Safe Transport Victoria has launched a new Drive with Heart campaign to help improve the experience for passengers travelling with assistance animals.

The launch of the campaign aligns with International Guide Dogs Day (24 April). As part of the campaign, taxi and rideshare drivers will learn about highly trained assistance animals and get the chance to meet Seeing Eye Dogs and speak to assistance animal handlers about their lived experiences.

Tammy O’Connor, CEO, Safe Transport Victoria highlighted the importance of drivers to remember that assistance animals are welcome in every ride, saying: “Many people living with a disability rely on commercial passenger vehicles to lead full and inclusive lives and make the most of work opportunities.”

The Drive with Heart campaign is supported by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and Vision Australia. It’s developed to make drivers feel comfortable around assistance animals and reinforce education about their obligations.

Assistance animals are working dogs to support their handler and undergo rigorous safety and relationship training, meaning they will not bite, lick, or jump on people or other animals. 

These animals are allowed to travel in all taxis and rideshare vehicles and it is an offence for a driver to refuse service of passengers with their assistance animals.

Passengers who are refused service because of their assistance animal should lodge a complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) and with the relevant Booking Service Provider.

Ro Allen, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner said that being refused access to a taxi or rideshare is an unacceptable form of discrimination experienced by people who are blind or have low vision.

“The Drive with Heart campaign aims to educate the taxi and rideshare industry about the right of people with disabilities to ride with assistance animals. It was great to launch the campaign with taxi and rideshare drivers at Melbourne Airport, where they got to meet Seeing Eye Dog puppies and speak to assistance animal handlers about their experiences to dispel common misconceptions.”

According to Chris Edwards, Vision Australia Manager Government Relations and Advocacy, and assistance animal handler, it’s still all too common to be denied a taxi or rideshare booking when travelling with his Seeing Eye Dog, Eva.

“This takes away my ability to be an independent member of the community,” says Edwards. “Seeing Eye Dogs and all assistance animals are trained to calmly travel in a vehicle and are legally entitled to do so. This campaign to educate drivers is so important so that people with disability like myself can live the life we choose and manage our daily activities just like anybody else.”

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