Published on: October 23, 2017 | Last Updated: October 23, 2017
Kevin Frost, who is legally deaf and blind, has been initially refused service by Uber three times in the last month as he tried to access it with his service dog, Lewis. That’s against the law.
Being legally deaf and blind hasn’t stopped Kevin Frost from becoming a high-performance athlete and sought-after motivational speaker, but Uber drivers’ ignorance of the law put the brakes on him three times this month.
First, a driver cancelled the fare and simply drove off after arriving to pick up Frost, 50, and spotting his guide dog, Lewis, by his side. Frost complained to Uber and the company assured him it wouldn’t happen again and that the driver was no longer with the ride service.
But twice since, Frost has had to patiently explain the law until the driver agreed to take him to his destination. One driver was “totally arrogant.”
“I stood my ground,” Frost said of the most recent incident just last week when he called Uber from a friend’s Kanata home to get to Fallowfield. “He was very hesitant for the first five minutes, then he realized I wasn’t going. I stood my ground. I just sat in the front with Lewis.
“He got me to my destination, which is all I wanted, but man did I have to climb a mountain to educate.”
The ever-positive Frost said he’s practiced at advocating for himself but frustrated he must and worried for people who are more vulnerable or have a new guide dog.
Frost a three-time world champion short- and long-track speed skater who competes in everything from tandem cycling to golf lost most of his hearing at age 11 and vision at age 30 due to Usher Syndrome Type 2.
“I believe in educating and I know the law,” Frost said. “I have some vision but very limited vision left. For some people, it would be traumatizing and damaging to their confidence with their guide dog because they got turned down because someone didn’t want a dog in their car.
“Lewis gives me so much independence. I can go everywhere and anywhere. I fly with him, I take the bus with him, I take the train with him no issues. In one month, three issues with Uber.”
Frost was using UberAssist, which is aimed at passengers with disabilities.
The law is clear. Under Ontario’s Blind Persons’ Rights Act, no one can deny accommodations, services or facilities offered to the public “for the reason that he or she is a blind person accompanied by a guide dog.”
Frost showed the offending drivers his Ministry of the Attorney General-issued ID card, which has a picture of him with Lewis. On the back, it spells out that restaurants, taverns, inns, hotels, stores and public carriers risk fines of up to $5,000 if they break the law and that police can be called to enforce it. Frost has actually helped trained Ottawa police on the act.
People who use guide dogs and service animals are also protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Uber responded quickly to the first incident, Frost said, and again got in touch with Frost on Friday after issuing a statement to the Citizen.
“The experience described here is upsetting and we are reaching out to all involved to re-emphasize Uber’s policy on service animals,” spokeswoman Kayla Whaling said in an email. “Driver-partners are expected to accommodate riders with service animals and comply with all accessibility laws.”
The company said it will send a message about service dogs to drivers, warning that “failure to do so may result in permanent loss of access to the Uber app.”
Frost, an experienced public speaker who had just talked to a group of high school students when he was photographed with Lewis Friday, said Uber has to find a way to make the message stick. He pointed to other cases of people with guide dogs being refused service, including Paralympic medallist Victoria Nolan who was denied service by an UberAssist driver in Toronto in February. A Windsor man reported being denied service by Uber drivers last year.
“I’m willing to be a spokesman to educate,” Frost said. “I want freedom for the next person.
“If they keep doing what they’re doing, we’re always going to have this issue. They need to find a better way to get the information to drivers.”
Bill Thornton, co-founder of Manotick-based Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, said dogs like Lewis, a yellow lab, have been trained to ride every kind of public transit since puppyhood even before undergoing rigorous advanced training.
“They’re very experienced travellers,” he said.
Guide dog users once reported the same problems with traditional taxi companies, an issue that is now rare thanks to measures including engagement with cab companies, Thornton said. Uber drivers are just as wrong under the law, which treats guide and service dogs as extensions of their handlers who can’t be refused service or charged an additional fee for having them along.
It’s a key issue of independence, Thornton said.
“Persons with guide dogs and service dogs rely heavily on public transit because they’re not able to drive themselves,” he said. “We need public transit to accommodate everyone and their needs. These drivers need to know that they need to take anybody who’s seeking a fare. There can be no exceptions.”
Nor should people like Frost have to make the case that people should follow the law.
“It’s exhausting for people to have to explain themselves all the time when really they shouldn’t have to explain a single thing,” Thornton said. “It’s self-evident.