Deaf Woman's Dog Gets No Respect

STO drivers often refuse to let her board buses with hearing dog
By Dave Rogers,
The Ottawa Citizen, July 6, 2010

Hearing Impaired HP Help Desk employee, Michele Simpson, was kicked off an STO bus on Wellington St. because she was assisted by a special hearing dog.

The dog, named Walker, is a miniature poodle and was not recognized as a guide dog.Photograph by: STEVE GERECKE, The Ottawa CitizenOTTAWA ->

At least twice a week since she moved to Gatineau in March, Michele Simpson has had to beg drivers with Société de Transport de l'Outaouais to let her board the bus with her hearing dog, Walker.

Usually Simpson, 46, who has suffered from a hereditary hearing loss since her 20s, has been allowed on the bus after explaining she needs the miniature poodle to identify beeping microwave ovens, ringing doorbells, telephones or even a fire alarm.

Walker puts his paw on Simpson's lap and guides her to the sources of sounds she can't hear. Simpson got Walker seven years ago after she learned about various aids available to people with hearing impairments.

On Friday a driver ordered Simpson off an STO bus at Wellington and Bank streets as she attempted to return home from her job at an HP Canada call centre in Ottawa (she works as a technical adviser on a help line with the aid of a special headset). She had to wait 20 minutes for a more sympathetic driver who allowed her on the bus.

Simpson plans to complain to the Canadian Human Rights Commission about the incident because the bus company has ignored pleas she made months ago to allow her on the bus with her dog.

"The driver was very aggressive and I told her that Walker is a hearing-ear dog and she said it didn't matter," Simpson said. "She insisted that Walker needed a harness and refused to call her supervisor to determine whether passengers with hearing dogs should be allowed on board the bus.

"When I moved to Quebec in March the STO said I should have no problem getting on the bus with my guide dog. I told them that I had dealt with this before with OC Transpo and they needed to give me a card.

"The STO told me everything would be fine, but it wasn't. I told them I was getting harassed by their drivers and they needed to do something about it. They said that they would make a special card for me but it would take some time."

Simpson complained to the STO in May when another driver objected to Walker as she boarded a bus and insisted that guide dogs were for blind people, not deaf people. She said the driver allowed her on the bus but insisted repeatedly that the miniature poodle was not a guide dog.

On Friday Simpson e-mailed the STO complaining that she had been denied access to a bus because of her guide dog. "I don't think they understand the stress and anxiety this causes me every day," Simpson said. "It is hard enough having a disability without having the added stress of not knowing whether you will be able to get to work or return home."

STO spokeswoman Renée Lafrenière said bus drivers recognize large seeing-eye dogs as guide dogs but many aren't familiar with hearing dogs, which are often smaller. Lafrenière said the STO will provide Simpson with a card showing that her dog should be allowed on buses. "Seeing-eye dogs have a special harness and can be easily identified," Lafrenière said.

"We are used to dealing with seeing-eye dogs but the type of dog Simpson has is quite new. She needs a special card and we need to train our drivers to recognize that guide dogs are more than the type we usually see for the visually impaired."

Stacey-Ann Morris, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, said disabled people with guide dogs should be allowed aboard interprovincial transportation company vehicles, including those the STO operates.

Morris said the commission tries to mediate disputes when disabled people complain that they have been denied access to interprovincial transit and cases can be referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal if mediation fails.

The Ottawa Citizen

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