We always made sure to emphasize the importance of equal access, that it is our right and that the dogs are well groomed, friendly and that they are vital partners in allowing us to function at the highest level possible. I think at some point, it is considered a victory when we are able to have productive dialogues with leaders, and we can see that more people with service and guide dogs are getting into cabs and ultimately where they need to go. But, there's one more issue I'm experiencing. Even if the driver who has religious beliefs about service dogs which do not match my own allows me and Julio into the cab, we still run into the problem of being asked to do things which, because of my RSD, are vary painful and can even cause a flare up, or at least a worsening of symptoms. Consider this recent experience:
Once the driver arrived, he repeatedly asked if my dog was safe. I reassured him, that Julio is well trained, friendly and would not hurt him. Then, when we got in the cab, the driver asked me to hold Julio in a way which caused him to sit on my foot, and when we got out, Julio could not safely back out of the car and I had to lower him to the ground. I didn't realize that Julio could not back up safely until we got out, and I didn't expect the ride to be long, so I didn't say anything. But the driver wasn't familiar with my college, and the ride took a long time. The driver insisted on keeping the windows rolled down, even though it was below 40DG outside. I've since learned that this might be a practice used when someone is riding in a cab and something about them is considered unclean in the Muslim religion.
Since my nervous system doesn't handle cold well, and my RSD causes me severe pain if anything even touches my skin, the combination of Julio on my foot and the wind and cold from the open windows made for a very painful cab ride. And while I want to respect others' religious beliefs, I have a huge quandry. Usually, if I'm taking a cab, it's because I am in enough pain, or have enough distance to travel that riding the bus would not be an option. I need to know that when I take a cab, I won't be in worse pain than I started with.
The reason I worry about this is not just because of my personal pain levels, but also because as I think about it, I wonder about people with other physical health challenges. Not everyone has the strength to consistently and gently lower a 70 pound labrador (who's scared, squirming and doesn't want to get dropped), down to the ground. I wonder if there is some way we can better educate drivers to understand that while we respect their concerns, we can't always meet them because of our disabilities. I also wonder if leaders of various religions could help everyone understand this concept.
I write this not as a criticism, but as a point for further discussion. I applaud the efforts of many who have advocated so that we have better access to the cabs than we did. I would just love to see it taken further.
The experiences I've had have led me to wonder what other difficulties I, as a person who is blind, may not anticipate, but which are normal challenges for someone with a different disability. I also wonder how we as a community of people with disabilities can better support each other as we advocate for our own needs. And finally, I sincerely hope that the relationships which were built by my friends who have worked so tirelessly to advocate foe access to cabs for people with service dogs will allow us to work out ways to make cab rides more pleasant, safe and helpful for both the drivers and the passengers.