Twitter was all ablaze recently about an experiment conducted by a Washington, DC TV station. Using a mix of people who have no disabilities, people who use wheelchairs and people partnered with guide dogs or service dogs, the station decided to find out if taxi drivers really did discriminate against people with certain disabilities.
They found taxi drivers routinely passed by the people using wheelchairs or working with a dog in favor of a person with no visible disability a couple hundred feet beyond. They also discovered taxi drivers who did pick up people from the group with disabilities often instituted illegal surcharges for wheelchairs and working dogs. They found taxi drivers who picked up people who are blind often dropped them off hundreds of feet from building entrances or even on the wrong street without telling them where they were. Heh, heh, let’s mess with the blind dude. Of course they reached these conclusions!
I say “of course” because this isn’t the first time such an experiment has been conducted by a news outlet. I say of course because if one were to ask almost any group of people who use wheelchairs or who work with a guide dog or service dog you could easily find the answer.
Author, blogger, professor and head of the honors college at Syracuse University Stephen Kuusisto has written a number of times about his run-ins with taxi drivers (http://bit.ly/Z3zLva) saying he’s even had to ask someone else to hold the taxi door open so the driver doesn’t pull away before Kuusisto and his guide dog can get in.
Drivers often refuse people who use wheelchairs claiming they can’t fit the wheelchair in the cab’s trunk. Baloney!
During one trip to DC with my spouse and a friend, I hid behind a large sign with my service dog while my husband and our friend hailed a cab. Once they had the doors open I hurried over and got myself and my dog inside the vehicle. Why did I go the cloak and dagger route? Because we had already watched three other drivers slow down, see my dog and then race away. Because another driver slowed only long enough to explain his allergies prevented him from taking the dog.
In many communities people who have disabilities must rely on taxis for transportation. Some of them cannot drive, some do not qualify for paratransit and for others the bus is not located conveniently.
If only there were a law requiring taxi drivers to provide adequate, comparable service to people who have disabilities…OH! Wait! We do have a law and it’s called the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If there are laws in place, why do taxi drivers continue to behave so badly toward people who have disabilities? My guess is there are few repercussions. Think about it, if you are a person who is blind, how do you know the number of the taxi that just drove past you? Without that number you can’t make a complaint. If you do make a complaint, regardless of your disability, it might only be your word against the driver’s that you were ignored.
Cheryl Heppner, director of the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, encountered taxi discrimination while visiting Milwaukee for a convention. She and her friends were refused a taxi ride because of Cheryl’s hearing dog. Cheryl filed a complaint and went home. A few days later she was contacted by officials in Wisconsin and asked to return to Milwaukee for a hearing. Using her own money and on her own time Cheryl flew back to Milwaukee, got a hotel room and attended the hearing. The good news is the taxi driver was found guilty as was the supervisor for the taxi company. Still, how many people would be willing to go to that much trouble and expense?
It would be nice if at some point business would start complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act on their own. It would be nice if TV station exposés and court cases were not required to get a taxi.