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TriMet accused of discriminating against disabled woman
by Aubra Salt - The Oregon Herald
  Tuesday December 1, 2009 - 10:17 AM
 
PORTLAND, Oregon - According to Kay Williford, TriMet discriminated against her because a driver wouldn’t allow her to board with her service dog. She says this caused her to miss an important surgery appointment.The LIFT service is for people who need door-to-door service because they are unable to ride buses or MAX trains due to a disability or a disabling health condition

Kay Williford said her 5-month-old service dog in training, Sweetie, is young but is well-behaved. She said her dog goes everywhere she does.

“I have epilepsy and a spinal injury and so taking an animal to protect me is something I need help with,” she said.

Williford said in the five years she’s used TriMet’s LIFT vehicle to take her to important appointments she’s never had a problem.

Williford said she’s boarded the same way: She takes the lift while her service dog takes the stairs. She said she gives her dog’s leash to the driver who walks the dog up the stairs.



But on Monday morning, Williford said the driver didn’t agree.



“He starts to flip out [and says] ‘no, that can’t be done. I’m not touching the dog. You have to have her in control at all times.’ And I’m like, ‘She can’t go up on the lift with me in the wheelchair. She has to go up the stairs.”

Williford said she showed the driver Sweetie could actually climb the stairs, and she said that’s when he called dispatch, saying the dog was out of control.



“We do allow service animals on all our vehicles whether it be LIFT, bus, MAX, as long as they are in the control of the owner,” said TriMet spokeswoman Bekki Witt.



She said that means the owner has to physically hold on to the harness or leash, and she said if the animal is threatening, the operator can refuse service.



Williford said her docile dog never did anything wrong and sheAllis considering taking legal action.



TriMet said it will interview the driver and is investigating the incident, but they said this is a customized service for each customer, so operators may vary on how they board service animals.



Regardless, TriMet acknowledged there could have been a better interaction and room for additional training.

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