Outdoor dining makes guide dog’s job difficult, says visually impaired activist

A visually impaired activist said councils need to do more after sharing a video of her guide dog struggling to navigate a pavement due to outdoor dining.

Dr Amy Kavanagh tweeted on Saturday that outdoor dining had complicated her dog Ava’s job, and shared a video of her furry companion being held up by a pedestrian and a decorative plant in Soho.

“Unfortunately, this time I got a face full of ornamental tree when walking through an outdoor restaurant,” she tweeted.

“It’s bad enough that pavement was blocked with seating but do you really need to add hazardous decorations?!”

Ava was able to continue after a delay of around 10 seconds, but Dr Kavanagh said this was far from an isolated incident.

“I had multiple incidents like the one in the video,” she told the PA news agency.

“The pavement being blocked, Ava getting confused about where to go, making our journey a lot slower.

“I knew it was going to be bad.

“I don’t blame the restaurants, they’ve had it really hard, but the councils shouldn’t be granting them licences to take over the pavements.

“They should be giving them specific space.”

A gold-coloured guide dog stands on a grey pavement in front of a person wearing black trousers and blue shoes
(Amy Kavanagh/PA)

Dr Kavanagh said that Ava used “intelligent disobedience” to go against her commands in an effort to protect her.

But she added that Ava “is a bit of a Londoner” and is more bold with gaps.

“That tree hit me straight in the face,” she said.

“In this instance it was quite loud so I wasn’t sure where the obstacle was, (or) what it was; a chair, a table, a person.”

“It’s never nice to walk into something when you’re not expecting it.

“Luckily because I always wear sunglasses and I was wearing a mask, my face was quite protected, so I was all right.”

Outdoor dining has become the new normal, for now at least, as the country navigates its way out of lockdown.

And while that has given establishments the opportunity to reopen, it has come at the cost of accessible public spaces.

Earlier in May, Katie Pennick, campaigns lead at Transport For All, which fights for accessible transport systems and inclusive street design, went viral with a video showcasing the difficulty she had navigating a pavement dominated by outdoor dining.

“Fun fact about me: I use a ‘teenagers’ wheelchair. It’s tiny. 23inches wide,” she tweeted.

“If I’m struggling to get through these ‘gaps’, they are completely impassable for most wheelchair users and visually impaired people with dogs.

“Pavements must be kept clear enough for pedestrians.”

The video has since been viewed more than 1.5 million times.