffs for causing “public disturbance.”

As the director of the International Institute for Assistance Dog Training, Cohen is a medically-certified Person with Disability and he aims to educate people about assistance dogs.

He wrote a lengthy letter to the management of Robinsons Place Dumaguete, explaining his side, his medical issues, and imploring them to allow him entry the next time he visits the mall with his service dog, Happy.

However, after not receiving any reply, Cohen returned on August 27 with high hopes. He was again barred from entering and in protest he camped out at that door for hours. Mall guards held their ground at the other side of the door.

Netizens are equally divided on this issue. One side lauded Cohen’s perseverance to fight for his right to be treated fairly, while some sided with the management of the mall for ensuring the safety of their clients.

Due to the overwhelming public response, the mall released the following statement:
"In light of the comments and questions that we have been receiving about a particular foreign visitor who had insisted on entering Robinsons Place Dumaguete with what he claimed to be his “assistance” dog, we just would like to set the record straight.
  1. We do not allow pets inside the main mall for the safety of all customers.
  2. This foreign visitor is not blind and his specific purpose for wanting to enter the mall with his dog was to use the internet facilities.
  3. When he claim to have a medical condition that required an “assistance” dog, mall management offered all kinds of help, including (i) arranging for the free use of WIFI facilities of a coffee shop in the mall’s all fresno area; and (ii) providing a nurse that would assist him while he is inside the mall. But he refused all of these.
While we welcome all guests and strive to assist them as best as we can, including those with medical conditions, Robinsons Place Dumaguete stands firm in its commitment to uphold safety of all its customers and the public(s) it serves.

Mall Management"
Unfortunately for the Robinsons Management, they made one crucial error: they misrepresented themselves.

Sam Du, owner of Bo’s Coffee Club, was angry with the mall’s statement, informing HUKAD that he offered Cohen free use of the coffee shop’s wi-fi on his own accord, not ‘arranged’ by the mall as claimed by the management.