EXCLUSIVE - Disabled Derry man’s taxi ‘nightmare’

Derry solicitor, Gareth McCay.
Derry solicitor, Gareth McCay.

A Derry taxi firm has agreed to donate £800 to Spinal Research after after an incident involving one of its drivers and a disabled Derry man went to court, the Journal can exclusively reveal.

The court case was settled in Derry’s County Court by a district judge in March this year.

Derry man, Gareth McCay, 31, is a practicing solicitor and in 2010 he suffered a life-changing accident which left him quadriplegic and he had to have his left leg amputated from above the knee.

Gareth was on a night out in Derry with his brother in November 2012 when the incident took place.

“My brother and I had gone out for the night and we decided to leave the bar at around 11.45pm. My brother spotted a taxi outside the city centre bar and asked him if he was free. The taxi man said yes so my brother returned to the other side of the street to push me towards the taxi.

“My wheelchair, which is the lightest wheelchair on the market, wouldn’t fit into the boot of the taxi and when my brother asked the taxi man if it was okay to place it in the back seat, the taxi man said no because he deemed my wheelchair a ‘dangerous object’. It was very embarrassing for me because this happened outside a packed bar and as a result my brother had to put the wheelchair back together again and I had to get out of the taxi.”

Gareth attempted to contact both the local taxi firm and the driver but did not receive an adequate response from the company and the driver did not reply at all.

“They left me with no choice - it was an absolute nightmare,” said Gareth. “This type of incident had happened to me many times before but when it happened that night I wasn’t letting it go. The provision for wheelchair users in Derry is a disgrace and many businesses who are offering a service are discriminating against disabled people by not providing them with the same level of service as everyone else.

“I decided to issue county court proceedings as I felt what happened constituted disability discrimination contrary to section 19 and/or section 21 of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I received amazing help and support from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.”

Anne McKernan, Director of Legal Services at the Equality Commission, said that taxi drivers, and other service providers, have obligations under disability legislation not to discriminate against disabled people. This includes a refusal to provide a service or providing it to a lower standard or on worse terms than they would to any other member of the public. The law also requires that they make reasonable adjustments for disabled people using their service.

“This case points up how important it is that taxi drivers do not immediately make negative assumptions about issues like the carriage of wheelchairs”, Anne McKernan said.

“There have been advancements in recent years and many chairs, such as Mr. McCay’s, are lightweight and can be easily folded and stored, which opens up a greater range of choices for wheelchair users. Taxi drivers, and other service providers, should consider the particular requirements of the individual person and make whatever reasonable adjustments are needed to provide them with a service.”

“In this case Mr. McCay was placed in a very distressing situation which proper consideration and a reasonable accommodation could have avoided. Under the settlement terms the firm concerned has agreed to meet with the Commission and we will be providing it with advice about such situations and the requirements of the law.”

“The Commission can advise any person who believes they may have been subjected to unlawful discrimination and also gives guidance and advice on the law to service providers.”