Report from RNZ
A blind Wellington man who has twice been told he cannot take his guide dog on a Metlink bus says he was made to feel like a non person and drivers need training.
George Taggart tried to get on a Wellington Metlink bus outside the Blind Foundation on Adelaide Road yesterday, with three blind friends. All had white canes, while George had Guss his guide dog. The poodle was wearing a harness and guide dog tags and George was carrying photo ID which identified him as sight impaired and Guss as his assistance dog.
Guss and George tried to get on the number 23 Metlink bus, just before midday yesterday.
“I stepped up on the bus and the driver said ‘get off my bus’,” he told Checkpoint. “I said ‘I beg your pardon, this is a guide dog and I’m allowed on the bus’, he said ‘it’s not a guide dog, now get off the bus… I’ve got a job to do’.”
He refused to get off the bus and the driver, he said, then threatened to call the police. The driver then radioed someone – and after much back and forth, George and Guss were eventually allowed on the bus.
“Eventually the driver took my passport from me. It says ‘Blind Foundation guide dog’ and there’s a photograph on it of Guss and myself and he told his boss of that on the radio.
“The bus driver came down out of his seat on to the platform and had a look at the dog’s collar and eventually I was allowed to get on the bus, with him saying ‘I’m only doing my job’.”
The experience has left a bitter taste for George and he wants drivers to be better trained to help sight impaired people where needed.
“This particular confrontation is the second one I’ve had in just over a week,” he said.
He understood that a poodle may not look like a conventional guide dog to some, but with the harness and accreditation on his passport, the incident should not have happened, he said.
“It was like treating me as a kind of a non-person. One of the difficulties that blind people have is that there’s lots of kinds of stereotypes.
“The most common one is that when you explain to someone you can’t see, they raise their voice to you. I don’t think they mean it in a malicious way, it’s that type of ‘oh you poor, poor person’ and I’m not a poor, poor person. My eyes may not work, but that doesn’t stop my brain from working.”
He urged the bus company to train its staff. “We may need a little bit of help, but we’re still bus passengers.”
The bus company has apologised for the actions of its driver and is promising better training for staff.
Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher told Checkpoint the incident was not good enough. “We apologies unreservedly for the treatment he experienced. That is not in line with our expectations or our policy,” he said.
He said he intended to apologise personally to George and had been in dialogue with blind rights advocates to assure them the issue would be dealt with.
“Anyone who has an identification card, who is blind or of low vision, then they are fully welcome on any Metlink service and all they need to do is produce that card for our staff,” Gallacher said.
News from Blind Low Vision NZ
Blind Low Vision NZ (formerly Blind Foundation), expresses support for its Wellington based client George Taggart and his guide dog Guss after they were denied access to a Wellington bus .
John Mulka, Blind and Low Vision NZ Chief Executive, says this experience highlights the need for continued awareness and understanding for blind, deafblind and low vision New Zealanders.
“While it might be unusual for the public to see a Poodle as a guide dog, when George showed his ID card it should have cleared up the confusion. Guide dogs are of course permitted to travel on public transport and are welcome in public places including restaurants, offices, clinics, hospitals, shops, cinemas and hotels.
“The majority of Blind Low Vision NZ guide dogs are Labradors. However, at New Zealand’s only guide dog breeding and training centre, we also breed a small number of Standard Poodles suitable for handlers, or members of their family, who may be allergic to dog hair. Blind Low Vision NZ guide dog breeds are chosen for their intelligence and steady, friendly nature.
“Blind Low Vision NZ work directly with transport providers and others in the private and public sector to train and educate on how to best serve blind, deafblind and low vision travellers, customers and staff. We will reach out to Metlink and the Wellington City Council to offer support and advice on best practice.
Mulka says these kinds of situations can be very difficult for blind and low vision New Zealanders.
“It’s important we use these opportunities to raise awareness about the access rights of people who use guide dogs, to travel independently and confidently, and to get where they need to go. This highlights accessibility issues for all – whether for work, study or better social outcomes.
“At Blind Low Vision NZ we are excited to lead the charge for updated accessibility legislation that has been recognised by Government, and is sorely needed in New Zealand.”