The plight of the Isle of Man’s deaf ambassador – who was not allowed to travel in a taxi with his assistance dog – highlight the need for the island to have an Equality Bill, Tynwald heard.
Revelations that existing regulations do not exempt assistance dogs from a ban on bringing any animal into a taxi was described as an ‘embarrassment and humiliation’ by one backbench MHK.
The Manx Independent reported last week how Gareth Foulkes, who suffers from hearing loss, was left stranded at the Sea Terminal after a ply for hire taxi driver refused to allow his black Labrador assistance dog Derfel to travel with him back to his base on Somerset Road.
Phil Braidwood MLC told Tynwald that in protest at his treatment, Mr Foulkes had resigned as chairman of the multi-agency forum looking at disability discrimination.
Member for Infrastructure John Houghton MHK (Douglas North) told the court that the Public Passenger Vehicle (Conduct of Passengers) regulations 2002 forbid passengers from bringing any animal into a taxi without the prior consent of the driver or the licensed taxi operator.
He said the regulations have been in place for a number of years and the complaint received at the end of June was the first time the department had been made aware of an instance where a taxi driver has refused access for a passenger accompanied by an assistance dog.
‘Tynwald members should be aware that the proposed Equality Bill will deal explicitly with this issue,’ he said.
But Mr Braidwood said: ‘I know this has happened on numerous other occasions.’
He said those other occasions involved blind passengers whose disability meant they couldn’t inspect the type of taxi or licence plate to make a complaint.
Brenda Cannell MHK (Douglas East) said: ‘We are all highly humiliated and embarrassed by this situation.’
She suggested that rather than waiting for the new Equality Bill, the regulations could be amended to give an exemption on the animal ban for assistance dogs. ‘I could not agree more,’ replied Mr Houghton.
Chief Minister Allan Bell MHK confirmed that a comprehensive new Equality Bill would be going out to public consultation shortly after it was presented to the Council of Ministers at the end of this month.
He said he believed passionately in the legislation, which he would personally take through the House of Keys and which would send out a powerful statement that the Isle of Man is an equal society.
Mr Bell said the development of comprehensive legislation of such importance as the Equality Bill needed to be undertaken with care and attention – and he conceded this had taken ‘a little longer’ than anticipated.
But he added: ‘However, the draft Bill is now substantially complete and I am pleased to inform this court that a presentation to the Council of Ministers concerning the Bill has been scheduled for the 31st of this month. I envisage that the Bill will be made available for full public consultation shortly afterwards.’
Mr Bell said he was ‘very disappointed’ by the decision of Mr Foulkes to resign and hoped he would hold back on that resignation.
He described the case as ‘another example of the type of prejudice and problems that the disabled community have to face on a regular basis’.
Chris Thomas (Douglas West) said the timetable for the legislation had already slipped. He suggested the island needed a Trevor Phillips, equality and human rights commissioner, to drive the Bill through. Mr Bell insisted the legislation had not slipped: ‘I believe passionately this Bill is important. It’s a powerful statement.’