Orlando Cars, a taxi firm in Bolton, allegedly refused to allow a blind woman into one of their cabs because they thought her guide dog, a five-year-old Labrador named William, would upset their other passengers. Now the blind woman, Toni Forrest, is taking the prejudiced taxi firm, Orlando Cars, to court over the matter.
The taxi firm’s claims that her guide dog’s hairs upset passengers represents discrimination against the blind, for which Orlando Cars are being hauled over the coals for. The boss of Orlando Cars, Mustak Bhuta, is facing charges of discriminating against the disabled after refusing to let the blind woman in one of his taxis. He claims that other customers had complained in the past of dog hairs in the taxis, presumably because they hadn’t been cleaned properly between shifts.
Toni Forrest made a complaint to the licensing department for Bolton Council, who are now prosecuting Mustak Bhuta and Orlando Cars for their discrimination against the disabled. The case is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK.
Section 37A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 states that no taxi firm or private car hire firm can refuse to accept any guide dogs who are accompanied by a blind person. Mustak Bhuta denies breaking that rule, even though his firm did refuse to allow Toni Forrest and her guide dog.
If Orlando Cars are found guilty of discrimination against the disabled they face a £1,000 fine.
The discrimination happened last year, just after Miss Forrest (40-years-old) was returning home from a day volunteering at the Sensory Centre, where she was teaching Braille to children. She telephoned Orlando Cars for a ride home.
When she spoke to the taxi operator, she was told that she would no longer be picked up by the firm as customers had complained about dirty cabs containing dog hair. Miss Forrest has been blind since she was 21.
Toni Forrest said her guide dog was very clean and she just wanted to get home.
William is always clean and he never smells of anything. He’s well looked after.
After hearing that the firm had refused to pick her up, she was stunned.
I just apologised and I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t realised there had been a problem. I had to get a black cab and it was more expensive. I felt quite upset and angry.
According to the rules a guide dog owner doesn’t really have to tell the operator that they’ve got a guide dog when they’re booking it.
It’s discrimination. I do feel that I’m being punished for being blind.
When questioned in court, Mustak Bhuta stated that Miss Forrest had refused two drivers because she didn’t get on with them. A third driver refused to pick her up because he was allergic to dogs.
However Miss Forrest disputes that she turned down two drivers.
Bhuta also said that one driver complained that he’d received a parking ticket when trying to pick Miss Forrest up previously.
Taxi drivers can be exempt from picking up guide dogs only if they have provided medical proof that they are allergic to dogs, or that their health could be affected by being close to dogs. However, no such proof has been given to Bolton Council.
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