Change 100

I’ve been keeping this under my hat for a while now, but some exciting things are soon ahead for Jazzy and I and I’m excited to share them here.

AS you might know, I graduated from University with a 1st in English Literature in 2016. Since then I stayed in the city I studied in, hoping to find work. I would like to work in Communications, doing things like writing press releases, managing social media platforms etc. I’ve had some experience working in the Corporate Communications team of my University while I was studying, but unfortunately haven’t been able to find work in the sector since graduating.

The process of looking and applying for work as someone with a disability is a topic I’ll expand on in another post, but for now I’ll share the fantastic news that I’ve finally gotten an internship for the summer which will hopefully go a long way to helping me into full time employment.

I’ve gained this internship through the Change 100 Programme, a scheme run by Leonard Cheshire Disability aiming to help disabled students and graduates into work by offering internship opportunities and mentorship. It’s a relatively new programme that is gaining success every year, this year partnering with organisations to offer 140 internships to disabled students and graduates around the country. Find out more information about the Change 100 Programme via this link:

https://www.leonardcheshire.org/support-and-information/life-and-work/skills-development/employment-programmes/change100

Undertaking the internship means relocating for Jazzy and I as we’ll be working in London. We’ll be living just outside the capital and commuting in every day, working five days a week for three months. Inevitably it’ll be a big change for both of us and though it sounds a little daunting I’m excited and confident we’ll both take it in our stride.

We’ve already taken steps to ensuring a smooth transition, having mobility and orientation in London and escalator training for Jazzy. It’s important to take my guide dog into account whenever big changes like this are on the horizon. Thankfully Jazzy is an adaptable and confident dog; she is very quick to learn new routes and enjoys doing it so I don’t foresee any problems where she is concerned.

I’ve also had my first experience of applying to Access To Work; a government funded scheme intended to level the playing field for disabled people in work by providing accessibility equipment and support for a disabled person so that they need not depend on their employer for those adaptions. Access to Work has a somewhat mixed reputation and from my experience with them so far, I’m not sure that reputation is unfounded, though my dealings with them are currently ongoing so I’ll update on my experience with them in a later post.

For now, I think that’s as much as I can say at this point. I start my internship in a couple of weeks so I’ll be sure to keep my readers updated with our progress adapting to working in the big city. Until then, wish me luck!

I’m tired

This is a bit of a different post from the type that are usually right. This is a one off, right it all in one go, let it all out and get it over with kind of post.
Basically, I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting all the time. To be treated with respect, to be viewed as an equal, to have even the basic things like having somewhere to live and being able to ride in a taxi. I’m exhausted by feeling like every decision I make is bigger than it needs to be because of all the possible repercussions and consequences. 

I’m tired of having to worry about whether I tell potential landlords that I have a guide dog or not before or after I view a property. Because if I tell them before, then it gives them the opportunity to pawn me off with some excuse. If I don’t, it gives them the opportunity to discriminate against me to my face. 
I’m tired of being paranoid everytime I book a taxi that I might be faced withconfrontation again, because if I don’t tell them about my guide dog the driver might refuse me. But even if I do tell them, that still might happen. When all I want to do is get from A to B. 
I’m bored of asking people to talk to me, about me, instead of to my friend/family/whoever happens to be with me. Because apparently the fact that I can’t see very well also means that I can’t speak for myself. Or maybe it just means that blindness comes with deafness as well and the problem is that I can’t actually hear what they’re saying?
I’m exasperated by well-meaning members of the public who take it upon themselves to decide what help I need and that they will provide this help, without even asking me first. So that when someone grabs my arm and starts taking me across the road, where I didn’t even want to go in the first place, I then look like the ungrateful bad guy when I try to explain that I was perfectly fine without them.
I’m sick of feeling like every day is a battle; of having to plaster on that polite smile when someone tries to feed/ped/distract my working dog; of walking that fine line between assertive and aggressive when all I’m trying to do is make my voice heard.
Somebody recently asked me if I think I have excepted my disability. I can 100% say that I am perfectly happy and content with who I am, disability and all. What I struggle with is the way that I am treated because of my disability by other people on a daily basis. This isn’t to undermine those wonderful gems who’s help and understanding I truly value. I just hope that, whoever you are reading this, you understand that I’m human and I get tired too.

Access refusal: being refused by a taxi driver because of my guide dog. #AccessAllAreas

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.