A WOMAN from Hartley Wintney is launching a scheme to help businesses improve their accessibility after being refused service because of her assistance dog. 

Nikki Stowe created the AIE4ALL scheme (access, inclusion, and equality for all) last December, to help people make informed decisions about the accessibility of a business based on their personal needs.

The 37-year-old had the idea to launch the community interest group after missing out on lunch with her friends as she was denied service to restaurants due to her assistance dog, Bella.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Nikki Stowe, 37

She said: "When I went out for lunch, I was refused into the restaurant because I have a service dog.

"I know my rights inside and out; they obviously didn’t understand it. I tried the handbook, which you have to carry for assistance dogs, and I told them you can’t refuse, but they were not willing to listen.

"My friends would ask me to lunch and I would say I can't."

Nikki has a progressive neurological illness called Friedrich's Ataxia and says her service dog, a nine-year-old black Labrador, helps her live independently by picking stuff up, opening and shutting doors, taking the washing bin to the machine and barking for help if Nikki gets hurt.

She says her aim for the scheme is that businesses will display stickers at the entrance, similar to food hygiene ratings, to state how accessible it is, as well as audit them to help them improve accessibility.

She continued: "My thinking is, if you don't know about the problems, you can't change or do anything about them.

"A lot of businesses want to improve, but because no one tells them how, it’s hard."

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Basingstoke Gazette: Assistance dog Bella, 7

After the assessment, each business will be rated either bronze, silver, or gold, based on a range of factors including wheelchair access, sensory needs, ramps, lifts, baby changing facilities, service dogs welcome and tactile indicators.

Although a range of similar schemes already exist, they are digital, which Nikki says is 'no good if you have a learning disability', with the AIE4ALL scheme allowing users to 'be spontaneous'.

She has set up a fundraising page to take the scheme 'to the next level', with a goal of £8,638. She added: "Even a small donation could help reach the fundraising goal.

"And if you can't make a donation, it would be great if you could share the fundraiser to help spread the word."

More information about AIE4ALL is available at accessibilityforyou.co.uk and Nikki's fundraiser can be found here: gofund.me/1804e406.