Blind Tampa Bay area woman believes Uber driver refused ride because of service dog

(WFLA) – Tessa Urban is blind, but feels confident to go just about anywhere with her guide dog, Dazzle, by her side.

But Urban says the very thing that gives her that freedom, her dog, sometimes puts her on the receiving end of discrimination. She often uses the riding-hailing service Uber to get around. Urban works full time as a massage therapist and says on the morning of Dec. 16, she requested a ride to her bank before work. She was on the corner, by her apartment complex, waiting on her ride. She says she was on the phone with her Uber driver who said he had trouble finding her.

Urban says when she heard the driver’s car pull up beside her, she waved her arms and said, “I’m over here.” The car stopped and then the phone went dead. The driver put the car in reverse and took off, she said.

“I believe he took one look at my dog and left,” Urban said.

She called the driver back and was sent to voicemail. Urban says she left a message and informed the driver he was breaking the law, but she never heard back from him. Then, as she stood in the parking lot, trying to figure out what to do, she received an email from Uber. It was a receipt for the trip. She was billed $5.95 for the trip that she insists never happened.

“I never went on that trip with that particular person,” Urban said.

Urban said she tried to complain to Uber but never heard back.

“It is very frustrating when you have a company that is guaranteeing you this service and then you have someone that drives up and you’re expecting that service and you don’t get it,” Urban said.

This is not the first issue Urban says she’s had with Uber drivers. Another driver at first refused service, but she convinced him to allow the dog in his car. State and federal disability laws protect people who rely on service dogs from discrimination because of those animals.

There are numerous reports, however, of Uber drivers across the country, turning away customers, saying they don’t want dogs in their cars. The National Federation of the Blind sued Uber in California, and the parties reached a settlement in July. Uber agreed to train its customer service employees on how to handle alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Uber now requires drivers to agree to transport those with service dogs and provides a video to new drivers so they will be educated about the policies and laws.

Plus, as part of the settlement, Uber agreed to pay $45,000 to the Disability Rights Advocates Client Trust account and $225,000 to the National Federation of the Blind.

Uber’s policy is clear that it expects drivers to obey state and federal laws and can terminate its contractual relationship with drivers who don’t obey these laws.

Jodi Page, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company was not aware of Urban’s complaint until contacted by 8 On Your Side. Urban tells 8 On Your Side she tried to file a complaint on Uber’s website.

Page said the company immediately started an investigation after hearing from News Channel 8. After reviewing records for Urban’s service on Dec. 16, Uber agreed to refund her the money for the trip in question.

The company also decided to ban the driver, only identified as James, from using the Uber app until a company investigation is concluded.

Page said Uber community guidelines “prohibit any type of discrimination in serving riders with disabilities.”

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