Ashley Nemeth Rick service dog

Ashley Nemeth is visually impaired and relies on Rick, her service dog, to remain independent. She says she was denied service at Regina's Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant. (Submitted)

A visually impaired woman is speaking out after a staff member at Chuck E. Cheese's denied her entry because of her service dog.

On Monday evening, Ashley Nemeth went to Chuck E. Cheese's in Regina with two of her kids, her husband and her guide dog Rick.

She is blind and was refused service because of her yellow Labrador. The encounter brought on a wave of emotions, in part because she knew Rick could be there but mostly because her children were there, too. 

'I think the worst part of the situation is that my kids were standing there with me.' - Ashley Nemeth

"It's anger; it's frustration; it's hurt. I think the worst part of the situation is that my kids were standing there with me," Nemeth said.

A spokesperson for CEC Entertainment said the company is aware of what happened and has spoken to Nemeth to offer her the organization's "sincerest apologies for the misunderstanding." 

"Service animals are always welcome in our establishment, and we expect our employees to accommodate guests with service animals. We're in the process of re-training our employees on our policy to ensure service animals are properly permitted entrance in the future," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

'He is my eyes'

Nemeth doesn't have any useable vision and needs Rick to independently get around. 

"Rick is my guide dog, I'm blind. He is my eyes, he's just the same as if I was to have a white cane or a wheelchair," she said. 

Nemeth said the easiest way to describe how limited her sight is would be for a sighted person to imagine closing their eyes in a lit room. 

"You can tell that the light is on, but you can't even tell where it's coming from," she said. "I don't want to have to go somewhere and rely on my children to tell me where I'm going."

Silver lining 

While Nemeth was disappointed by the denial, she said it isn't the first time something like this has happened. However, it's the first time her kids witnessed it and also the first situation she couldn't resolve.

"I was surprised by the lack of understanding or willing to learn, and to understand, but I wasn't surprised by the situation." 

Nemeth said the silver lining to this incident is the chance to spread the conversation and awareness about the rights of a service animal beyond the community of people directly affected by a disability. 

"If I can speak up, and I can educate, then the next person behind me isn't going to have to feel the same way I did."

She said there is a long way to go before the misperceptions and stigma around blindness are dismantled. 

Human rights complaint

Nemeth has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, which is why she took a video of the encounter at the restaurant. It has since been viewed thousands of times.

"Hopefully in the end they will receive some training around service animals," she said.

"My intent of posting the video was not to vilify the company in any way, rather to start a conversation that in this day and age these things still happen."

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission policy on service animals says people with disabilities, including those who use service animals, must have access to public services and places.

It says handlers should be prepared to explain that the animal is a service animal and provide a description of what the service the animal has been trained to perform.

Refusing admission or services to someone with a service animal is an example of a prohibited practice in the code.