On Monday, 4 April at approximately 12 PM midday I experienced my first serious access refusal by Albatross Cars.
I had spent the weekend with friends in Derby and had booked a taxi with Albatross Cars to take me to the train station. I had arranged passenger assistance for my train journey and had booked the taxi to pick me upso that I would arrive at the station with plenty of time to receive my passenger assistance.
Under the equality act 2010 it is illegal to refuse a guide dog owner entry to any public establishments or business. This includes taxes, either privately owned or otherwise. Failure to comply with this legislation can result in prosecution and a hefty fine.
Usually, when ever I am booking a taxi I always let them know that I will be travelling with a guide dog. I am not obliged to do this but I do because I would prefer to avoid any conflict concerning my guide dog. I just want a taxi, I don’t want hassle.
However, on this occasion when my friend booked the taxi I didn’t bother to remind her to mention my guide dog. This is because when we had phoned the same company on Friday, 1 April and asked for a taxi that would allow my guide dog, A representative from Albatross Cars assured us that we had no need to mention the dog because none of their drivers were legally allowed to refuse working dogs in their vehicle. At the time my friends and I were impressed and reassured by this response.
Myself and three friends Georgina, Sarah and Shane waited outside the house for the taxi. Myself and George were planning on travelling in the taxi, Sarah and Shane (who’s house I’d stayed at) were waiting with us to help us with our cases and to wave us off. George is also visually impaired and was accompanying me to the station to help me find my passenger assistance before she headed off to work.
When the taxi arrived myself and George entered the vehicle,Sarah helping me to the front passenger seat with my guide dog Jazzy and Shane loading our suitcases into the car. I entered the front passenger seat and asked the driver whether I could push The seat back so that’s my dog could sit in the footwell. He complied and showed me where the button to move the seat was.
However, when I told Jazzy to get in the car the driver said
“no no, I don’t take dogs, I am Muslim, I don’t take dogs, get the dog out. I am Muslim I don’t take dogs.”
Jazzy was sitting between my legs in the foot well calmly, not touching the driver and not reacting. Sarah asked if she could explain that the dog was my working dog and that I have a working dog because I am registered blind. The driver did not seem to take notice of what Saraj or I were saying, only repeating that he could not take dogs because he is Muslim.
The discussion became increasingly heated as the driver raised his voice and refused to take notice of mine or Sarah’s explanations that my dog is a service animal.
The driver vacated his car and continued arguing with Shane who was attempting to explain to him that he was breaking the law by refusing my guide dog. Eventually Sarah helped me get out of the car as we decided that we would simply ring for a replacement because it was obvious that there would be no reasoning with this driver.
After George and I had left the car and while Sarah was getting our suitcases out of the car, I faced the driver and told him that he was breaking the law by refusing my guide dog, that he could be fined and prosecuted for his actions. I began to reach into my bag to show him a card that Guide Dogs provide all guy dog owners with that indicates the legislation allowing working dogs access to any business. Before I could reach the card to show him, he had gotten back in his car and driven away.
Sarah then called Albatross Cars and explained what had happened. I was shaken and she was understandably quite emotional. The representative she spoke with from Albatross Cars assured her that they would send a replacement right away and that they would log her formal complaint.
We remained outside the house waiting for the replacement taxi. In the meantime, I phoned the nonemergency police number to seek advice. No replacements from Albatross turned up. We attempted to contact them again but where repeatedly hung up. When we did eventually get through to them the representative on the phone was agitated when informing us that The replacement they had sent had failed to find us and the first driver was claiming that we had damaged his car and that he had refused to take us in his car because there were five passengers attempting to get into his four seater vehicle.
Sarah explained to the representative that there were only two passengers, accompanied by two other people who were helping us get in the car as both passengers have a disability. The representative on the phone said that if we would be willing to resolve the matter privately they would abstain from reporting as to the police. Sarah assured them that we would be reporting them to the police.
By now I had missed the train that I had arranged passenger assistance for. We ordered a taxi from a different company and whilst travelling to the station in this taxi I continued speaking with a member of the nonemergency police who assured me that the Muslim Council states that any Muslim must accept working dogs into their businesses or establishments, including taxes. He advised me that, being a matter of civil law, I should report the incident to the council.
When I got to the station I explained to staff what had happened and they were very understanding. However, I had to get on a different train than I had previously arranged. This meant that when I arrived at my connecting station the assistants were not there to meet me as they were not aware that I would be arriving on a different train.
Since the incident I have written a Facebook status about my experience that has received over 1000 shares. I wrote a review on albatross cars Facebook page and I tweeted them asking for action. I have also been in touch with Guide Dogs Nottingham who have contacted the company on my behalf.
Unfortunately, albatross cars have chosen to stick to their original story that the driver refused me because five passengers were attempting to answer his four seater vehicle and that we vandalised his car. In a comment on Facebook they stated that according to their investigation my story did not match their evidence and that they have reported myself and my friends to the police.
I can only assume that they are now fabricating evidence to support their cover story. They are lying about five passengers trying to get in the car so I wouldn’t put it past them to lie about the damage to the car either. Who is to say that the driver himself didn’t damage the car after leaving us and then convinced his managers that we were to blame? I have been informed that as the company themselves did not refuse my guide dog, that it was one of their self employed drivers who refuse me, then Albatross Cars technically did not refuse me access. However, even if this is technically the case, it should have been Albatross Cars responsibility to apologise for the behaviour of one of their drivers and rectify the attitude of that driver. I am disgusted that they have chosen to support one of their discriminatory employees rather than admit the mistake and resolve to improve the situation.
They are also claiming that they have records of a phone call in which they clearly state that the driver is happy to carry my guide dog. A phone call of this nature did occur on Friday, 1 April. No such conversation occurred on Monday, 4 April, the day of the access refusal. Even so, the representative on the phone may have assured me that none of the drivers were legally allowed to refuse my guide dog, but the issue remains that when the driver arrived he refused me access to his service on the grounds that my dog offended his religious beliefs. This is an example of why the message must be relayed from booking to driver that the passenger will be accompanied by a guide dog. This gives the opportunity for any drivers who are not happy to carry guide dogs, for whatever reason, simply not to accept the job.
I also feel the need to point out that if Albatross Cars intend on using the phone call from Friday, 1 April in which they clearly indicated that the driver would be happy to except my guide dog as evidence of their cooperation, they should also offer the recording of the phone call following the incident between Sarah and the company representative in which Sarah clearly explained what had happened and that two disabled passages and a guide dog were intending to travel in the taxi, two others were helping as load our luggage.
There have been reports of many incidents concerning service dog users and Muslim service providers, as many Muslims believe that coming into contact with dogs is haraam (forbidden or unholy). Following discussions with several of my friends who practice lamb and according to my own research, it is my understanding that while Islam does consider dogs to be and clean or impure, it is not strictly haraam to be in proximity to a dog. I was also reassured by the member of the nonemergency police that I contacted immediately after the incident that the Muslim Council of Britain indicates that no Muslim should refuse access to a service dog user on the grounds of their religion in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.
I had hoped that the company would react apologetically to the incident, hopefully learning from the incident and resolving to work with Guide Dogs to ensure that nothing similar would happen again. Obviously this has not happened. The company has gone on the defensive, making wild accusations to attempt to cover their own backs. I feel that this leaves me with no choice but to take the matter further and pursue the incident in court.
This is not what I wanted! I wanted to get a taxi that would get me to the station so that I could and a brilliant weekend with my friends easily and happily. When this didn’t happen, I wanted to raise awareness of the discrimination I faced so that hopefully it would ensure better treatment of guy dog owners in the future. I wanted something positive to come out of such a negative experience. I wanted people to learn.
I don’t know what will happen now. I am going to be in touch with RNIB’s legal team so that they can advise me on what to do next. The Derby Telegraph is running a story on the incident soon and I will be giving a radio interview on Monday, 11 April.
I knew that this would happen eventually because access refusal is not a rare occurrence. I just didn’t think my experience would be this dramatic. I’m so thoroughly disappointed and personally insulted by the company’s reaction to fabricate excuses. Discrimination is not acceptable and it never will be.