We Will Not Go Quietly- Another Denial of Access
By our advisory group member and friend Juddy Matthews.
Today started out like any other typical work day, with an early arrival at the office, a brief informational meeting, and taking care of odds and ends.
A group of us attended a celebration of White Cane and Guide Dog Safety Day, a panel discussion on navigating our community with dignity, highlighting all aspects of transportation and pedestrian travel. After the event, we piled into an Uber, grabbed a quick lunch, and went to a spa for a relaxing afternoon. After a satisfying, productive, and relaxing day, I waited for Uber, with my husband Casey, my friend Jalys, and of course my trusty guide dog Keats. We were all anticipating a relaxing rest of the day, and I was particularly looking forward to an iced salted caramel white mocha—Starbucks would be our first stop.
When the Uber driver arrived, she called and began telling us that the dog wouldn't fit in her car. We proceeded to reassure her that the dog would indeed fit, that he is a service dog and is used to traveling in much smaller spaces than her Cadillac. She gave several other reasons for not taking the dog, including that she did not want the dog in her car because she was not comfortable with it, she did not want dog hair in her car, and finally, that she was allergic. We calmly stated several times that Keats is a service dog, that he is my eyes and not a pet, that the law states he is able to accompany me, and that a denial of access was a violation of state and federal laws. She stated she knew the law because she worked with people with disabilities. I tried to explain that denying us access was discrimination, that it would be like saying she was not going to take me because I was Hispanic. The driver, Faith, was adamant that she was going to cancel the trip and would not take us with the dog. I opened the back door and proceeded to sit in the car, while Casey called the police.
The Orange County Police Department (OPD) dispatcher made it clear that she did not see this issue as a priority, as she stated several times, to both Casey and me, that we should just take another Uber and that it might be quite some time before an officer would arrive on the scene. We assured her we would wait, because this driver was breaking the law and we wanted this documented. Meanwhile, Faith repeatedly demanded that I get out of her car, that I was trespassing and that she did not have to transport us because this was her private vehicle. She repeatedly made comments about dog hair in her car, even though my dog stood quietly right outside the vehicle, surely wondering why on earth he was being asked to wait so long to hop in. Though Faith clearly had no regard for the ADA, I chose not to have Keats in her car, so as not to escalate the situation even further. However, Faith became very agitated, standing in my personal space, and loudly demanding that I get out of her car. We all remained calm and stated that if I got out, she would leave, and we would stay here until the police arrived to properly document this incident. She stated that she was going to press charges and have me arrested for trespassing, that she needed to move her car because traffic was getting heavy, that if her car got hit, who was going to pay to fix it, and that surely we did not have the money to fix her car, or have her car cleaned, since, if we had that kind of money, we would have our own vehicle and someone to drive us around. She asked if we had called the police, and we said we had, but that she was welcome to call them as well. She said she was going to call five or ten of them, and Jesus too. She called both her mother and father, as well as the police. She was trying to get me to speak to her mother who "worked with people with disabilities." Since I would not take her phone, she proceeded to put her on speaker, and she, too, demanded that I get out of the car. She said her dad wanted to know what color we were. We said that was irrelevant, and she said this was 2016 and that it mattered. She stated we were all in her car, and that we were "surrounding her car like thugs." I was the only one in her car. Casey and Jalys were standing to my right outside her vehicle. It was a relief to have their support. Casey was making his usual wise cracks, which lightened the mood, and Jalys was recording audio clips. We all remained calm, though the whole situation was very upsetting. Keats was still calmly standing in the same spot, periodically looking up at me and into the car. He was acting like the professional he was trained to be, even if others were not. Faith made multiple offensive comments regarding our blindness, suggesting we did not know what kind of car she had, that we could not read Uber documentation, etc. She said, "They sit in dog hair, but I don't like to sit in dog hair. I am not dirty." The comments continued, and I will not take any more time to write about her aggressive, disrespectful comments. By the way, the entire time she stood near us, she never once coughed, sneezed, or showed any allergic reaction to my dog.
Two OPD officers arrived about a half hour later. We were glad to see that the officers were knowledgeable about the ADA, and they asked questions where clarification or further information was needed. We will be calling their sergeant to compliment their professionalism, and willingness to educate not only the driver, but also answer all of our questions regarding procedures. A report was filed, and charges were pressed. We, of course, did not wish to ride with Faith at this point, as we were concerned for our safety. However, we wanted to make sure this was documented, and it is our hope that she will not have the opportunity to deny another service animal team in the future. Naturally, I have also filed a complaint with Uber and hope she will be terminated. Whatever the result, I feel we did our part to fight for our rights, and to demonstrate that we will not quietly sit by and allow people who have such a disregard for the law to just get away with breaking it, with out any consequences. We simply want justice to be done, and to help make sure she can't do this to others. Unfortunately, the fight for equal access can only be won with persistence, and one battle at a time. Education is the most powerful weapon we have, and it works a lot of the time, but unfortunately not all of the time. I do pray that some day, this driver will fully understand and realize that all we wanted was not to be treated like second class citizens, and to be given the same service she would give anyone else.
We all found it so ironic that this denial of access would happen on a day in which White Cane and Guide Dog Safety was being commemorated, such a significant day for the rights of people who are blind and sight impaired. But, most of this day was great, and we were not going to let this incident ruin it for us. Our next Uber driver was wonderful, and could not believe what had happened. He said people should do things to be nice, not just because it's the law. What a different attitude! If everyone thought like him, we would not need the laws. I did, in fact, get to enjoy my iced salted caramel white mocha, and Jalys a café vanilla frappuccino—Casey is not a Starbucks fan, and Keats would probably like to be but isn't. The Starbucks employee, after hearing what happened, re-made our drinks which had been ordered almost two hours before, and did not charge us extra. Yay for nice people who care.