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Taxi Driver Pleads Guilty

Editor's Note: The last issue of the Canadian Blind Monitor carried an article concerning the discrimination against Sandi Dewdney, treasurer of the Vancouver Island Chapter, when she was attempting to take a taxi in New Orleans. She was dragged from the cab by a driver who did not want to transport her guide dog. The driver dragged her by a hand which had been broken in a swimming accident earlier that week. His actions caused further physical damage. It will be a year or longer before Sandi will know whether she will regain full use of her hand. Under the circumstances, the penalty received is mild indeed. However, Sandi took full advantage of the opportunity to raise public awareness about blind people working with guide dogs. In the Federation we find ways to make positive things happen even under negative circumstances. Here is the news about the outcome of Sandi's case.

A cab driver, Mahmoud Awad, age 53, was sentenced to 120 days of community service at the Lighthouse for the Blind after he pled guilty to battery in a Louisiana court on Wednesday, October 3, 1997. Mr. Awad was charged with battery after he forcibly pulled me from his cab because he did not want to transport my guide dog.

Mr. Awad, in his defence, stated that he would have transported me if he had known I was blind. He further stated that he did not see my dog and did not know it was a guide dog.

Judge Bruce McConduit call Awad's behavior a total disgrace which he said resulted in embarrassment, not only to Ms. Dewdney, but also to the City of New Orleans and its residents. He stated that he had researched the Muslim faith when he was appointed to hear this case and, although studying the religion and religious texts extensively, he could find nothing to support Mr. Awad's contention that his faith forbid contact with dogs. Mr. Awad did not appear to notice the contradictions in his own statements. Furthermore, Judge McConduit stated that my rights superseded Mr. Awad's religious rights.

Even if there had been any grounds in his religion, his first duty as a public service provider was to provide the service he was licensed to provide, regardless of any reservations on his part. The judge warned that if Mr. Awad did not do the community service he would spend 120 days in jail instead. Mr. Awad also lost his license to drive following an administrative hearing on the incident before the New Orleans Taxicab Bureau.

I hope that the ruling on this case will help raise awareness that taxi drivers cannot use religion as an excuse to discriminate against persons who are blind and who partner with guide dogs.

Following the ruling and the extensive coverage that followed, several residents of New Orleans, including other taxi drivers, approached me to apologize for Mr. Awad's behavior and hoped that the incident, although frightening, would not prevent me from returning to New Orleans for a pleasant visit in the future.

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