UberAssist driver fined for denying ride to Paralympian

An UberAssist driver who refused to pick up a blind Paralympian last year because of her service dog has been fined $250.

Victoria Nolan says the driver abandoned her after seeing her guide dog

Last year, Paralympian Victoria Nolan was left hanging by an UberAssist driver in Toronto who took off after seeing her guide dog. (CBC News)

An UberAssist driver who refused to pick up a blind Paralympian last year because of her service dog has been fined $250.

Victoria Nolan, who captured bronze at the 2016 Rio Games in four-mixed rowing, had finished training at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre when she decided to try UberAssist for the first time. The ride-hailing service is designed specifically to be accessible to people with disabilities.

But when the driver arrived and saw Nolan's guide dog, he took off.

Ontario's Blind Persons' Rights Act states that no one can deny services or accommodations to anyone "for the reason that he or she is a blind person accompanied by a guide dog." City of Toronto bylaws also require all licensed businesses to serve people with guide dogs or service animals.

Uber's Service Animal Policy states driver-partners have a legal obligation to provide service to riders with service animals.

"If a driver refuses to transport a rider with a service animal because of the service animal, they are in violation of the law and in breach of their agreement with Uber," the policy reads.

Nolan filed a report with Toronto police and the driver was formally charged.

The UberAssist driver refused Victoria Nolan a ride after spotting her guide dog, Alan. (CBC News)

On Monday, the driver pleaded guilty to one charge of discrimination against a person accompanied by a guide dog under the Blind Persons Rights Act. The maximum penalty for the offence is $5,000.

The driver apologized to Nolan and said that he did not intend to discriminate.

Nolan said while she is happy with the outcome, what she really wants is an end to UberAssist drivers refusing to take passengers with guide dogs.

"I'm glad that the driver was fined. I'm glad that there was some follow-up there. However, I don't feel like penalizing the driver is really solving the problem," she told CBC Toronto. "I wish that Uber had been there and that they were going to do something to change things.

"Ultimately what I would like is for this to stop happening."

'Training issue'

Debbie Gillespie, the lead for accessibility at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), said the refusal to transport people with disabilities and their training animals shouldn't be happening in 2018. Still, she said she's aware of three recent cases.

"It comes back to a training issue of their drivers," Gillespie told CBC Toronto, adding that Uber drivers are generally not aware of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

"I don't know how they are being trained and I don't want to speculate, but I really think that there has to be more in-depth training of Uber drivers on matters of accessibility around the topic of guide dogs," she said.

Debbie Gillespie says the refusal to transport people with disabilities and their training animals should not be happening in 2018. (CNIB)

Uber issued Nolan an apology after the incident last year. In a statement emailed to CBC Toronto, Uber spokesperson Kayla Whaling said driver-partners are "expected to accommodate riders with service animals and comply with all accessibility laws."

CBC Toronto reached out to Uber Tuesday for a comment on the driver's fine. At the time of publishing, the messages had not been returned.

Nolan is now part of a committee providing input for a training video, which is being produced by Uber in collaboration with CNIB.

"Even though it's a serious situation, the training video takes a lighthearted approach to it," she said. "I think we want to engage the drivers in the training process so that it's not something that they just gloss over and think that it's not important."