Refused a ride because of her disability

Carly Findlay who has a rare genetic condition that makes her skin red with photographer Rick Guidotti.

Carly Findlay who has a rare genetic condition that makes her skin red with photographer Rick Guidotti. Photo: Simon Schluter

Last Thursday, I was invited to a multiple sclerosis conference dinner in Melbourne’s CBD. As a disability campaigner, I was due to give a keynote speech the following day about my skin condition and how having a visible difference has made me more resilient.

At the end of the night, the CEO of MS Australia insisted I take a taxi to ensure I get home safely. When the taxi arrived, the driver fiddled with the meter for a minute before turning around and asking, "what's that smell?"

"What smell?" I asked him. He turned on the light and had a better look at me. (Because that's what happens when you have a visible difference. People look twice, to see if they saw it right the first time.)

"What's on your face?" he asked. "You smell".

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I was born with a serious and rare skin condition called Ichthyosis. It means scaly red skin. My face looks sunburnt and I use Vaseline to keep it moist. There is no odour unless I'm suffering from a serious infection, which is rare.

I asked the driver if he wanted me out of his taxi. He said no, but he's worried that my face and smell would damage his car. We had not driven anywhere.

I got out straight away. I did not feel safe. Before shutting the car door I looked him the eye and said "f*ck you".

I returned to the hotel lobby, asked for another taxi, told them briefly what happened, and burst into tears. The hotel concierge tracked the driver's details from the booking they made and reported the incident on my behalf. I lodged a report, too.

I'm a resilient person. But I shouldn’t have to be resilient all the time. I shouldn’t have to put up with these micro attacks or rise above them or let them go. I should have the right to get on with my day or night without strangers intruding on my privacy, questioning my appearance and making judgments at first sight.

While I have met some lovely taxi drivers, this is the third time since October last year that I have been questioned about my skin by a taxi driver.

I was told not to touch the seats of a taxi as I was driven home from the airport in October.  The driver was scared my skin would ruin his seats - he told me he was very concerned for future passengers. But what about the current passenger he had a duty of care to get home safely? What about the Disability Discrimination Act and the Victorian Taxi Directorate's Code of Conduct including their commitment to people with disabilities? Strangely, he didn’t believe me when I said I live with this condition every day.

After a concert in May, a friend and I shared a taxi home. Before I got in, the driver asked my friend how much I'd had to drink. I had three drinks very early that night and was clearly not drunk or disruptive. I just wanted to get home at 1.30 am. He said I looked drunk because my face looked flushed, like some of his previous drunk passengers. Was it really my role as a paying passenger to justify the way I look or how much I've had to drink when I wasn’t behaving drunkenly?

I acknowledge that taxi drivers receive horrific physical and verbal abuse and damage to their cars. But I also think they should treat each customer on an individual and fair basis.

I believe the taxi industry needs mandatory training about diversity, visible difference disability, tolerance, respect and social etiquette. I have been with disabled friends who have been refused a ride because of their disability. Drivers assume they're drunk, or won't stop for a wheelchair. Prominent indigenous Australians have been allegedly refused a taxi because of the colour of their skin. A friend told me that a taxi driver refused her a short trip when she was pregnant, telling her she was fat and needed the walk. This treatment from employees within a necessary service industry is not acceptable.

My run-in with the taxi driver may have lasted no longer than five minutes, but it is exactly the kind of everyday aggression that needs to be brought to light. I have written about the experience on my blog, which has since been shared on social media thousands of times. People were outraged, and very supportive. A luxury taxi company has given me credit to ensure my future trips are safe. However, despite tweeting 13Cabs and The Victorian Taxi Commission, I have not received a public response.

I will continue to be vocal about my experience because I don't want other people with disabilities to be subjected to the same treatment. Dealing with verbally abusive situations within the confines of a car can be frightening. Everyone has the right to get home safely - without physical or verbal assault.

Carly Findlay is a writer, speaker, community TV presenter and appearance activist. She blogs at Carlyfindlay.blogspot.com.

16 comments

  • What a terrible thing to happen to another human being. I am writing this in a Canadian camping ground. Two days ago, I met a paralympian who won a medal for Canada in rowing. She is almost blind and certainly did not let that get in the way of playing with her two kids. We exchanged names and she mentioned being refused entry into a petrol (gas) station because she had a 'seeing eye' dog with her. She won a bronze medal for Canada and yet met with discrimination. Taxi drivers and others dealing with the public need proper training.

    paula key

    Commenter
    paula key
    Location
    Canada
    Date and time
    July 08, 2013, 8:51AM
    • The taxi industry is pathetic at handling complaints. The driver will get a slap on the wrist, the usual penalty is being banned from bookings for one shift. The taxi industry are a pathetic bunch or morons.

      Commenter
      Ben
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 9:24AM
      • Taxi directorate is a totally useless organisation that makes a lot of noise from token fines and punishments it hands out to unlucky drivers. Taxi drivers routinely break taxi and road safety rules to ensure their bosses are happy with the earnings. It is only a matter of time before the latest reforms are seen as not tough enough and that the industry will be completely deregulated, without compensation. Only expect cosmetic changes from them.

        Commenter
        M Stanton
        Date and time
        July 08, 2013, 10:06AM
      • If you read the story, by the authors own admission, the Taxi driver DIDNT refuse her fare.
        It was Ms Findlay who declined the taxi after she "did not feel safe"- although as per story, the driver doesn't appear to have made any threats etc, and it was Ms Findlay who decided to swear at the driver
        The driver didn't refuse, Ms Findlay declined, so why should the driver face penalties for Ms Findlays decision. ?
        Not defending the drivers ignorance, but from what Ms Findlay has written, I don't think the hostility was one sided.

        Commenter
        LeftyRoy
        Location
        Cydnee
        Date and time
        July 08, 2013, 12:24PM
      • As much as I sympathise for the discrimination that Carly undoubtedly cops, I really don't see why this particular instance is on the taxi driver. It's late at night, the driver notices a smell and asks a question about it then sees that the Carly's face looks red which for the vast majority of passengers at a late hour means flushed and probably fairly drunk. He's worried that she might throw up which takes his car out of action for a while and costs him money. She then asks if he wants her to leave, he says no but she gets out anyway because she "doesn't feel safe" and verbally abuses him.

        Commenter
        Hurrow
        Date and time
        July 08, 2013, 1:05PM
    • Unfortunate story. Bear this in mind, you don't need to have a condition, appear or sound different to receive atrocious behavior by a taxi driver...if you look around there are cretins everywhere in a multitude of industries! Getting into a cab with the forethought your driver is a cretin is half the battle as I feel sorry for cretins.

      Commenter
      Cretin Magnet
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 10:54AM
      • true...had one threaten to break my legs!!!
        However, you weren't refused service, you chose to get out of the taxi, and surely even given the treatment it wasn't necessary to swear at him?
        I am very fair skinned and when I drink, even one glass my face of an evening will often looked flushed, so am often mistaken for drunk, and have been refused service in taxis,and in bars etc. Is it possible he was very hamfistedly asserting that you were drunk and wanted to get rid of you?

        Commenter
        david
        Date and time
        July 08, 2013, 2:12PM
      • No wonder you're a cretin magnet with such a cretinous attitude.

        Having spent many years driving the night shift in Sydney, I can confirm that there are some nasty and unpleasant people driving taxis. Just as there are nasty and unpleasant people in every industry.

        Here's a surprise for you: you get what you pay for. Our society places little value on the quality of taxi drivers (as evidenced by levels of remuneration). Referring to all these low-paid people as cretins says a lot more about you than it does about them.

        Commenter
        Party Stooge
        Date and time
        July 08, 2013, 2:13PM
    • Good on you! I reckon you've never lived until you have given someone a well deserved 'f**k you!'
      No, you shouldn't have to be resilient all the time. My partner has worked for years in the disability sector, and had seen people who have ordered taxi's that can accommodate wheelchairs just not show up purely because they have chosen not too, not realising that they have prevented that person and their family from leaving their home be it for work, study, medical appointment or a social engagement. I cannot even begin to imagine what that must be like to have you freedom so restricted by the attitudes of others.. It is true that disability is not about the persons ability to do things, more societies inability and failure to accommodate difference.

      Commenter
      AT
      Location
      Melboourne
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 11:27AM
      • I agree that once you explained why, that he should have accepted what you had to say about your condition.

        But it's not reasonable to expect the driver to know, prior to your explaining, that your skin colour is a result of an unusual skin condition, not drunkenness. In all likelihood, everyone who has ever gotten into his cab with that skin tone, whether acting drunk or not, was in fact, heavily intoxicated. He doesn't know you and has no reason to believe you are a special case, unless you give him a reason to.

        Commenter
        Christian
        Date and time
        July 08, 2013, 11:55AM

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