In this entry, we review the legal protections available to Guide Dog users when taking cabs or ride-share services for transportation.
Rights in the Law
Both federal and state laws provide legal protections for individuals with disabilities when using “public accommodations.” These protections are two-fold: (1) the right to use “reasonable accommodations” and (2) freedom from discrimination based on the individual’s disability. The law considers transportation services like taxicabs and ride-share services to be public accommodations, so these services (1) must allow riders with disabilities to use reasonable accommodations and (2) may not discriminate against riders with disabilities.
One allowable reasonable accommodation is the use of service animals, including guide dogs. This means that transportation services (1) must allow riders to ride with their service animals and (2) may not refuse service because the rider has a service animal.
For more information on these laws and the protections they provide, please contact the Free Bridges Helpdesk.
Rights in Practice
All taxicabs that operate in Maryland must provide service to individuals with service animals, as outlined in the Maryland Taxicab Customer Bill of Rights. Likewise, ride-share companies Uber and Lyft have policies that require drivers to provide transportation to guide dog users (here are links to those policies: Uber Service Animal Policy, Lyft Service Animal Policy, and Lyft Service Animal web page).
Rights are great, but what happens when a driver violates the policy by refusing service or otherwise discriminating against guide dog users? When violations occur, riders have the right to report those violations using the relevant tool:
- Reporting Violations by Taxi/Cab Drivers in Maryland
- Uber violation: Self-report or Uber violation: Third-party report
- complete Lyft’s Service Animal Complaint Form
Additionally, please consider reporting ride-share violations to two additional organizations:
- NFB Ride-share Discrimination Survey: hosted by the National Federation of the Blind, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of blind/low vision individuals, uses this data to gather “information about ongoing discrimination for legal advocacy.”
- File a complaint with the U. S. Department of Justice: the American Council of the Blind (ACB) encourages dog guide users to: “File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice every single time a driver for a ride-share company denies service to you because you travel with a guide dog.”
Discrimination still occurs
In April 2023, David Tatel, a guide dog user and Senior Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Courts of Appeal represent the level just below the U.S. Supreme Court), experienced discrimination by a Lyft driver – who refused to transport the judge with his dog guide Vixen. How ironic that a Senior Judge in the second-highest court of the land would experience such blatant discrimination and verbal harassment by the offender in 2023. Judge Tatel recalls the experience: “It’s embarrassing; it’s humiliating to be rejected for something because you’re blind. I’ve been blind a long time; I’ve had a lot of experiences. This was like nothing else.”
The Washington Post article, A federal judge was refused a Lyft ride with his guide dog. He’s not alone, lies behind a paywall, but you may access a copy of the article in the fourth post on the UberPeople.net blog thread titled “US Federal Judge with guide dog refused ride by screaming Lyft driver”.
Reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk
Most people of all ages and abilities find self-advocacy to be stressful and demanding. Judge Tatel’s recent experience shows that no one is immune from discrimination and that even seasoned judges feel “embarrassed” and “humiliated” when it happens. You are not alone. Please reach out to us; we at the Bridges Helpdesk are eager to support you throughout the process, and we’ll support your decisions (including a decision to refrain from reporting a violation). The key is that we are always here to support you.
Keep your rights close at hand
Please consider downloading and adding to your smartphone’s memory the Bridges Technical Assistance Center’s Guide Dog User Rights in Maryland Reference Sheet, which is also available online as the Bridges Resource Library Guide Dog User Rights in Maryland Reference Sheet entry.
Tips from Experienced Guide Dog Users
Unfortunately, having rights and reporting violations does not prevent future discrimination. Many members of the general public (including taxi and ride-share drivers) do not understand the importance of reasonable accommodations and anti-discrimination laws. Thus, guide dog users and their friends benefit from hearing the experiences of other guide dog users who have faced (and maybe continue to face) discrimination with transportation services.
If you want to connect with an experienced guide dog user (for short-term information or to develop a long-term mentoring relationship), please reach out to us at the Bridges Helpdesk; we are eager to help you find the support you need. You may also reach out to guide dog user groups, including :
- Capital Area Guide Dog Users, Inc. (CAGDU); email President Cindy LaBon), the Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. affiliate of Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI), an affiliate of the consumer group, the ACB (American Council of the Blind)
- National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU), a division of the consumer group, the NFB (National Federation of the Blind)
Additionally, please consider checking out some of these articles, written by dog guide users who have experienced the stress and frustration of discrimination when attempting to use ride-share services:
- Rideshare Laws With A Guide Dog, by Melissa Padron
- What to do if a rideshare service denies access to you and/or your guide dog.” by Kim Owens, mother of college student and dog guide user Kai Owens; includes Kai’s experiences of Kai as well as those of Heather and Tony (guide dog users)
- The Joys and Perils of Guide Dogging, by Alecia Iwima
- To Dog or Not to Dog – That is the Question, by Caitlin Mongillo
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.
Updated as of September 28, 2023.