CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) — Victoria Bellamy only has very limited vision in one eye. She and her guide dog, Mr. Radley, have been together for a year.
“Yes, he is my eyes because he can find anything for me. If I say to the steps, he’ll stop at the steps to indicate we are at the steps. I won’t go tumbling down. If I tell him to the door he’ll take me to the door,” Bellamy said. “Just a couple of weeks ago we went to the Raleigh State Fair and he navigated me through all those crowds. He didn’t bump into anyone and knock anyone done and so basically he increases my independence.”
To get around Charlotte, Bellamy turns to Uber. But she said some Uber drivers have been turning her down.
“That has just been awful. I have been using the service of Uber since March and since that time – it’s been 9 months now – I’ve had eight denials,” she said. “So it’s kind of becoming one denial per month.”
The refusal has happened so often, Bellamy started recording when drivers arrived.
She said when some drivers saw her two year old guide dog – the excuses why they won’t give her a ride come pouring out.
“Some say they don’t want hair in their car. They say they have allergies. Some people say they just don’t want a dog, there’s no good reason – they just say no and drive away” Bellamy said.
“When someone denies my service animal it’s really a heart breaking experience because this isn’t a regular dog. This is a dog I’m with 24/7 who increases my independence, allows me to do things I didn’t think were possible, allows me to walk with my head held high instead of looking down to the ground to know where I’m going. So he’s really like a part of me in a way a person uses a wheel chair that’s a part of them” she said.
A spokesperson for Uber said drivers are expected to accommodate service riders with dogs and comply with all accessibility laws, and as part of the sign-up process, “driver-partners receive information and resources on accommodating riders with disabilities.”
Julia Sain, the Executive Director of Disability Rights & Resources, said it’s illegal to refuse service dogs.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act says if you are a private company, primarily in the business of transportation and you do demand response transportation – of course that’s you call them up and they show up like cabs, and Uber – then you have to make sure you’re accessible to people that includes having service animals in your vehicle.”
Sain said people around the country began filing lawsuits against Uber.
“This past May, there was a settlement of class action lawsuit between Uber and the National Federation for the Blind when Uber finally admitted they had been doing wrong,” Sain said. “And they came up with five agreements in order for this to be settled.”
Sain said Uber agreed to inform all their drivers what the requirements are so they would stop denying passengers who had a service animal.
Company executives said they were going to remove any drivers who violated the law.
Sain said Uber also agreed to pay the National Federation for the Blind $225,000 penalty over three years, and they were going to revise their written handbook and make sure everybody who was driving received a written copy of the policy to make sure they knew that.
The company also said it would keep a database – a national database of all the complaints they had gotten of drivers who had allegedly done this and how they had handled that driver.
Sain said she recommends anyone who is still experiencing service refusal to contact the National Federation for the Blind.
Victoria Bellamy just wishes drivers would comply with the law.
“I can just really feel the discrimination and it hurts me deeply since it keeps happening and some occasions the denial has brought me to tears” she said.