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Strategies for Access

Strategies For Access

Guide dog teams are occasionally barred from various services or venues because of the presence of their guide dog. Usually, this is due to ignorance of the Provincial, State or Federal statutes that permit access for a guide dog team. Other times it may be because of cultural differences, religious beliefs, medical allergies or a fear of dogs in general. And finally, it is often because guide dogs are viewed by members of the public as “pets” and the service provider does not permit domestic pets to enter their premises.

Each of these objections may seem perfectly valid to the service provider. However, maintaining a calm composure, demonstrating respect for the other party’s point of view and employing some of the following strategies will likely result in:

  • successfully accessing the intended service or venue;
  • creating awareness of the rights of guide dog access;
  • demonstrating the respectful nature of guide dog users; and
  • making it easier for all fellow guide dog users who may be following in your footsteps.

Under each of the following headings, sorted by order of reported incidents, we offer various strategies for your consideration and use:

Accessing Taxi Service

In the event you should encounter a taxi driver who refuses you service because of a medical allergy, religious belief, a “fear of dogs” or a “No dogs” rule, be aware that none of these are valid reasons to refuse you service. The only exception would be if the taxi driver has a fatal allergy to fur bearing animals. However, they cannot simply make this claim and drive off after refusing you service. We cover this issue in more detail on this same page.

Many of these objections or “excuses” can be overcome at the curbside. We will review each situation separately with the objective of providing the guide dog team with some tested strategies that have proven successful.

When a taxi driver informs you that they cannot provide you with service for whatever reason because of the presence of your dog, we would suggest all further discussion with this driver must continue with you positioned inside the taxi. Front seat or back is your choice. Just be sure to position yourself on the curbside of the taxi.

It is both important and respectful for you to take up this position, ensuring your guide dog remains outside the vehicle but tethered on its leash. Leaving the passenger door open, placing your left leg inside the vehicle and leaving your right leg outside (so as to block entry by your guide dog) is a very effective method to ensure a calmer environment for the discussion with the driver that will follow . This strategy should be employed in all cases. Attempting to “negotiate” from outside the taxi will only result in the taxi driving off when they tire of your “rights of access” discussion. Employing this strategy will now enable you to determine the specific reason you and your guide dog are being denied service.

Claims of Medical Allergies by Taxi Drivers

If it turns out the taxi driver does have a severe medical allergy to fur-bearing animals, leaving your guide dog outside the vehicle demonstrates respect toward the driver’s medical condition. Respectfully acknowledging the medical allergy is first and foremost. No guide dog user wishes to make someone’s day unpleasant or uncomfortable because of the presence of their guide dog. However, legislation (particularly human rights codes) states all service providers have a “duty to accommodate” a person with a disability accompanied by a guide dog. In many jurisdictions, the driver would be required to provide proof of any allergies should a complaint be filed with the authorities. This usually requires the driver to have such proof on file with their employer prior to the date of the incident.

NOTE: In the City of Vancouver, taxi drivers making such claims must have a medical certificate on file from a city-approved allergist with duplicate copies filed with the Vancouver Police Taxi Squad and also on file with their employer.

There is little point in asking the driver to produce medical certification at this point as you have no authority to ask for same, he likely will not have it on his person and you probably could not read it if he was willing to produce it. But it is fair to advise the driver that, if he is refusing you service on these grounds, you may be asking his employer to produce such evidence should you follow through with a complaint. But we digress… Simply put, this means you can ask the taxi driver to have another taxi dispatched to your location while you remain in his car! This may seem inconvenient and an un-necessary time delay but guide dog users must respect the rights of others. Perhaps the medical allergy is legitimate. In many cases, we have received reports that, with the guide dog user remaining seated in the taxi and asking to have a second taxi dispatched causes the medical allergy to suddenly and miraculously disappear.

No pets/No dogs

The “No pets” or “No dogs” rule is an interesting one. Again, seated in the taxi with your guide dog outside the vehicle, a typical response would be “I understand how your rule would apply to a domestic pet or to a family dog. However, my dog is a certified guide dog. Would you like to see our identification?” Very often, this will be sufficient to obtain the access you need.

Contacting the General Manager or Dispatcher

Should the taxi driver continue to refuse your guide dog access to his vehicle, there are two additional strategies you may wish to employ:

  • If you have a cell phone, ask the driver to provide you with the direct number for the general manager of the taxi company. Or, failing this, simply call the dispatcher and ask to speak to the general manager. When you reach the GM, calmly explain that the taxi driver that was dispatched to your address is refusing you service because you are accompanied by a certified guide dog.” This is usually more than sufficient and in most cases the GM will ask to speak to the driver. You will very likely be on your way shortly thereafter.
  • If you do not have access to a cell phone, ask the driver to contact his general manager through whichever communication tools are available to him. Ask him to explain to his GM that he is refusing to transport you because you are accompanied by a certified guide dog. Again, you will likely be on your way shortly thereafter.

In the event the general manager fails to support your rights as a guide dog user, this is when you must be knowledgeable about local, provincial/state and federal legislation that will provide you with the rights of access. These would include:

    • City or municipal by-law or ordinance;
    • Provincial/State legislation either in the form of a Guide Animal Act, a human Rights Code and/or, as is the case in Metro Vancouver, the Taxi Bill of Rights;
    • Federal legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA) or the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms.
    • Advising the taxi driver or the general manager of the applicable statutes for your area in a polite and respectful manner is yet another strategy that will have you on your way very shortly.

When a taxi is dispatched to a specific address, the taxi company maintains a record of which cab was dispatched to your address. In the event you are denied service and the taxi drives off, you simply need to explain to the dispatcher the circumstances and ask for the details of the taxi that was dispatched (i.e. vehicle fleet number, driver’s identification, etc.) When standing at the curbside and all else fails, snap several photos of the taxi cab, its driver and/or its license plate with your cell phone camera as the taxi drives off. This is a terrific method of identifying the taxi when you have sighted assistance available.

Religious Beliefs

Religious beliefs do not trump the rights of access for a guide dog team. When faced with this objection, it is critical that you maintain control of your guide dog. Do not allow your dog to sniff, lick or nudge that person. In cases of religious beliefs, it is critical you know your rights of access.

We recommend you visit exceptions to the rule regarding religious mosks and temples as these venues command a solemn level of respect which, out of religious consideration, we would suggest you set aside your rights as a guide dog team.

Cultural Differences

We have received numerous complaints from guide dog handlers who were refused service from various ethnic restaurants. In most cases, the restaurant catered to the Asian or Southeast Asian population. While your rights of access are certainly no less at these establishments, it is valuable to note that many Chinese people possess a fear of dogs. This stems from the fact that large breed, vicious dogs are used to protect homesteads in China. Many Chinese immigrants to North America believe all large breed dogs are vicious in nature.

In many cases, it is not that the restaurant establishment is denying you service but rather they are putting fear by their customers first, many of whom may be afraid of your dog. Given they have a duty to accommodate, we recommend you offer to sit at a table that is somewhat sheltered from other diners. This fair and reasonable approach often results in a positive experience for all parties involved.

Medical Allergies

We have discussed the claim of medical allergies by taxi drivers but we have often heard of restaurant hosts/hostess denying access because “some of our customers may be allergic to your dog.” We have found the best approach to this claim is to ask the host/hostess to step aside and, with a loud voice ask, “Is anyone here allergic to my certified guide dog?” In the rare event someone says they ar allergic to dogs, ask the host/hostess to seat you a reasonable distance from that guest. Remember, public venues such as restaurants have a duty to accommodate and in most cases, you and your guide dog can be seated well apart from the other guest.