If you have ever tried to get into a taxi with a guide dog, and the driver refuses to take you or begins to hyperventilate because of your dog, you will want to read on.
Today, I conducted an informal awareness session with 7 key employees at Yellow Cab, one of the most popular cab companies in my city. I was disappointed to learn that no drivers would be present, because they are the target audience for my presentation, but it was pointed out to me that no driver is going to want to give up time he could be making money for a meeting. However, the people who are in charge of training were there, and they promised to pass along what they learned today.
All of them had had experience with blind customers, so we began with their questions. I wanted to be sure to cover topics that were on their minds right away. We discussed whose responsibility it is to make sure that the blind passenger is dropped off at the right address. They asked how much help to offer each customer. They all agreed that taking a little extra time for a blind customer is going to pay off in the long run. Sitting in the street and blowing the horn is not an appropriate way to announce your arrival for the pick-up. Verbal communication is vital. Too much is better than not enough. The theme of the whole presentation could be summed up in two parts. Each customer is different. And when in doubt, ask. The person with the disability is always the expert in this situation. We even talked about which questions about the person’s blindness are appropriate and which are not.
In the second part of the presentation, I conveyed some issues that some blind friends of mine asked me to talk about. There were two main concerns. First, approaching the door of the vehicle can be much more graceful and efficient if the driver would either A. put the customer’s hand on the door handle, so he can open the door himself if he chooses, or B. open the door for the passenger, but put his hand on the corner of the window of the dor, so he doesn’t accidentally find it with his head. We wrapped up the talking portion of this meeting with the second most important concern, a discussion about transporting dog guides. They all were well aware that it is the law that drivers must accept the dogs, but they wanted me to also understand that many of the drivers come from a culture in which dogs are considered unclean, and it really is against their religion to be near them. They will still accept them, but they prefer not to, not because they hate dogs, are allergic, or afraid of them, but that they must then take time to wash themselves after the dog has left the cab. This is good to understand, but the fact remains that if they are driving in America, they must obey the ADA.
The last phase of our meeting today was some practical application to what we had been talking about. Two or three of the employees agreed to put on a blindfold and be guided out to the waiting cab. They discovered for themselves how important it is to know in which direction the cab is facing. They felt really awkward until they found a way to get oriented to the car. Unless you do it yourself, you can’t know how important this is to a totally blind person. What is obvious to a sighted person is not so obvious for those of us who are blind.
“this was a great exercise,” they said. “I’m glad we did that.” It felt good to have this exchange of information, and I was happy to be an advocate for blind passengers. I left with a better understanding of how cab companies work, what Yellow Cab in particular is doing for the safety and convenience of its customers, and last but not least, a Taxi Gift Card which should cover my fare for my next cab ride.