Last night I caught a taxi home. The hotel concierge called it for me, from the Mantra on Russell. I got in the taxi, the driver fiddled with the meter for a minute, and then turned around to ask me where I needed to go. He saw my face, and then asked "what's that smell?".
"What smell?" I asked him. He turned on the light and had a better look at me. (Because that's what happens when you have a visible difference. People look twice, to see if they saw it right the first time.)
"What's on your face?" he asked. "You smell".
I asked him if he wanted me out of his taxi. He said no, but he's worried that my face and smell would damage his car. We had not driven anywhere.
I got out straight away. I did not feel safe. Before shutting the car door I looked him the eye and said "fuck you".
I returned to the hotel lobby, asked for another taxi, told them briefly what happened, and burst into tears.
I didn't get the taxi driver's number. But I've since spoken to the hotel concierge who told me that they can track the booking and get those details from the taxi company. I will make a report.
The irony of last night's situation was that I was catching a taxi home because I had just been at a conference dinner. A conference for Multiple Sclerosis Australia, where disability advocacy issues were being discussed, and people with MS were being empowered.
The second irony is that today I will be speaking at the conference. I will be speaking about my skin and how having a visible difference has made me resilient.
I'm resilient. But I should not have to be reslient all the time. I should not have to put up with or rise above or let it go. I should have the right to get on with my day or night without strangers (and especially service people who I pay) intruding on my privacy, questioning my appearance and making judgments on first sight.
While I have met some lovely taxi drivers, this is not the first time within a year that I have been questioned about my skin in a taxi.
I was told not to touch the seats of a taxi as I was taken home from the airport in October last year - the driver was scared my skin would ruin his seats - he told me he was very concerned for future passengers. But what about the current passenger he had a duty of care to get home safely? What about the Disability Discrimination Act and the Victorian Taxi Directorate Code of Conduct including their commitment to people with disabilities?
After a Bob Evans concert in May, a friend and I shared a taxi home. Before I got in, he asked my friend how much I'd had to drink. She let me answer. I had three drinks very early that night. I was not drunk. I was not disruptive. I just wanted to get home at 1.30 am. He thought I was drunk because my face looked flushed, like someone who had been drinking. And he told me that previous passengers had been as red as me and very drunk. It is not my role as a paying passenger to justify how much I've had to drink when I am clearly not behaving drunkly, nor why I look the way I do.
I believe the taxi industry needs mandatory training about diversity, visible difference disability, tolerance, respect and social etiquette. I have been with disabled friends who have been refused a ride because of their disability. I've heard of indigenous Australians who were allegedly refused a taxi because of the colour of their skin. A friend told me that a taxi driver refused her a short trip when she was pregant, telling her she was fat and needed the walk. This treatment from employees within a necessary service industry is not acceptable.
I don't know if writing this will make a difference. I don't know if reporting the taxi driver will change anything either. But after talking about my experience on social media, it appears many others have had enough of this behaviour. Thank you to everyone who sent kind words last night.
I could have caught the train last night. It was just past 9.00. But it was dark and cold and I was tired. The CEO of MS Australia wanted to give me a cab voucher so I'd get home safe. I eventually did, but for a moment, I didn't feel safe. The confines of a closed car, especially when moving, makes these abusive situations all the more scary.
We have the right to get home safely - without physical or verbal assault. If we can't feel safe in a taxi, how will we get home?
There has been an update on this situation: the hotel has tracked down the driver's details from the booking and have made a complaint. I have made a complaint too. The media has also picked up this story - read it on NineMSN.
I don't ask people to share my posts often. But I'd appreciate it if you shared this one. Thank you.