Wellington student with service dog abused, refused Uber ride – New Zealand Herald


Wellington student Nina Gellert, 21, and her epilepsy assistance dog, Val, were refused an Uber ride on Wednesday night. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
Reporter
A Wellington student who suffers epilepsy says she was labelled an “imbecile” and “mentally ret*****” when an Uber driver refused to carry her service dog, leaving her on a dark roadside.
Nina Gellert, 21, ordered an Uber from her Kelburn flat to visit a friend on Wednesday night, and was taking her service dog, black labrador Val.
Gellert has epilepsy and said the Epilepsy Assist Dog Trust provided Val to her in 2016.
When her Uber driver showed up, he saw Val and “immediately started badgering me, saying ‘no dogs’,” Gellert told the Herald.
“I just patiently explained she’s not a pet, she’s a [service] dog, she has to come with me.”
Val was wearing her service dog vest, and Gellert was carrying an ID card for her.
But Gellert says the driver continued to argue with her, saying she was “wrong in the head”, an “imbecile” and “mentally ret*****”.
“I had no response, what do you say to that?”
She said the driver told her “this service is not for people like you”.
Gellert said the man cancelled the ride in front of her and drove off, leaving her standing on the side of the road in the dark.
Fortunately Gellert said a pair of kind neighbours were just leaving their house, and gave her a ride to where she was going.
She felt “quite furious” and frustrated after the exchange.
“I couldn’t believe someone spoke to me like that and called me slurs.”
Every second Uber driver Gellert encountered was uncomfortable taking her dog, and about one in five times she would back down and order a different Uber if she was experiencing too much resistance.
But under New Zealand law as well as Uber policy, drivers must allow service dogs in their vehicles.
“She’s a medically trained dog, she’s got a purpose,” Gellert said.
“I have to constantly explain it.”
She said incidents like this also made her feel like a burden.
People needed to stop looking at service dogs as pets or optional, she said.
The way the driver spoke to her was also “unacceptable”, and even if he had valid reasons for not wanting the dog in the car it did not excuse verbally abusing her.
She also felt frustrated companies were quick to say they did not support such behaviour, but felt they made little to no effort to enforce those statements in a practical way, such as educating employees.
Epilepsy Assist Dog Trust board member Jan McEwen said certified service dogs were allowed in Ubers by law, which qualified as a public place when being used for work purposes.
The Dog Control Act 1996 allows for service dogs to enter all public places.
“It’s just a lack of education, people just, they are ignorant of the law,” she said.
It was not an uncommon issue for people with service dogs, and it was particularly unfortunate that stressful situations could negatively impact people with epilepsy, she said.
National Epilepsy Association of New Zealand chief executive Ross Smith also called the incident “disturbing”.
“As an organisation we are very concerned to hear this. One of the unfortunate aspects of epilepsy is there’s a lot of stigma and discrimination.”
An Uber spokesman said the incident “as described” was not reflective of the behaviour the company expected from those using its platform.
“We do not tolerate abuse from either driver-partners or riders on the platform and will take the necessary measures to ensure Uber remains a welcoming, inclusive service for all.
“More broadly, we know service animal refusal is an issue across society, and sadly rideshare isn’t immune. Our aim is always to educate driver-partners in relation to assistance animals when they sign up to the app, through specific education modules, and then on a regular, ongoing basis.”
The company had developed a support programme to improve people’s experience following feedback from members of the blind and low-vision community with service animals.

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