CLEVELAND — Gabriella Drago said her guide dog Freesia gives her the gift of sight.
“I just use her generally to help me navigate the world more efficiently,” Drago said, while putting on Freesia’s harness and leash.
Drago is blind and relies on Freesia’s help to complete daily tasks, like walking to and from her destinations.
“Freesia helps us walk faster. When I’m walking with a cane, which is what a lot of blind people use alternatively to a guide dog, I am encountering every obstacle to figure out how to get around it. My dog makes us streamlined, because she avoids the obstacles,” Drago said. “Most of the times, I don’t know the obstacles are there and that she’s avoided them.”
Drago said she’s experienced discrimination for bringing her guide dog inside of businesses.
Recently, she said she was asked to leave and refused service at Subway restaurant on SOM Center Road in Mayfield Heights because of a policy that didn't allow dogs into the store.
“I’ve experienced some discrimination in different restaurants in the past, and people aren’t always aware that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, guide dogs and service animals, which are mostly dogs, are required to be admitted to privately owned businesses that are open to public access,” Drago said.
Drago took to TikTok to share the experience with her 93,000 followers to bring awareness about service dog rights that are protected under federal law.
At the time of the interview, she said the video had over 4 million views.
“Even though the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, these kinds of things are still happening 31 years later. I just wanted people to see that,” Drago said.
Drago said that she filed an ADA complaint and the owner of the Subway franchise told her they've since committed to educating staff about exceptions for service animals. However, Drago said she’s still making TikTok videos to update her followers about how to handle similar situations.
“I’m chronicling it so that other people know, people who own businesses know, what the laws are and what kind of actions can happen so that people with disabilities can learn from my experience, so that they can better advocate for themselves,” Drago said.
Ultimately, Drago said that she hopes her videos will create more inclusion for people who rely on service dogs.
“I’m really just trying to educate the public, and also help people who have disabilities, who either have service dogs or might be worried about getting a service dog or guide dog, because of the discrimination they might face. I really just want to raise more awareness so that people can feel more confident, especially those who don’t have the platform or voice that I have,” Drago added.
Spectrum News reached out to the owner of the Subway restaurant where Drago said she was denied service but did not receive a response back.
A spokesperson from Subway’s headquarters issued the following statement to Spectrum News:
"We have been made aware of the situation and have been in contact with the franchisee, who has committed to ensuring his team receives proper education and training on this matter. At Subway, we work with our franchised restaurants to welcome every guest and abide by federal, state and local laws."