Whenever Cam Roles leaves home with his Seeing Eye Dog, Fergie, they are warmly welcomed at restaurants, venues, and public places. Fergie even gets plenty of pats. It's only when it comes to taking an Uber, or other rideshares, that they don't feel as welcome.
All Seeing Eye Dogs are guide dogs but not all guide dogs are trained as Seeing Eye dogs.
Mr Roles is completely blind and having Fergie has substantially improved his ability to get around. He said a Seeing Eye Dog makes it much quicker and more efficient than using a cane.
"Most people absolutely adore these dogs...I put dog deodorant on her, she smells nice. She's got a beautiful glossy coat, she looks amazing. And people love the work they do," Mr Roles said.
"But the biggest challenge is particularly in rideshares like Uber. It's a real mess."
While there are some drivers who open their doors to him and Fergie, there are many times where Mr Roles is denied a ride and is left hanging dry.
As a senior lecturer at the ANU College of Law, he says this refusal is a human rights violation and goes against every anti-discrimination law in the book.
"When someone puts their private car out for Uber or Ola, that car is a public passenger vehicle at that point. But these drivers don't see it that way. They see it as 'It's my private car and I can say whether you can put your dog in it or not'. They can't, by law," Mr Roles said.
He said he reports drivers who refuse to take him and Fergie, but never sees how rideshare companies handle the issue. Whenever he comes across an unwilling driver, he says the problem persists no matter how much he explains to them that they are breaking the law.
"I absolutely know my rights around this and it doesn't change anything. You still get subjected to this nonsense where the drivers refuse to take the dog. So I always advocate, I always argue the toss and I always report it," Mr Roles said.
He said rideshare companies were the "worst offenders" and needed to improve training for drivers by taking a less "permissive" attitude towards those who operate in a discriminatory manner.
Mr Roles is also a director at Vision Australia and said rideshare discrimination was undoubtedly one of the most common complaints he got from other Seeing Eye Dog users.
Rideshare companies Uber, Ola, Lyft and Didi were approached for comment.
A Didi spokesperson told The Canberra Times drivers operating on their app were provided with mandatory anti-discrimination training and riders who had "a negative experience" were encouraged notify their customer experience team, who manage cases and take action where required.
An Uber spokesperson told this masthead it was important that riders refused due to their service animal continue to report instances so the app could improve its policies.
They said Uber had a Service Assistance Program (SAP) which invited riders with service animals to opt-in to access features designed to improve their experience.
"We want to lead industry change, and as a result of responding to direct feedback from our users with service animals, we have developed a specialised, and industry first, program of support," the spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, several Seeing Eye Dogs in training visited Parliament House and met with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Minister for NDIS Bill Shorten and other MPs to draw attention to the issue of discrimination.
Vision Australia director of government relations Chris Edwards said some have been refused entry on 20 occasions in a one year period. Mr Edwards said he and his Seeing Eye Dog, Eva, had three refusals in a row last month.
"We certainly need to continue to educate, and that's what this event is about, to highlight that ... if dogs are allowed in Parliament House, they're allowed everywhere in the community," he said.
"But we still need to do some more work around regulation.
"There's one thing having the law but ensuring that people follow the law is the second issue."
Through the visit, Vision Australia hoped to not only address discrimination but also call on the government to adopt alerting systems for electric vehicles, which make less noise when driven at lower speeds and create a risk for people who are blind.
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