As the former president of the local chapter of the American Council of the Blind, Ken Rogers is used to giving a lot of presentations, his guide dog in tow. But his dog never made people uncomfortable until recently.
He was enlisted by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to speak at a monthly training classes for new cabdrivers. Though the presence of this dog pushes trainees to the back of the room, he says the experience is rewarding.
“Without a doubt, the presentations are having an impact on cabdrivers,” he said.
Since he restarted the presentations, there have been no reports of cabbies turning away customers with guide dogs in the Twin Cities area.
“I count that among the successes of the presentations,” he said.
In light of the recent fare refusals involving Muslim cabdrivers and customers with guide dogs, MAC wanted to provide a crash course on service animals for taxi drivers, many of whom consider dogs unclean.
Rogers is the right guy for the job. But his presentation always begins with a tense moment. Right after he walks into the classroom with his dog, Rogers said he notices-and this was confirmed to by other people-that many trainees move to the back of the room to avoid any physical contact with his dog.
That doesn’t bother him at all, “because by the end of my half-hour presentation, I notice movements back to the front, and I get asked some very good questions,” he said.
The training was made mandatory about a year ago.
Among other things, he said he disproves myths about dogs, including that dogs are unclean. “I tell them that guide dogs are clean, working dogs,” he said.
Abdinoor Dolal, a cabdriver who also owns a taxi company, said the presentations “are very helpful. ” He added that a group of cabbies, who didn’t go through Rogers’ presentations when they obtained their licenses, are now organizing a voluntary session for him to speak about the issue.
This week, more than 1,500 delegates are attending the national convention of the American Council of the Blind in Minneapolis. Dolal and a dozen other Muslim cabbies organized a free-ride campaign for attendees.
Upwards of 50 people have taken advantage of the offer, though most attendees opted for a $20, airport-to-downtown flat rate. That’s a $15 saving for each passenger.
One agenda in the convention is the issue of transportation for guide dog users. Rogers said most attendees felt “reassured” about how cabbies reacted.
“People understand the differences in our cultures,” he said. “And they are reacting to it positively.”