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The incident took place at a bus stop in Kinsale last year. File photo Leah Farrell

Bus Éireann reprimanded after man with guide dog 'publicly humiliated' and refused service

A visually impaired man was told to “take a picture” when he asked for the driver’s name after he and his guide dog were turned away.

BUS ÉIREANN HAS been ordered to pay €4,000 to a visually impaired man who was refused to be let on to a bus for a medical appointment because of his guide dog, and told to “take a picture” when he asked for the driver’s name.

It had the effect of leaving the man “publicly humiliated” and inconvenienced as he went about his daily business, according to the ruling published by the Workplace Relations Commission today.

In its decision, the WRC found that the company had discriminated against the man under Equal Status laws. It said:

The overall effect of this experience doesn’t end in one day, but it permeates into the future, making the person anxious about going out and having an ordinary life.

The incident took place on June 26 last year at a bus stop in Kinsale, Co Cork when the complainant was prevented from getting on the bus to Cork city.

When he entered the coach, the driver told him that there was no room for him and his guide dog, which he has used for the past seven years.

The WRC heard that the complainant had asked the driver if he was refusing to let him travel on the bus, to which the driver replied “yes” and said there was no room.

When the man told the driver that he had never been refused permission to travel on a bus with his guide dog, the WRC heard that the driver replied: “There’s a first time for everything.”

It was also alleged that when asked for his name, the driver told the man to “take a picture”. The complainant said that he was unclear what it was he was being advised to take a picture of. After this exchange, he and his dog got off the bus.

As the man had a medical appointment in Cork an hour later at 2pm, he had to take a taxi this had to divert to Cork Airport so that the complainant could withdraw cash from an ATM. As the machine was a touch-screen unit the complainant had to give the driver his bank card number to withdraw the cash for his fare.

The WRC heard that it was “extremely stressful” for the man to have to give his PIN number to a stranger.

WRC adjudication officer Catherine Byrne said that Bus Éireann’s representatives “apologised for the stress and inconvenience that was caused because of the conduct of their driver” during the hearing held for the case.

Having considered the complainant’s experience and apology, Byrne made an order that the company pays the complainant €4,000 as “compensation in some measure for the distress” that he suffered.

“I would also ask the accessibility manager to consider the posting of a notice on buses, to inform drivers that guide dogs are permitted to travel,” she added.

“Despite the efforts of disability organisations and advocacy groups, there are occasions when blind people meet resistance when they attempt to access a service with their dogs,” she said.

She noted that company had argued that what happened in Kinsale was an “isolated incident” and that its driver did “not intentionally discriminate” against the man.

Instead, the company said the driver was concerned that his assistance dog would block the aisle of the bus.

Byrne rejected this argument in her decision. She noted the complainant always sat at the back of a bus with his dog by his feet.

“If common sense had prevailed, and, if the driver had been more positively disposed to assisting the complainant, he could have asked him where his dog normally sits on single deck buses, or he could have called his base for advice,” she said.

She accepted that “reasonable efforts” are being made to ensure that the company’s staff are trained to ensure that the company meets its obligations to disabled people.

“I accept that what occurred on June 26th in Kinsale may have been an isolated incident; however, the impact on the complainant was considerable. He was publicly humiliated, he was inconvenienced in how he went about his daily business, he was out of pocket and he suffered further distress when he had to give his bank ATM number to a taxi driver,” she said.

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