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    I was a victim of discrimination

    Discriminated against by a gym owner because of the presence of her guide dog, Gracia went all the way to the Human Rights Tribunal to have her rights recognized.

    Gracia's story

    Can you tell us about the discrimination you experienced? 

    Because I have a visual impairment and can see very little, I have a guide dog. My guide dog goes everywhere with me. This is what allows me to leave the house and be independent. I experienced discrimination because of my guide dog when I tried signing up at a gym. The owners wouldn’t let me bring my dog into the gym with me. They said he could cause allergy problems, floor damage and lost business. They suggested I work out during periods when the gym was deserted, or that I find a human to accompany me instead of my dog. 

    What did you do?

    This was not the first time that I had been refused entry to a public place because of my guide dog. But this was deeply hurtful. The owners treated me like my request was totally unreasonable, like I was making a big fuss over nothing. I tried explaining myself to them. I told them that just as they wouldn’t ask a wheelchair user to leave their chair at the door, they couldn’t ask a visually impaired person to leave their guide dog outside. I tried everything, but could not change their minds, the situation was only deteriorating.

    What motivated you to file a complaint?

    I just want to live my life like everyone else. For me, going to court was about trying to make a difference. Society needs to understand that we are people too. We have certain specific needs, that’s all. Just because my vision is impaired doesn’t mean the rest of me is nonexistent! The people at the gym need to know how devastating their decision was for me. They need to understand what it means for someone like me to be independent and treated with respect. 

    Many people with visual impairments suffer in silence. I wanted to help other people like me to say, “I can do it, I can go where I want, I can do what I want. My sight may limit me, but other people can not. I’m the one who decides what I can or cannot do.”

    Did you ask for advice before filing your complaint?

    I called the Commission and received excellent information. They told me that I have the same rights as everyone else and that I should not be treated differently from other people in any context. That’s when I decided to go ahead and make a formal complaint.

    What does your guide dog mean to you?

    When a visually impaired person receives a guide dog, they experience a feeling of great freedom. My guide dog is the wings I had lost. He is my door into everyday life. He is a return to a certain kind of normal for me. Guide dogs are not ferocious beasts; they are not pets. Guide dogs are walking eyes.

    This video is only available in French. It tells the story of Gracia Pico, discriminated against in a gym because of her disability.