Legally blind Rockingham woman wants to educate after taxi driver refused seeing eye dog

Lee Ann Hales and Viva.
Lee Ann Hales and Viva use an ATM.
Viva.
Lee Ann Hales and Viva. Lee Ann Hales and Viva use an ATM. Viva.

A LEGALLY blind woman left “gob-smacked” by a taxi driver’s refusal to allow her guide dog inside his taxi is determined to overcome the insult with education.

On June 28 Lee Ann Hales and her dog Viva approached a taxi parked at Rockingham Train Station.

“I approached the taxi and driver said to me ‘I can’t have a dog in the car’. I said ‘excuse me?’, then said ‘if the owner knew I used the taxi for dogs I would lose my job,’ and ‘where would I put the dog?’,” she said.

“I was stunned; I just kept thinking ‘you can’t refuse her, she’s an assistance dog’; she’s my eyes… I have had similar difficulties before.”

A couple of transit security guards ran to her defence telling the driver he could not refuse Ms Hales.

Fortunately another Swan taxi driver witnessed the incident and took Ms Hales and Viva home.

Ms Hales said the way to combat such instances was to ramp up an education campaign.

Ms Hales has Schnyder crystalline corneal dystrophy, a rare form of corneal dystrophy that requires corneal transplants depending on how long each donor cornea lasts.

She has had two since the age of 15.

She has 15-20 per cent vision.

“A couple of people do judge; they treat me as if I’m just putting it on,” Ms Hales said.

“This is what I want to get out; people need to be educated.”

She said another issue came from well-meaning people.

“Please don’t touch my dog while she’s working, even making eye contact is distracting for her,” she said.

“The minute she’s in the harness means ‘don’t touch me’.”

Ms Hales prefers to only allow people she trusts around Viva.

“It’s got to be a comfortable situation for Viva and for me,” she said.

“I do appreciate more than I can say those who do ask if it is ok to pat Viva. It shows respect.

“Better education for guide dog etiquette is something else I want to raise awareness about.”

Ms Hales wanted harsher penalties for those who refused assistance dogs.

“I want this prosecuted . In this day and age we shouldn’t be refused because of our guide dogs,” she said.

The Department of Transport were quick to investigate the matter after Ms Hales lodged a complaint.

“Taxi drivers are required to carry guide dogs when requested and can be subject to fines of up to $1000 and a review of their suitability to drive if they refuse a fare due to this request,” a Transport spokeswoman said.

“We treat complaints of this type very seriously and have previously prosecuted drivers for this type of offence.

“We are aware of this specific incident, initiated an investigation (June 29)and have contacted the complainant.

“Passengers are encouraged to report instances like this to the Department of Transport and the transport companies.”

Seeing Eye Dog Australia provided Ms Hales with Viva.

Chief instructor Patrick Glines said the dogs can go wherever their owner can.

“Anywhere that a person is allowed, their Seeing Eye Dog is legally allowed to go with them,” he said.

“These dogs enable people who are blind or have low vision to live independently, which makes it even more vital that they can access all areas.”

Swan Taxis has been contacted.

Rights of a person accompanied by an assistance animal

According to independent research conducted by Seeing Eye Dogs in 2015, an astonishing 55 per cent of clients have been refused access to a public space.

It is a criminal offence under the Domestic Animals Act 2000 to refuse entry to or use of a public place, or to exclude or remove a person accompanied by an assistance animal from a public place.

Assistance dog etiquette

When you meet a Seeing Eye Dog, it is important to remember that these dogs are working and should not be distracted.

Don’t
– Distract, feed or touch a working Seeing Eye Dog (in harness) without the handler’s permission.
– Discriminate against a person because they are using a dog guide.

Do
– Speak directly to the person, not the dog, when offering assistance
– Offer assistance (if required) to a dog guide handler.
– Keep pathways clear of obstacles and overhanging bushes trimmed to fence line
– Leave doors fully open or fully closed
– Position yourself slightly behind the right shoulder of a dog handler when walking with them
– Walk about 1m ahead if the handler is instructing their dog to “follow” and continue talking to the person.
– Alert the person to any unusual behaviour or physical appearance of their dog.

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