Victoria Nolan, a medal-winning Canadian Paralympic rower, was left hanging by an UberAssist driver who refused to pick her up in Toronto on Tuesday.
Nolan, who is blind, had finished training at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre when she decided to try UberAssist — a ride service designed specifically to be accessible to people with disabilities — for the first time.
"When the driver arrived, my guide dog took me to the car, and I reached out for the door only to find out it was locked," Nolan told CBC Toronto. "And I waited, assuming he was going to unlock the door, and when I reached out again for the door the car was actually gone. So he had driven away, and just left me standing there."
Soon after, said Nolan, the driver called her on her cell phone and asked if she had a dog.
"He told me that he wouldn't take a dog in his car," said Nolan.
The UberAssist driver refused Victoria Nolan a ride after spotting her guide dog, Alan. (CBC)
Ontario's Blind Persons' Rights Act states that no one can deny services or accommodations to anyone "for the reason that he or she is a blind person accompanied by a guide dog." City of Toronto bylaws also require all licensed businesses to serve people with guide dogs or service animals.
Nolan said she explained to the driver that her dog was a guide dog, and that refusing to pick her up was illegal — but the driver said he was canceling the ride and hung up on her.
'I'm sick of it'
Nolan later contacted Uber with her complaint and was told that the company would take action. Still, she said she's experienced this kind of treatment before — and it takes an emotional toll.
"It's frustrating," said Nolan. "It messes with your confidence, so there's times when I actually want to avoid going out, because I don't want to have to potentially deal with this."
"I was super-excited that they had this service — so then to be denied, it's frustrating, it's insulting, it's demeaning. I'm sick of it, to be honest."
Victoria Nolan's rowing team won bronze in the 1000-metre race at the 2016 Paralympic Games. (CBC)
Nolan pointed out that by law, any Uber driver is required to accept a passenger with a guide dog. She specifically chose UberAssist because she thought they would be more accommodating.
"I hope something happens from this," she said. "Mainly I hope there's some education for other drivers so that this doesn't keep happening."
"We apologize to Victoria for the experience she described here," Uber spokeswoman Kayla Whaling wrote in a statement emailed to CBC Toronto. "Driver-partners are expected to accommodate riders with service animals and comply with all accessibility laws."
"We have spoken to Victoria and have reached out to the driver to understand what may have happened. As we look into this further, we have removed this driver's access to Uber."
Whaling told CBC Toronto that UberAssist drivers are provided with information on how to treat people with disabilities, and that the driver in question had done UberAssist rides before.
Despite Uber's apology, Nolan said she doesn't expect to use the Uber app again.
"Unless something big happens from this, some kind of massive education, I'm not confident using it at all," she said.
Nolan's experience is nothing new in Toronto. In 2016, a Toronto woman with a guide dog filed a complaint with Co-op Taxi after allegedly being rejected by a driver. In 2015, a Mississauga woman with a service dog told CBC News she was denied service from a wheelchair-accessible taxi company, despite booking the ride well in advance and informing them about her dog.
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