DEAFNESS is a "hidden disability" in Swindon, according to one woman who is sick and tired of the ignorance surrounding her condition.
Janice Adams, of Grange Park, is fed up with bus drivers challenging her right to bring her hearing dog, Kola, on the bus free of charge.
Despite seven-year-old Kola sporting a coat that clearly states she is a registered assistance dog, bus drivers routinely question Mrs Adams's rights.
She said: "I wasn't born profoundly deaf so people are often confused by my speech – the fact that I don't sound deaf.
"There's also a lot of ignorance about hearing dogs, although there have been a few things on TV recently.
"I keep being challenged on both Stagecoach and Thamesdown buses, and the last time the driver was quite rude. It's not the money but the principle of it.
"I have also been challenged at the supermarket and told I couldn't bring Kola into the shop.
"I'm getting very angry about it because it is isolating enough without problems resulting from ignorance.
"It is a hidden disability because if it is not immediately obvious that you are deaf people don't think.
"I have been asked if I am training her, which does annoy me.
"Kola has given me so much confidence and helped me make friends.
"I would like more people to know about what an important role hearing dogs play."
Gemma Watson, from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, said: "Hearing Dogs works closely with all the other member charities of Assistance Dogs UK to raise awareness of the fact that under the Disability Discrimination Act all assistance dogs have rights of access to public places including public transport.
"There should be no additional charge for an assistance dog to use public transport.
"As hearing dogs vary from the smallest pedigree to the largest, scruffiest mongrel, some people do not realise they are working dogs – but they are all easily distinguishable by their burgundy Hearing Dogs coat."
Paul Jenkins, managing director of Thamesdown Transport, said: "All I can do is apologise and if Mrs Adams can let me know who the driver was I can make sure it is investigated.
"Assistance dogs for the blind, deaf and disabled, if they are properly identified should travel free of charge and I would expect drivers to know that."
For more information on hearing dogs go to www.hearingdogs.org.uk
Swindon Advertiser, 7th March 2009