Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 19th 2015 Contents B1
CHARLES KONG SOO
Ex-tempo king Joseph Vautor-La Placelier, better
known as "The Mighty Lingo," has overcome many
obstacles in his 43 years and has never allowed
his disability to hinder his success in the calypso
The blind word master, however, wants some
sighted people to take the beam of prejudice out
of their eyes when it comes to disabled and visu-
ally-impaired people and their guide dogs.
He made the comment as he spoke about Food
Production Minister Devant Maharaj's announce-
ment that government buildings would be accessible
to service dogs used by the visually-impaired and
disabled this month.
Vautor-La Placelier has a nine-year-old yellow
labrador retriever "seeing eye dog" named Koakua,
which means helper in Hawaiian. Currently, he is
only one of two people with a guide dog in T&T.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian about the chal-
lenges he encounters with Koakua ahead of the
proposed changes to come, Vautor-La Placelier said
access to buildings is but one of their problems.
"The biggest challenge is travelling by taxis. While
the laws say now that you could go in government
and public places with your dog, how are you getting
"The law only states public buildings and not
public transport. They did not say that the public
transport is accommodative. If I go on the bus and
the driver says he doesn't want the dog, I don't
have a choice but to come off.
"The problem is that in lobbying for legislation
they did not take that into consideration as well;
that is one of the problems we have right now."
He said he was once told about a man entering
a Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) bus
with a parrot in a cage which resulted in a woman
leaving the bus because of her allergies.
Asked how some members of the public might
react to his bringing his dog aboard, Vautor-La
Placelier replied that it was up to the person. With
rights come responsibility and it was the owner's
duty to keep his dog properly groomed so that it
did not shed hair on anybody or get in their way,
he pointed out. Vautor-La Placelier said he bathed,
groomed, fed and cleaned up after his dog himself.
But he said when he travelled with his dog he
encountered the most red tape locally.
Vautor-La Placelier said he was once allowed to
travel to Tobago with Koakua on a boat but was
initially prevented from doing so by the crew on
the return trip.
He said, however, that the captain was a foreigner
who knew about guide dogs and he eventually
allowed Koakua to travel back with him.
On the other side, he said an air hostess played
with Koakua on board a flight, but noted most
people didn't know that they weren't supposed to
pet service animals while they were on duty. He
said Koakua is not a pet but a service provider, and
when his harness is on it means he is working.
Koakua cost US$46,000, but Vautor-La Placelier
received him as a gift through the San Fernando
Lions' Club and Lions International, which funded
him in the Leader Dogs for the Blind Michigan,
USA programme, from which his dog graduated.
But he said it was a misconception that labradors
made the best guide dogs. When he went for training
in Michigan with Koakua, he said there were other
breeds of dogs besides labradors being taught guide
work such as german shepherds, retrievers, poodles
and even pitbulls, which surprised him.
Vautor-La Placelier said the dog chosen was
suited to match the owner's personality. He said
leader dogs were trained to ignore all other dogs,
so that at a dog show in Palmiste last year,
when other dogs were barking at Koakua,
his attitude was like who cares?'
Maharaj: Talks ongoing
Contacted on the issue, Food Production
Minister Devant Maharaj said plans for the
blind and disabled to access public transport
with their service dogs were still being dis-
He said he had spoken to the officers in
his ministry responsible for the policy's imple-
mentation and they assured him everything
was in place for guide dogs to enter government
Maharaj said, however, that Cabinet had approved
the implementation of a policy not only to for
service dogs entering buildings, but also to grant
concessions to the visually-impaired and disabled,
including waiving VAT and duty for canine equip-
ment, maintenance and the importation of the
Also speaking about government policy as it
related to the blind and disabled, Transport Minister
Stephen Cadiz said there was no discrimination
against anyone on PTSC buses.
But he said the physical design and layout of
some of the buses might be an impediment, as it
could be difficult for people with disabilities to
access some buses because of their configuration.
He said when the corporation replaces and upgrades
its fleet, new buses will be more user-friendly to
the disabled and designed to incorporate seating
for the blind and floor space for their service dogs.
CONTINUES ON PAGE B10
Trinis urged to welcome service dogs
Ex-tempo king Joseph Vautor-La
Placelier, "The Mighty Lingo,"
with his yellow Labrador retriever
guide dog Koakua, at The
University of the West Indies
(UWI), St Augustine.
smoke ---Page B5
Marsala ---Page B8
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