Tomorrow I’m heading to the University of Michigan to participate in a program on accessible publishing hosted by the UM Press and the University’s library. As a blind writer who teaches I know as much as almost anyone about how difficult it often remans to get access to books, journals, online publications, websites, software platforms—it’s a long list. So my hat is off the the folks in Ann Arbor for taking seriously the challenges of access for people with disabilities and putting together an ambitious workshop on accessibility.
In a mood of warm anticipation, packing for my trip from Syracuse to Detroit, I was wholly unprepared for the mean spirited encounter I had by phone with a cab company in Ann Arbor this afternoon. Just recounting what happened is an exercise so objectionable I’m forced to be brisk as the altercation was nasty.
I told the man who answered the phone I needed a ride from Detroit-Ft. Wayne airport to the U of Michigan. He was agreeable. Then I said I had a guide dog. He was disagreeable. He said:
“These dogs are stinky, they go to the bathroom, they’re dirty, I can’t have them.”
“Not the first time this has happened to me,” I thought.
“Guide dogs are allowed everywhere,” I said.
“I don’t care, now you’re going to tell me all about your rights,” he said. (Sneering, he was. Your rights…uttered as if I was some whiny baby.
“Well yes,” I said, “it’s a violation of state and federal laws to deny a blind person and his dog a cab ride.”
“I don’t care,” he said.
“You should care,” I said. “It will become a big story. Plus there’s a huge fine associated with this.”
“I don’t care,” he said.
“This will become a news story,” I said. “I myself write for newspapers like the New York Times…)
It’s hard to describe the effect this had on him. He began shouting that Donald Trump had won the presidency and “you people” (apparently meaning blind New York Times readers) “don’t matter anymore.”
He was absolutely vicious and crowing about how people like me don’t matter.
I said, “well, I’m going to turn you in to the Department of Justice.”
He said he didn’t care.
I hung up.
I went upstairs to tell my wife.
Five minutes later he called me back.
He said, “I have allergies.”
He’d apparently shared his conversation with someone else. This was his effort to pull his leg out of a hole.
“It doesn’t matter, you still violated my civil rights,” I said.
He began abusing me again. Hot, geothermic mistreatment.
I hung up.
I posted his company’s name and phone number and a description of what I’d experienced on Facebook.
I didn’t know the man’s name.
He apparently received dozens of phone calls throughout the afternoon, including some from the press.
He’s now claiming victim status. He has allergies. He can’t be expected to take a passenger with a service dog.
The law is very clear on this matter. He doesn’t have to. All he has to do is find me a cab that “will” take me.
He chose contempt and mean-spirited bullying.
Some people on Facebook have messaged me to say he now regrets the matter.
Whatever happened to saying, “hey, I know all about having a physical condition! I have one myself. I can’t help you but I’ll get you someone who can.”
Instead he went into a rebarbative snarl and wouldn’t stop.
He apparently told someone on FB that I ruined his day.
I have in fact filed a formal complaint with the Department of Justice and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
I’m still shaking. I want to close by saying I’ve heard promptly from the U of Michigan. They’re as upset as I am.
Is Trump’s ascendancy now a patented script?
If you hail from a historically marginalized group you know the answer.