‘We run into these imbalances of power all the time,’ says Anne Malone Darrell Roberts, CBC News
Posted: Jun 16, 2022
A St. John’s disability advocate says she was recently denied a taxi ride because she has a service dog, and the incident is just “the tip of an iceberg” for accessibility barriers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Anne Malone said the incident, which took place at the St. John’s airport, highlights the obstacles she and others who use service animals face.
“People with disabilities – and people from other minorities also –
we run into these imbalances of power all the time. It’s wrong,” Malone told CBC News.
Malone said the incident occurred in late May, when she arrived home from a trip to Ottawa with her service dog, a chocolate Labrador named Purdy. She was attempting to hail a cab, but was having difficulty because of her visual impairment.
She said a staff member called her a cab from City Wide Taxi and Bus Service, but when the cab arrived it refused to take her.
“As I started to approach that car, I guess the driver saw my dog, and he called out to me that he wasn’t going to take a dog because he had allergies,” Malone said.
She said the driver loaded another passenger in the cab and drove away. She got another taxi a short time later.
City Wide Taxi and Bus Service owner Peter Gulliver said most City Wide staff have received disability awareness training.
“City Wide Taxi and Bus Service and its subsidiaries take the accessibility requirements of our passengers very seriously and strive to offer a sensitive and inclusive experience during each ride,” Gulliver said.
While Malone’s experience was unfortunate, Gulliver said, it was an isolated experience and the driver in question did have a doctor’s note describing “breathing difficulties” and sensitivities to scents. Gulliver provided CBC News with a copy of the note.
“We do sympathize with the situation and do apologize for her inconvenience,” Gulliver said.
It isn’t the first time Malone has had trouble accessing a taxi because of her service dog – she previously won a human rights complaint against City Wide after being denied access to three consecutive taxis on Adelaide Street.
Malone said the incident isn’t isolated, either.
Willard Poole said he encountered a similar situation this week after bringing his service dog, a country retriever named Rosie, on a Metrobus departing the Village Mall in St. John’s. Poole has social anxiety and heart arrhythmia, and he said Rosie helps with both.
Poole said he’s brought Rosie on the bus before, but this time was different. He said the driver didn’t seem to believe that Rosie was a legitimate service animal.
“We sat there for a good 15 minutes while the bus driver continued to question me about Rosie’s presence,” Poole said.
Poole said he has documentation confirming that Rosie is a service animal, but the driver didn’t ask to see it. He said eventually, he decided to leave the bus and walk home.
Poole said he later made a formal complaint and received an apology from Metrobus.
In a statement, Metrobus general manager Judy Powell said she couldn’t comment specifically on the incident but confirmed Poole’s complaint is being investigated.
She also provided a link to Metrobus’s policy on service animals, which states that service animals are allowed on buses as long as they are wearing a harness and leash. Other pets must be in a pet carrier.
“Where it is not readily apparent/obvious that the customer has a disability, documentation confirming that the service animal is required for reasons related to a disability must be requested,” reads the policy.
More training, more understanding
Malone also carries documentation for her pet – calling it her “guide dog passport” – and said she has no problem presenting it. However, she also believes the onus shouldn’t just be on the person with the disability.
“If I have to show proof, then I believe that the person denying service must also show proof,” she said.
Malone suggested drivers with allergies put stickers on their vehicles to indicate they can’t take animals. She’s also calling for more training for both private businesses and government institutions.
“This idea of disability ‘sensitivity training, or what I prefer to call anti-ableist training should actually be happening on a rotating basis in all businesses, all governmental institutions and systems,” Malone said.
“This conversation is a catalyst into other barriers and issues that are around us and deeply embedded in our society, around disability, that are completely invisible to people who don’t have disabilities.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darrell Roberts is a writer living in St. John’s.