Visually impaired Metairie man seeks more ride share acommodations for guide dog

Updated: Mar. 4, 2020 at 9:55 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A local man says ridesharing services break the law on a regular basis and he’s reaching out to Congress to get something done about it.

He says he’s been nearly killed by drivers who sped off as he tried to enter their vehicles, with his seeing eye dog.

To get to the store, the doctor, or anywhere...Dimitrios Kouniaris of Metairie... needs his seeing eye dog, Marjorie to get him there, but all too often, he gets refused by ride sharing services.

He says an Uber driver in Connecticut recently violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Kouniaris says he’s got plenty of company.

“I don’t know how a human can sleep at night knowing they did that,” he said.

Kouniaris says one driver in Austin recently drove off, as Kouniaris insisted he comply with the law.

"He drove off while I was holding on to the handle...it's not just the refusal...but it's the fact that we almost got injured," he said.

The ride share drivers are individual contractors and Kouniaris, says about a dozen times in the past year they denied him, and his service dog Marjorie, a ride.

He documented each instance. In some cases Kouniaris says...the company fired the ride share driver...but other times... the company claims to have 're-educated' the driver.

"It's just the inconsistency, and I'm, sick of it," he said.

In 2014 Uber paid out a $225,000 legal settlement to the National Federation of the Blind for refusing to allow guide dogs in several vehicles... but six years later, Kouniaris says the problem persists.

Kouniaris says the problems are just as common with taxi or Lyft drivers. He says a Lyft driver denied him a ride from Kenner, last month.

"She claimed allergies, but according to the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’, allergies, won’t fly,' said Kouniaris.

Lyft wouldn't speak to individual cases, but gave us a statement saying

"Any form of discrimination on the Lyft platform is simply unacceptable. We have a strict service animal policy that requires all drivers to accommodate passengers traveling with service animals, and failure to abide by that policy can result in removal from the Lyft community. We have been in touch with the passenger to offer our support."

But Kouniaris wants more, including federal enforcement.

Last month, Kouniaris and others visually impaired went to Congress, asking for help.

"I would like to think that the market and compassion can address this, and we are looking into it," said Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La).

Cassidy says the ride sharing companies are required to take service dogs, under the law. But he also supports a move by ride sharing services, to make vehicles available with wipeable seats for the visually impaired, and their dogs. Drivers with fabric seats often object to pets in their vehicles.

But Kouniaris says the law requires all ride sharing drivers, to take passengers with seeing eye dogs.

"If you can't deal with dogs, you don't need to be driving, because there are consequences," said Kouniaris.

But all too often Kouniaris says, those consequences are not being enforced, against drivers disregarding the law.

Uber recently selected New Orleans for a ride sharing service called Uber Pet, which is designed for riders, with 'non-service' animals. Uber says the new service does not replace it's service animal policy, which requires drivers to take 'seeing eye' dogs.

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