Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A guard, A girl, A guide dog - Cassandra & Esme At Zara

RSH Limited apologises to guide dog owner Cassandra Chiu for commotion at Zara

APR 13, 2015


SINGAPORE - RSH Limited, Singapore's distribution and retail arm for clothing and accessories chain Zara, has apologised to a blind woman who was turned away by a security guard at the Zara store at Takashimaya Shopping Centre on Friday.

Counsellor Cassandra Chiu had tried to enter with her guide dog Esme, but claims that the security guard at the shop stopped her and verbally abused her. The security guard, contracted through a third party security firm, has been removed from his position at the store, RSH said.

"We sincerely apologise for the unpleasantness, disappointment and anger caused to Ms Cassandra Chiu, as well as members of the public," RSH said in a statement on Monday.

It also confirmed that the store welcomes guide dogs and their owners. The incident was caused by an "unintentional misunderstanding regarding courtesy rules at our stores", RSH said.

The company was responding to queries from The Straits Times on Ms Chiu's post about the incident at Takashimaya Shopping Centre.

It has received more than 1,500 likes since it was posted on Saturday.

Writing as her guide dog Esme on Facebook, Ms Chiu, 36, said she was extremely upset about the guard's behaviour.

"He refused any explanations and insisted 'no animals'," Ms Chiu wrote in her post.

A woman claiming to be the store manager eventually confirmed that guide dogs were not allowed and called the police, she said.

Takashimaya Shopping Centre's security management were also called in to resolve the matter.

Ms Chiu said that she was more upset about the security guard's rudeness, not so much about being turned away.

"It was not a low volume. I asked him to lower his volume and think about it," she said.

"I said his behaviour is no different from an animal."

People who wrote online saying they had seen what happened, however, had pointed out that a man who was with Ms Chiu had also talked to the security guard in an "aggressive, threatening manner".

Administrator Carol Tan, 32, was among the many who weighed in.

"It is up to both parties to maintain mutual courtesy," she said.

"But retail stores must also ensure their staff are up to speed with their guide dog policy."

RSH said that its human resources team had already informed Zara staff members about its guide dog policy. Efforts to educate staff on conflict management will be stepped up.

Takashimaya Shopping Centre also confirmed that it was a guide-dog friendly mall, which means guide dogs can be in shared mall spaces. But it is up to individual tenants to apply the policy as they see fit, the mall added.

Singapore's transport and food place hygiene legislations have been changed across the years to accommodate guide dogs, as they play an important role in guiding the blind.

Ms Chiu has often been vocal about being rejected at local establishments because her guide dog was not allowed in.

Last November, Ms Chiu and Esme were also not allowed to board a taxi. The driver had allegedly driven off when she was standing near the vehicle, and she fell and hurt her knee.

Additional reporting by Linette Lai

Cassandra Chiu resigns from Guide Dogs Association of the Blind

By Xabryna Kek

18 Apr 2015

Ms Chiu, who was a part-time client services manager with the association, has resigned just days after an incident at Zara on Apr 10.

SINGAPORE: Ms Cassandra Chiu, known for being one of the first guide dog owners in Singapore, has resigned from the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind (GDAB), the association confirmed on Saturday (Apr 18).

This comes after reports of an incident at a Zara store at Ngee Ann City on Apr 10. In a Facebook post as Esme, her guide dog, Ms Chiu alleged that the store's security guard verbally abused her after she had tried to enter the store with Esme.

Ms Chiu, who joined GDAB as a part-time client services manager in October 2013, resigned on Apr 14, 2015, said GDAB general manager Vanessa Loh in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia. In the role, Ms Chiu acted as an ambassador for the association.

Calling her departure "unexpected", Ms Loh said GDAB respects Ms Chiu's decision, and that they expect an even greater acceptance of guide dogs following this episode.

"Cassandra resigned because she felt it was time to move on," said Ms Loh. "GDAB appreciates her dedication all these years. As an employee and our first guide dog user, she has done a lot for the cause and we wish her all the best."

"She is still our guide dog user and we will continue to support her as an organisation would to a beneficiary," Ms Loh added.


In response to the incident at Zara, Ms Loh said that the association "fully advocates a wider acceptance of guide dogs among businesses and public places in accordance with the legislature in Singapore", but that this acceptance will take time.

"We are also mindful that acceptance requires time and that there needs to be mutual trust, consent and understanding," said Ms Loh. "GDAB recognises that the use of guide dogs is in its infancy stage in Singapore now, it is also for this reason we launched a guide dog friendly nation campaign in January this year. We hope with continuous effort in awareness and education, Singapore will be an inclusive society for the blind and vision impaired who use guide dogs."

While Ms Chiu has left as an ambassador, Ms Loh said the GDAB sees all its guide dog teams as ambassadors: "Guide dogs bring our clients more mobility, safety and independence. They are active, they work and go about social outings like you and I. With the use of guide dogs being a relatively new concept here, they are our ambassadors who promote awareness just by being out there."

The GDAB currently has three guide dog teams, and one more will be formed soon. Ms Loh said they are currently in the process of gathering other guide dog teams who had been independent of GDAB to get together with them to promote a better understanding of all guide dogs in Singapore. They have also invited Mr Amos Miller, the former Chairman of Guide Dogs UK, to join the board of GDAB.

Ms Loh said the association was heartened by how their past efforts have already resulted in a wider acceptance of guide dogs, and added that moving forward, it will continue to "encourage shops, malls and restaurants that welcome vision-impaired and blind with guide dogs to display guide dog friendly decals prominently at their premises" to reduce misunderstandings with ground staff.

GDAB will hold its first International Guide Dogs Day event on Apr 25 at Bishan Park to pay tribute to guide dogs and the many people involved in training them.

"Guide dogs are extraordinary animals that devote their lives and bring solace to humans who have vision loss," said Ms Loh. "We hope that through the event, more people will come to appreciate the important role they play in our society."

When contacted, Ms Chiu refused to comment on her resignation.


Guard in guide dog row was following orders

APR 20, 2015

I REFER to the article "RSH Limited apologises to guide dog owner Cassandra Chiu for commotion at Zara" (ST Online, last Monday).

The Union of Security Employees is disappointed that the security officer has been placed as the party to be blamed in this incident and that his agency has been requested to remove him from his deployment site at the Ngee Ann City outlet.

From the checks we made, we believe that the officer involved was following the instructions of the retail outlet, and the article seems to corroborate this by quoting Ms Cassandra Chiu as saying a "woman claiming to be the store manager eventually confirmed that guide dogs were not allowed and called the police".

While we are fully compassionate about the duress Ms Chiu faced, we take umbrage at the fact that the officer, while doing his job, was unnecessarily provoked into a reaction.

While we acknowledge that security officers should remain calm and composed when carrying out their duties, mutual respect from all parties is also important to create a safe and pleasant environment for both our security officers and members of the public.

That this incident led to the officer suffering a dent in his career is disheartening as the officer was simply doing his job and can now possibly face issues with his livelihood.

We urge members of the public to respect our security officers, who are often deployed at the front lines and, at times, are subjected to abuse. Our officers perform an important job, and the union will stand by them if they are unfairly treated.

Hareenderpal Singh

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