Epileptic woman abused by Uber driver because of service dog

Nina Gellert was verbally abused and refused service by an Uber driver when she tried to get a ride from her Kelburn flat – all because of her well-trained service dog, Val.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Nina Gellert was verbally abused and refused service by an Uber driver when she tried to get a ride from her Kelburn flat – all because of her well-trained service dog, Val.

An epileptic woman says she was verbally abused and refused service by an Uber driver when she tried to get a ride from her Wellington flat – because of her well-trained service dog, Val.

Nina Gellert cannot legally drive because of her epilepsy. She called an Uber to pick her up on Wednesday evening for a short ride to a flat viewing. As always, her black labrador Val was with her.

Val has had training for four years and has an ID card – she can alert the nearest adult when Gellert has a seizure and is trained to bring her water and medication.

But Gellert says the Uber driver who arrived on Wednesday night would not listen when Gellert said Val was a service dog, and instead told her she was “wrong in the head”. He left her in the dark on the side of the road without a ride to her flat viewing.

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Black labrador Val has had training for four years and even has an ID card – she can alert the nearest adult when Gellert has a seizure and is trained to bring her water and medication.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Black labrador Val has had training for four years and even has an ID card – she can alert the nearest adult when Gellert has a seizure and is trained to bring her water and medication.

Legally, people with service dogs have to be treated the same as any other customer because service dogs are not the same as pets. Uber also has a specific service dog policy and a spokesperson said the incident was “not reflective of the behaviour we expect”.

Many Uber drivers – Gellert estimates one in five – do not want a dog in their car, which is fine as long as they’re respectful, she said. Many people are not aware service dogs are different from pets, especially when they don’t wear the same red coat as guide dogs for blind people.

“I’ve definitely had people be rude to me before or refuse to take me. I’m usually more than happy to call another Uber if someone has a problem with dogs, like a phobia or an allergy.”

On Wednesday night, the reaction was more “extreme”, Gellert said.

Val wears a purple coat from the NZ Epilepsy Assist Dog Trust.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Val wears a purple coat from the NZ Epilepsy Assist Dog Trust.

The Uber driver started “badgering” her as soon as he saw Val, saying “no dogs”. She says he called her “mentally r…….”, an imbecile, and said “this service is not for people like you”.

He would not listen when Gellert offered to show Val’s identification. He got out of the car, yelled at her, then cancelled the ride and left her standing outside.

Gellert felt upset, insulted, and frustrated. “I was pretty furious,” she said.

ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Paul Hutcheson finds his Blind Low Vision NZ’s guide dog Nellie is a great match for his active lifestyle.

Luckily she made it to the flat viewing on time after asking her neighbours, who were heading out, for a ride.

Gellert has had Val by her side for six years, since she was 15 years old. She has regular partial seizures, which aren’t as visible as the classic tonic-clonic epileptic seizures but mean that she is not able to “fully comprehend or function as normal”.

She laid a complaint with Uber, but Stuff understands that the driver is unlikely to be banned from the platform.

Many Uber drivers – Gellert estimates one in five – do not want a dog in their car, which is fine as long as they’re respectful, she said.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Many Uber drivers – Gellert estimates one in five – do not want a dog in their car, which is fine as long as they’re respectful, she said.

A spokesperson for Uber said “we do not tolerate abuse”. The company “will take the necessary measures to ensure Uber remains a welcoming, inclusive service for all,” they said.

The company has started a Service Assistance Programme which allows users with service dogs to opt in.

“More broadly, we know service animal refusal is an issue across society, and sadly rideshare isn’t immune. Our aim is always to educate driver-partners in relation to assistance animals when they sign up to the app, through specific education modules, and then on a regular, ongoing basis.”

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