Scott Daniel says he rarely left the house before he was diagnosed at 38 with autism spectrum disorder.
- A Queensland man hopes to inspire other people with assistance dogs to travel
- Scott Daniel documents his adventures through social media
- An online toolkit is available for tourism operators to improve accessibility
He said he was "riddled" with extreme anxiety and even a trip to the shops was a harrowing experience.
But he has made up for lost time in the four years since his diagnosis by travelling more than 80,000 kilometres across Australia with his faithful companion Reign by his side.
"I've had more experiences in the last few years than I have in the last 20 years," Mr Daniel said.
The spoodle was Mr Daniel's pet but she was trained as an assistance dog after his diagnosis.
He said Reign helped immensely with his anxiety.
"She doesn't stop it but she alleviates symptoms so if I'm in crowded spaces and I start to feel dizzy or faint, having her there can stop it from happening," he said.
The travel bug took hold on their first trip together to Bundaberg in 2019.
Road less travelled
Mr Daniel said there were "few places left on the map" in Queensland they had not visited, and they had also enjoyed exploring the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria.
While the pair has generally had positive experiences, there have been some bumps in the road.
"We do get people who just see a dog ... and then they usually don't approach us in a very nice way," he said.
"They just tell us the dog can't be there, the dog's not allowed and that's not really the best way to approach people with hidden disabilities because it can trigger them into episodes."
Mr Daniel has been sharing videos of his travels through social media.
He recently created an online group for people also hoping to holiday with their assistance animals.
"I suppose like a trip advisor, but it's really just focused on experiences people have," he said.
"Not whether it's a nice hotel and it's clean, more how the experience went with the place they stayed at and how accepting they were, or was there any challenges that they had."
Natalie Long and her assistance dog Eddie are also seasoned travellers.
She has joined Mr Daniel's online group.
"Sometimes knowing in advance that where you're going is or isn't going to be easy can really help," Ms Long said.
She said she was generally welcomed by business operators — but there had been exceptions.
"The first was a caravan park owner who initially took my money and gave me a site," Ms Long said.
"I was setting up with Eddie with me and he came across and said you can't have a dog here ... he was extremely rude and basically kicked me out, wouldn't give me a refund, just wanted me to leave."
The pair has also been denied access to a restaurant.
"It's embarrassing ... it highlights you in a way you don't necessarily want to be highlighted," Ms Long said.
She said managers were generally aware of the requirements under state and federal disability discrimination legislation.
"The best thing any public-facing organisation can do is to make sure that staff are educated ... even entry-level staff because they're the ones dealing with customers when they arrive," Ms Long said.
Right to entry
The Australian Human Rights Commission has received 315 complaints since January 2020 from people alleging that they have been discriminated against in the provision of goods, services and facilities because they have an assistance animal.
Queensland Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall said businesses and staff should be aware of their responsibilities.
"We do receive a small number of complaints each year from people with assistance dogs although based on what we hear from the community, the number of complaints is not representative of the scale of the problem," Mr McDougall said.
"We find that mostly when these complaints are brought to us we are able to help the parties resolve them and many people do use that exercise as a genuine opportunity to learn and become more inclusive where they can."
An online toolkit is also available on the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport website for operators wishing to improve accessibility.
Mr Daniel said he hoped sharing his adventures would inspire more people to travel.
"I see us as leading the way for others to hopefully not experience those negatives that I spoke about ... they could become less and less as people with assistance animals become more frequent travellers."