Open doors, open minds

Nov 18 2016

The Taxi Services Commission (TSC) has launched the “Open Doors Assistance Animals 2016” initiative. It aims to provide practical information and advice on taking people with assistance animals in taxis, and to encourage taxi drivers in Victoria to inform themselves of all their legal obligations.

Carrying assistance animals

Assistance animals help hundreds of Victorians to live independent lives. They assist their owners by giving them a greater sense of freedom and helping them with their daily tasks.

Taxi drivers have a legal responsibility to transport passengers and their assistance animals. Under the Commonwealth legislation Disability Discrimination Act 1992  drivers cannot discriminate against people who use an assistance animal. Some assistance animals wear identification and others don’t,  regardless, if they are trained to help a person alleviate their disability, they are considered an assistance animal. Every assistance animal is clean and trained to be quiet, well-behaved and obedient at all times.

What is an assistance animal?

Assistance animals are trained to help a person with their disability. They are working animals, not pets, and can be different colours, shapes, sizes and breeds.

Some disabilities may be physical and others may be unidentifiable by sight. It may be unclear immediately if an animal is an assistance animal. People in Victoria don’t need to have identification for their assistance animal. They only need to tell or show you how the animal is trained to help them.

Advice for drivers

If you  do not know how to ask a passenger about their assistance animal, consider these suggestions:

Be polite and speak to your passenger, not the animal. Assistance animals are allowed in taxis, even if they are not clearly identified.

Ask for more information if you can’t tell whether the animal is an assistance animal. You can politely ask, “Is your animal an assistance animal?” or, “Can you please tell me how the animal is trained to help you?”

If you are afraid of dogs, politely tell the passenger. You may say, “I’m sorry if I’m nervous around your animal, I am scared of dogs”. The passenger will often face the dog away from you to make you feel more comfortable.

Ask the passenger if they would like any assistance before you help them. If they would, wait for them to tell you how, or gently hold their arm to guide them to the taxi door. Remember to walk slowly.

Let the owner choose where they want to sit with the animal in the taxi – most people will place the animal in the foot well in between their feet. You might want to have a towel or sheet available to cover the seat if needed.

Assistance animals are well cared for and are clean. They have been trained not to make a mess in the taxi.

Assistance animals are very well trained and will never bite, lick or jump.

Please don’t touch, stare, feed or make noises at the animal. Assistance animals should not be distracted from their job.

Do not ask about a person’s disability. It is rude to ask questions like: “What is wrong with you?”, “What happened to you?”, “Will you dirty my cab?”, “Why do you look that way?”, or “Why do you need that animal?”

Treat the passenger the way you would like to be treated.

For more information on assistance animals, visit: 

www.taxi.vic.gov.au/opendoors

Penalties for refusing passengers with an assistance animal

Drivers can be fined up to $400 by the TSC if they refuse to take an assistance animal. If the matter ends up in court, there Is a risk of losing more than $1500. The passenger can make a complaint to the Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). If  the drivers does not agree with VEOHRC’s decision about how to resolve the complaint, the issue can be taken to VCAT. VCAT will decide on the penalty if the passenger has been treated unfairly.

How to identify an assistance animal

Some animals wear a jacket or badge to identify they are a working animal. If unsure, drivers should speak to the owner.

Below is an explanation of how to identify some common assistance animals:

Guide Dogs Victoria:  dogs wear a harness and a gold medal on their collar.

Seeing Eye Dogs Australia: dogs sometimes wear a blue jacket and a harness.

Assistance Dogs Australia: dogs wear a blue jacket.

Lions Club Hearing Dogs: dogs wear an orange collar, lead and jacket.

Service Dog Training: dogs wear a blue jacket and carry an ID badge.

Other types of service dogs: There are many types of service dogs. Not all dogs wear ID.

 

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