A New Take On Taxis And Guide Dogs

   If you are blind and use a guide dog for travel, this story is all too familiar to you.

  This comes from Calgary, Alberta, courtesy CBC News.    

   “A Calgary cab company has fined and temporarily suspended one of its drivers for refusing to give a ride this week to a blind woman and her guide dog,” wrote CBC News reporter Colleen Underwood.

   “Kim Kilpatrick is from Ottawa and just so happens to be in Calgary with her guide dog, Ginger, to perform a show downtown about living with guide dogs,” Underwood wrote.

   “It’s a really sort of shocking experience,” Kilpatrick said. “I don’t just have a dog in the car for the heck of it, she’s going to get me from the car to my destination.”

   “Kilpatrick said she used an app to book the taxi after her show Feb. 12 at Lunchbox Theatre, located at the bottom of the Calgary Tower.’

   “She said when it arrived the driver told her the dog wasn’t allowed in the vehicle because he didn’t want any dog hair inside. Kilpatrick said she told him that was illegal and he had to take the service dog.”

   “In response, she said, the driver told her the dog could go in the trunk — a suggestion she called ‘appalling.’”

   A spokesperson for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) says they receive complaints almost weekly from guide dog handlers who say they’ve been denied access.


   Stephen Kuusisto is a blind educator, author and poet and an advocate for the disabled. He is also a fellow WordPress blogger. He has a different take on the whole guide dog/taxi problem. 

   “I’ve been blind all my life and have traveled with guide dogs for the past thirty years,” Kuusisto wrote in a recent post. “Since guide dogs are trained to watch for traffic and take evasive maneuvers to avoid danger, my dogs have opened up limitless horizons for me, enabling me to travel across the globe: from Helsinki to Milan; San Francisco to Miami.”

   “But there are places I can’t go despite laws which say I can—for even though service dogs are permitted everywhere the public goes, taxi cabs and ride share services often discriminate against me.”

   “There are very few service dogs in the United States. The number is likely somewhere around 30,000 when one includes dogs trained to assist with all kinds of disabilities and not just blindness. The odds of meeting a service dog team are not high. I like to say we’re the few, the proud, the canine-human equivalent of the Marines. We’re exceptionally trained.”

   “How many times have I been in a restaurant with my dog lying still under the table only to have other customers remark with pleasure and admiration when we get up to leave. They say: ‘I didn’t know there was a dog under there! That’s amazing!’ “

   “A service dog is not just polite, it knows how to be an ambassador for the distinction of working dogs everywhere,” Kuusisto wrote.

   “So what’s with the cabs and ride shares? The drivers pull up, see the guide dog and drive away. Or they roll down their windows and complain loudly that they won’t take a dog. When I say it’s a guide dog and it’s allowed in their vehicle by law, well, you guessed it, they drive away.”

   “This has happened to me dozens of times over the years. Sometimes I ask a stranger on the sidewalk to flag me a cab and open the door and then I jump in. Sometimes I report the ride share driver to the head office. But nothing stops the discrimination,” Kuusisto wrote.       “Wheelchair users also face ride refusals. This has led me to understand that the problem isn’t the dog at all. It’s the stigma associated with disability.”

   “In his famous book “Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity” Erving Goffman reminds us that deviant physicality has a long history:

   “The Greeks, who were apparently strong on visual aids, originated the term stigma to refer to bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of the signifier. The signs were cut or burnt into the body and advertised that the bearer was a slave, a criminal, or a traitor—a blemished person, ritually polluted, to be avoided, especially in public places.”

   “Later, in Christian times, two layers of metaphor were added to the term: the first referred to bodily signs of holy grace that took the form of eruptive blossoms on the skin; the second, a medical allusion to this religious allusion, referred to bodily signs of physical disorder.”

   “Today the term is widely used in something like the original literal sense, but is applied more to the disgrace itself than to the bodily evidence of it,” Goffman wrote.

   “People like me represent signs of physical disorder and even though our dogs are cute we’re to be avoided,” Kuusisto writes.

    “I’ve come to realize it’s not the dog that’s the problem it’s my own physical presence. Yes, I now believe the drivers who refuse me would happily take the dog and leave me behind.”

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