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As a long-time supporter of assistance dogs, I was disappointed and frustrated to be contacted by the Australian Defence Force veteran who had been refused access to a taxi with their dog. The veteran concerned felt humiliated and embarrassed to be rejected by several taxi drivers in Melbourne last week. For someone who experiences anxiety or PTSD or other mental health issues, such rejection can add to their stress and hamper their recovery. The veteran was so distressed when they contacted me that I have raised their concerns directly with the current federal minister and with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In the veteran’s own words: ‘It got so overwhelming and upsetting, as well as embarrassing, as there were people walking by and I felt conscious for the first time of my disability and having a service dog. I’m now in a dark place because of it and have lost my confidence of going out in public. I’m ashamed to be a veteran with disabilities.’

The veteran wanted me to publicise the issue as a reminder about the fragility of recovering from mental health issues and the laws against discrimination which currently exist. It is a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act to actually refuse service to a person with a properly accredited assistance dog. As the Commercial Passenger Vehicles website clearly specifies:

Commercial vehicle drivers have a legal responsibility to transport passengers and their assistance animals.

Hopefully, we will see many more of these dogs in our community in the years ahead, because they are helping owners have more freedom and overcome their personal challenges. I will be urging all levels of government to make sure that service providers are kept educated and well informed about assistance dogs and how to treat their owners respectfully.

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