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TAXI drivers regularly refuse to carry blind passengers with guide dogs — including Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner — with many citing religious reasons, or other excuses like allergies.
Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, who is blind and reliant on his guide dog Jordie, is a regular Sydney cab user and said he was refused service on average once a month, including twice in two days recently.
He has been told on a number of occasions that it would be against a driver’s religion to allow a dog in the cab.
Mr Innes has also been refused by drivers claiming to be allergic to dogs — or afraid of them — and was even left clutching at air on busy Market St by one belligerent driver who told him he had to take the non-existent cab in front.
Mr Innes yesterday received the backing of Vision Australia (VA), which said taxi drivers refusing to carry blind passengers with guide dogs happened with “too much regularity”.
VA policy and advocacy head Michael Simpson said that the problem was worse in the Sydney metropolitan area where there were more drivers unwilling to carry dogs based on Muslim objections.
“It is fair to say that the (Islamic) religion has made the problem worse in the metropolitan areas than regional areas, where I’ve found taxi drivers are generally excellent,” he said.
Mr Simpson, who has been blind for 30 years but uses a cane instead of a guide dog, said he was refused service at the airport because his two companions had dogs.
“We asked the driver for his accreditation number and he gave us the wrong one,” he said.
“It was only because an airline staff member had accompanied us that we got the right number and could properly complain about being refused.”
Mr Innes was compelled to speak out after the Daily Telegraph last week revealed how an intellectually impaired man had been slapped with $1000 in train fare evasion fines even though he cannot understand what the offence is.
He called for better training for all front-line public transport staff in NSW in dealing with disabled passengers.
“I’m a lawyer and I know exactly what my rights are so I force the issue but my concern is for those for whom a refusal can be a damaging experience and discouraging,” Mr Innes.
NSW Taxi Council spokeswoman Tracey Caine said complaints about refusing guide dogs were rare.
“The problem has been much worse in Melbourne,” she said.
Ms Caine said all NSW drivers were spoken to by disability advocates as part of their training and there had been a number of awareness campaigns in the industry publication Meter Magazine: “It is illegal to refuse to take a guide dog and all drivers know it.”
(Posted on May 25, 2007)