Ride-sharing service Uber has come under fire this week after claims a driver refused service to a legally blind woman and her guide dog during one of the busiest weekends in Adelaide.
Rachael Leahcar said she was reduced to tears after being refused entry to an Uber with her guide dog while trying to get to an Adelaide Fringe festival show on Sunday.
The incident follows a similar one earlier this year when an Adelaide resident, who is deaf-blind, and her friends were refused service at Vietnamese restaurant Little NNQ, in Adelaide’s CBD, because of her guide dog.
Ms Leahcar, who is legally blind, is well known for her appearance as a finalist on the first season of reality television show The Voice Australia in 2012.
She told ABC Radio Adelaide that she was on her way to a fringe show with her grandmother and her guide dog Ella when she was confronted by the driver.
“I started taking her harness off and I hear the dreaded words that every legally blind person is so filled with fear to hear, ‘No you can’t bring your dog in here’,” she said.
“I explained to [the driver] that this is a guide dog and she has to come with you because she’s an assistance dog.
“He said ‘no, no, no, no, I won’t take the dog’.”
Ms Leahcar said she explained it was against the law to refuse entry to an assistance dog, but the driver was more interested in keeping his car tidy.
“I said ‘Look it’s against the rules and against the law, you have to take her. It’s your job’,” she said.
“He said ‘No, no, no. It’s too expensive to clean the car’.”
In Australia, it is illegal to deny entry – or a service – to a person and their guide dog.
‘I don’t know anyone … who hasn’t been refused’
The singer said she “burst into tears” after the confrontation and wanted to share her story to help further educate those in the ride-sharing industry.
She said while she was happy with a prompt response from the company, she believed this was happening too much to people who relied on assistance dogs.
“I talked to [Uber] a little bit later and told them what had happened and they said ‘Yep, we are totally against this and it is discrimination’,” she said.
“I was really happy that they acknowledged that and that they said there was a zero-tolerance policy.
“But, I said to them ‘This is happening too much. I’m hearing about it so much and it happened to me two years ago as well’.”
She said many of her friends had similar experiences.
“I don’t know anyone with a guide dog who hasn’t been refused,” she said.
“I said to them ‘This needs to be part of the training process … and you need to send a reminder to all the drivers in the system’.”
Ms Leahcar said in a follow-up email the company could not tell her what the consequences would be for the driver.
Royal Society for the Blind says it ‘continually happens’
Royal Society for the Blind guide dog service manager Lindy Hennekam said fines of up to $1250 could be issued to people who refused service to guide dog users.
But she said the law was rarely enforced.
“It just continually happens. There’s some fantastic Uber and taxi drivers out there … but despite the law being in place, despite the policies being in place, it still happens to guide dog users out there,” she said.
“Any education Uber can do would be fantastic because they’ve got it in their policy but presumably – this is an exact case – the drivers aren’t aware of the policy.”
Earlier this year, Ellen Fraser-Barbour, who is deafblind, and her friends were refused service at an Adelaide restaurant because of her guide dog.
The restaurant responded on social media, and said it was a “mistake” and the person in charge on the night was “concerned that by allowing the dog entry could compromise the food, health and safety standards”.
In a statement to the ABC, an Uber spokesperson said the company had a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination and driver-partners were advised of their legal obligation to transport passengers with assistance animals.
“As explained in Uber’s community guidelines, driver-partners who engage in discriminatory conduct can lose access to the driver app,” the spokesperson said.
“If this is the first report against the driver, he or she must undergo additional education and score over 90 per cent on a test to demonstrate they understand their legal obligations to riders with assistance animals.
“Any further incidents of this nature may result in permanent loss of access to the Uber driver app.”
The company said it aimed to educate driver-partners of their legal obligations and it welcomed and encouraged assistance animals.