In Australia, assistance dogs and their handlers have a legal right to access any event, business, public space, public transport and rideshare vehicles at all times. This means it’s considered discriminatory and unlawful for anyone to attempt to deny those legal rights simply because you are accompanied by an assistance dog. So why is this still an issue?
Assistance animals & the law
Assistance animals are trained to provide support to people with disability. There are three types of assistance animals:
Service dogs – trained to assist people who have various disabilities to manage personal and other tasks
Guide dogs – trained to help people who are blind or vision impaired to safely and independently get around
Hearing dogs – trained to assist people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment by alerting them to sounds
No matter what type of assistance animal you have, legally you can:
Travel on any form of public transport, including taxis and rideshares
Enter any public space
Enter healthcare or medical suites
Shop in any store, including a grocery store
Eat at any restaurant etc.
The only exceptions to this may be spaces where a persons disability is being addressed by other means or if there are strict requirements for health reasons. This includes:
Specific clinical settings
Surgically sterilised areas
Industrial food preparation areas (i.e. kitchens)
Access to public transport
Although the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person with disability who is using an assistance dog, some Australian states and territories do have additional regulations within the Disability Discrimination Act when it comes to public transport.
Guide dogs and hearing dogs do not need an Assistance animal pass to use public transport. However, service dogs will need an Assistance Animal Pass issued by Public Transport Victoria to travel on public transport.
Assistance animals are automatically granted public access rights under the Dog Act 1976 if they were trained by the following:
Assistance Dogs Australia
Guide Dogs WA
Lions Hearing Dogs
Seeing Eye Dogs Australia
Royal Guide Dogs Association of Australia and affiliated bodies
If they were not trained by the above organisations, they will need to complete a public access rights assessment.
A Handler’s ID card allows assistance animals to travel on public transport and Translink can issue an Animal Pass provided the assistance animal meets certain behavioural standards.
Accredited assistance animals can accompany a person with disability on all forms of public transport.
New South Wales
Accredited assistance animals are allowed on all forms of public transport. The accreditation allows your assistance animal to ride, free of charge on all NSW metro, train. Bus, ferry, light rail, taxi, private bus, private ferry etc. services.
Anyone who has an accredited assistance animal has public access rights under Commonwealth law.
Northern Territory & Tasmania
No specific passes are issued.
Uber, Rideshares & Assistance Animals
Just a few years ago, Vision Australia shared the news the Uber, in a world-first initiative, would allow passengers who travel with assistance animals to use their services without discrimination.
The Service Assistance Program by Uber focused on three major pillars:
A dedicated phone support program for participants that will connect them with specially trained agents, ensuring any potential issues are solved quickly and appropriately.
A notification sent to drivers after accepting a job with someone travelling with an assistance animal, reminding them of their legal obligations. Should the driver refuse the trip after receiving this notification, a review will take place.
Participants who are signed up to the Service Assistance Program can more easily have their cancelled trips reviewed to make sure no breaches of the law have taken place.
Although this all seems very positive, there are still countless reports of people with disability having their Uber ride cancelled or refused due to their assistance animal.
In February of this year, Henry Macphillamy was refused a ride at a busy shopping centre following a medical appointment. As a lawyer and a person who uses an assistance animal, Mr Macphillamy is well aware of his rights. However, this didn’t stop the Uber driver from refusing the ride and driving away.
Another woman, Ellen Fraser-Barbour, was refused an Uber even after explaining she was with an assistance dog. Uber responded to her complaint by temporarily suspending the driver from the platform while they received further education.
Olivia Muscat was not only refused once, but twice in a row when trying to get to a work event. By the time she was begrudgingly accepted by the third driver she was running late and on edge (understandably!).
Henry, Ellen and Olivia are just three examples of rideshare discrimination – unfortunately they are not alone.
What can be done?
Uber’s Assistance Animal Policy states that in line with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Human Rights Act 1993, service providers cannot deny transport services to riders with assistance animals because of the assistance animals.
The consequences for refusal are as follows:
“If Uber receives a plausible complaint that a driver-partner refused to transport a rider with an assistance animal because of the assistance animal, following a review of the complaint(s), the driver-partner can be permanently prevented from using the Driver App. Uber shall make this determination in its sole discretion following a review of the incident.
Driver-partners may also be subject to fines under applicable legislation if they refuse to accept a rider with an assistance animal. The maximum fine applicable will depend upon the State, Territory, or country the driver-partner is located. For example, as at the date of this Policy, a driver-partner may be subject to a fine of up to $8,000, $1,650 and $3,000 for failing to accept a rider with an assistance animal in the ACT, NSW and New Zealand respectively.”
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