Question: We are visually challenged and use a guide dog. We would like to visit Cuba and want to know if we will we be able to find hotel accommodation that accepts service dogs?
Answer: Unfortunately, Cuba is still well behind accepted international practices on this issue. Not only is there no apparent policy in place relating to the rights of the visually challenged, be they international visitors or Cubans, to use guide dogs, but there is very little broad-based understanding of the difference between service dogs and pets, including in the tourist sector.
As is well known, in the majority of countries it is now standard and accepted practice that hotels, restaurants, airlines, etc. must allow entry to guide dogs, in keeping with both national and international regulations. In Canada, for instance, after years of struggle and organization by blind and disabled peoples, such policies were put in place some 40 years ago to allow people with service dogs entry into public venues such as restaurants, hotels, theatres and other public settings, as well as onto beaches and into airlines. This constitutes a recognition not only of the rights of people who are visually challenged, but of the fact that dog guides – sometimes called service dogs – are highly trained working animals. As part of their nine-month training programme in special schools, six months are with their new owners.
In Cuba, one of the organizations that is aware of the critical need for broad-based public education about service dogs, as well as for the development of a policy that recognizes the rights of people who need the assistance of such working animals, is the Asociación Nacional del Ciego (ANCI, or the National Association for the Blind). Created in 1975 as a non-governmental organization, one of ANCI’s first achievements was the literacy campaign with the Braille System carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. Among other things, this opened up the continuity of studies at higher levels to people who were formerly denied this possibility. Another important result was the founding of 15 special schools for children and youth in all Cuban provinces and on the Isle of Youth. Before ANCI, there was only one school for the blind in Cuba, located in Havana. Today, some 20,000 members of ANCI are organized around the country in fourteen provincial branches and 164 municipal districts. ANCI is a member of the World Blind Union (WBU) and the Latin American Blind Union (ULAC).
In a phone consultation with José Blanz, ANCI national president, he explained that the lack of guide dogs for the visually challenged in Cuba, combined with the general lack of understanding among the population as a whole about their importance, is reflected in the low consciousness about service animals that one finds in the country’s official structures and institutions. In the past, Spain has tried to assist ANCI to introduce guide dogs, but the species most commonly used in Spain could not adapt to Cuba’s tropical climate.
Although ANCI itself cannot assist in finding accommodation in Cuba that might accept service animals, they might be able to steer interested individuals in the right direction. Following is their contact information:
Asociación Nacional del Ciego
(ANCI, or the National Association for the Blind)
Calle I, No. 201
e/ Linea y 11
Vedado – Municipio Plaza
Ciudad de La Habana
Telephone (53-7) 832-3574 or 832-7523
Email [email protected]