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Guide dogs shunned by taxi drivers


TAXI DRIVERS who refused to take the guide dogs in their cabs ashamed of themselves', a campaigner for the blind said this week.

Seventy delegates travelled to Eastbourne from all over the UK to take part in the National Federation of the Blind Diamond Jubilee Conference, including the chairman of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, Lord Colin Low.

Incredibly, a dozen delegates to the conference became victims of this prejudice and found themselves stranded at the station when several taxi drivers refused to let guide dogs into their cabs.

Conference secretary Jill Allen-King, who was awarded an MBE for her work in increasing access for guide dogs, said the drivers who refused to take the delegates should be 'thoroughly ashamed of themselves' and that their actions were illegal.

‘One delegate had four drivers refuse her,’ she said. ‘The fifth driver finally took her. Apparently some drivers were waiting round the corner and wouldn't come to the rank if they saw any guide dogs.

‘Unfortunately the delegates were not able to take down the drivers' details to make an official complaint.’

Mrs Allen-King said the conference had been 'fantastic' and praised the Albany Lions Hotel and Eastbourne station staff, but she was appalled by the actions of a minority of taxi drivers.
She shared her concerns with Eastbourne Mayor Mary Pooley and is penning an official letter of complaint to Eastbourne Borough Council.

An Eastbourne Borough Council spokesman said, ‘All taxis and private hire vehicles must take designated assistance dogs when requested to do so, unless an exemption certificate has been issued by Eastbourne Borough Council.

‘This would be issued where it can be evidenced that a driver has a medical condition which would be exacerbated by the presence of an assistance dog, such as an allergy or phobia (the council has given out two such exemption certificates).

‘All licensed drivers have been informed of this requirement through the Taxi Forum and Newsletter.

‘Clearly the recent complaint would have been distressing for those unable to access taxis and as a result we will be investigating the incident.’

Reg McLaughlin, chief executive of East Sussex Disability Association, said, ‘I'm shocked and disappointed that some of our local taxi drivers seem quite happy to show complete disregard for the law.
‘This behaviour is discriminatory and, more to the point, disgraceful.

‘The Disability Discrimination Act is quite clear on the matter. Taxis have been required to carry assistance dogs, for no extra charge, since 2001 and private hire vehicles came under the same duty from 2004.

‘The penalty for not complying with this duty carries a fine of up to £1,000. Any delegate who attended the National Federation of the Blind conference and was refused a taxi because they have an assistance dog should consider taking legal action against the company concerned.’
In the past two years, a number of taxi drivers have been successfully prosecuted for refusing to carry guide dogs, and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has helped a number of the owners to prepare their cases.

As reported previously, taxis and private hire vehicles are being encouraged to welcome guide dog owners in a new information leaflet published by Guide Dogs.

The publication, ‘Access to taxis and private hire vehicles for guide dog owners’ outlines the duties of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers and operators under the Disability Discrimination Act. It explains how services can be adapted for people with sight loss, and offers reassurance about the hygiene and training of guide dogs.

Since 31 March 2001 (31 March 2003 in Scotland) taxi drivers have been required to carry, free of charge, guide and other assistance dogs travelling with their owner. A similar duty has applied since 31 March 2004 to drivers and operators of private hire vehicles (private hire cars in Scotland).

Additionally, since 4 December 2006, under Part 3 of the Act, it has been unlawful for them to refuse service to a disabled person – including guide dog owners – or offer a lower standard of service for reasons related to the person’s disability. The law also requires them to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way that their services are provided – though that does not include physical alterations to the vehicles.

The Guide Dogs’ leaflet emphasises the importance of knowing how to communicate with blind and partially-sighted people, including speaking to the person – not their guide dog, and asking what assistance they need, rather than making assumptions.

Drivers are reminded to communicate clearly to blind and partially-sighted passengers the fare or meter reading and when giving change, to count out coins and notes into the passenger’s hand.
With regard to guide dogs, the leaflet emphasises that they are well groomed and are trained to sit at their owner’s feet, not climb on the seats of the vehicle or distract the driver.

To order a complimentary copy of ‘Access to taxis and private hire vehicles for guide dog owners’, please phone 0845 241 2178 or you can download a copy from the GDBA website www.guidedogs.org.uk/campaigns

Next year 2008 will be Year of the Assistance Dog, with guide dog owners nominating taxis, private hire vehicles and other services for Dog Star Awards, based on good practice outlined in Guide Dogs’ (and other assistance dog) leaflets.