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AAA Refused to Pick Up Blind Woman Stranded with Service Dog

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

 

Loberti (pictured) is a student at URI and has testified before the United Nations on behalf of persons with disabilities. (Photo: Facebook)

A legally blind Rhode Island woman said that she had to wait hours for AAA after they refused to pick her up with her guide dog -- before finally getting the roadside assistance organization to comply with federal disability law.

Aria Mia Loberti, a AAA member, posted the incident to Facebook on Monday, and urged people to contact AAA to advocate for people with service animals.  

AAA responded to the situation on Tuesday (see below) calling it a "human error."

Loberti's Post

Loberti posted the following to Facebook, on the incident:

"This evening, my mother (Audrey Loberti) kindly drove me to work, but unfortunately her car broke down en route. As a legally blind individual, I travel with a certified service animal, a Guide Dog for the Blind named Ingrid. Ingrid is a specially trained mobility aid who helps me safely navigate the world around me.

My mom called AAA roadside assistance, informed them of our situation, and that her fellow passenger (me) had a disability and was traveling with a licensed registered guide dog. AAA's dispatcher, per the direction of three of her supervisors, told us that a service animal could not accompany us in the tow truck, which accommodated two passengers. I spoke with the dispatcher and the supervisors, as did my mom, to inform them that it is in violation of US law and state law to refuse access or service to a service animal and their disabled handler. 

AAA offered us several arguments, including that a service dog would not fit inside the vehicle (see the photos below to prove that she, like all service dogs, is trained to do so), that a service dog would be a safety hazard for the driver, and more. They continually changed their story as to why they wouldn't accommodate us.

AAA did say that the service animal could ride inside the towed vehicle, which is not only still in violation of the law but in my eyes would indeed threaten the safety of the animal, (not to mention me, who needs her services to safely navigate). They continued to say that I could pay for alternative transportation with Ingrid, and that AAA would "consider" reimbursement. Throughout the conversation, we connected with a Guide Dogs for the Blind representative who backed us and our needed protection under the law. 

Loberti's service dog, Ingrid (Photo: Facebook)

After a nearly one and a half hour conversation, AAA's representatives eventually ceased their argument, but their hesitation to abide by the law and flagrant discrimination is inexcusable. Tonight I am grateful that my mom and I got stuck in a safe area and that the weather was on our side; if neither was the case, I shudder to think how this evening could have ended.

Please flood AAA's telephone lines (1-800-222-4357). Ask them about their policies on passengers with disabilities traveling with service animals. Take a stand for ADA law and play a part in educating the community around you. I would like to state for the record that the tow truck driver, who worked for a third party, was understanding and incredibly courteous towards both Ingrid and myself, as well as to the needs of my mom and her vehicle."

AAA Responds

Lloyd Albert, Senior Vice President for AAA Northeast, provided the following statement on Tuesday. 

"I was made aware earlier today of the Facebook post and the situation involving Aria Maria Loberti and her mother.  From the information I’ve been able to piece together, it appears that a very new employee who fielded the call in our Emergency Road Service department last evening was uncertain how to handle a distress call that involved a service dog.  

When she checked with her supervisor, she was told that Ingrid, the service dog, could not accompany Ms. Loberti and her mother in the cab of the vehicle. This is directly contrary to information on our company’s internal website, which includes a two page section devoted to members with disabilities.  Directions to our employees are very specific in noting that “by law, [service] dogs are allowed to go anywhere their owner goes.  In emergency road service situations, this means the dogs can ride along with the disabled member in the tow truck cab.”  Ultimately, Ingrid was allowed to ride along in the cab, consistent with our stated policy.

In researching Ms. Loberti’s social media post, I was pleased to learn that one of our employees who had seen the post on her own Facebook page proactively reached out to the member very early this morning to apologize for the incident.  She informed the member that errors were made by employees unaware of our business practice, one that calls for very specific accommodations pursuant to national ADA statutes.  My understanding is that the member appreciated the call and was heartened to hear that it was not our company policy, but human error, that lead to the challenging situation described in detail in Ms. Loberti’s post.

Upon hearing of the incident, department management began discussions this morning to redirect the employees involved in the incident and to effect retraining of all Emergency Road Service staff to ensure compliance with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as specifically detailed in our policy statement."

 

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