Ipswich: Blind couple speak of outrage at cab driver refusing their fare because of their guide dogs

Martin Roberts and Clare Burman were refused access to a taxi due to their guide dogs, Vikki and Mal

Martin Roberts and Clare Burman were refused access to a taxi due to their guide dogs, Vikki and Malone - Credit: Archant

A BLIND couple today sent a stark message to cab drivers in Ipswich after being refused a ride because they had their guide dogs with them.

In one of the first formal prosecutions of its kind in the UK, cab driver Metin Akin has been fined by South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to refusing to transport Martin Roberts and Clare Burman, 33, to their home in Bridgewater Road, Ipswich.

The driver said he was worried about the leather seats in his Volkswagen Passat.

Outraged Mr Roberts contacted Ipswich Borough Council’s licensing team last July after Akin refused their fare.

The couple, accompanied by their faithful labradors Vikki and Malone, had been enjoying an evening with family. But the night turned sour when the cab driver refused their custom.

Mr Roberts, 35, who has been blind since birth, told The Star it wasn’t the first time he has encountered such discrimination in the town.

“Unless a driver has a medical certificate which proves they are allergic to dogs, it is against the law for them to refuse a guide dog,” he said.

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“All licensed drivers have to sign a sort of contract, the terms of carriage, and by doing so they agree to abide by the Equality Act 2010.”

But he said he has encountered drivers flouting the law on several occasions.

“This has happened before in Ipswich – only a handful of times in the six years I have lived here but enough to make me think enough is enough.

“We wanted to send a message to other cab drivers that it is not acceptable to treat people like this.

“It was really embarrassing, more than anything. And humiliating – imagine if you were denied a cab ride because of your sex or the colour of your skin? It is discrimination just the same.

“The dogs don’t go on the seats, they sit in the foot wells and are really well behaved.

“The message to other cab drivers is if you refuse a blind person you are breaking the law. I am speaking out because there may be other blind people who don’t feel confident enough to do so.

“It goes beyond discrimination, it is breaking the law.”

Mr Roberts said he does not hold the cab firm responsible.

He added: “The company, Ipswich Cabs 289, have been brilliant.

“They were very supportive right from the start and we have no grumble with them whatsoever.”

Ipswich borough councillor Sandy Martin said the vast majority of cab drivers in the town provided an “excellent service”.

Mr Martin, Fairer Ipswich portfolio holder, added: “We cannot allow anyone to infect the relationship between drivers and their passengers, whether those passengers are disabled, from an ethnic minority, of a different faith or for any other discriminatory reason.”

n Have you faced similar discrimination? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email starletters@archant.co.uk

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