- The Telegraph
By Alice Philipson, Rome
A storm of protest has erupted in Italy after a taxi driver refused to pick up a disabled passenger who later turned out to be the president of the Italian Paralympic Committee.
Luca Pancalli was heading home from a meeting with the board of the Italian National Olympic Committee in Turin on Tuesday when he tried to hail a taxi in front of the town council.
But when a cab pulled over, the driver, who has not been named, told Mr Pancalli: “I don’t take wheelchairs.”
Mr Pancalli was quickly picked up by another driver but the incident has caused huge embarrassment in the northern Italian city.
Piero Fassino, mayor of Turin, described the incident as “an ugly, callous act.”
“Turin is a city that has always expressed and given support to the disabled community,” he said.
“But this ugly, callous act shows that we need to intensify our efforts.”
Codacons, a consumer rights group, called for “the immediate and permanent withdrawal” of the taxi driver’s licence.
Local regulations in Turin stipulate that taxis should be accessible to all individuals with disabilities and the type of disability should not be a reason to refuse a fare.
However Mr Pancalli raised concerns that the country in general may not be doing enough to help people with disabilities.
“I never expected this to happen in a city like Turin,” he said.
“Often when things happen like this happen to me, I tend not to say anything, but this time someone else has raised the alarm and I hope the fallout from this can help the country to get better at this.”
Mr Pancalli said he would like the incident “to lead to a reflection” on how people behave towards the disabled community.
Turning down an offer of a free taxi journey, he said he would “prefer to organise a day to educate taxi drivers about disabled passengers so that no one as to experience this type of injustice again”.
Mr Pancalli was a junior champion pentathlete before he became a quadriplegic in 1981 following a fall from a horse during a competition in Austria. However, he still had limited use of his arms and went on to win eight gold, seven silver and one bronze medal at four different Paralympic Games.