A Teaching Moment
by Becky Barnes Davidson, Manager, Consumer Outreach and Graduate Support
With so much in the news lately about guide dog users and ADA rights, I thought I would share some of a lecture that I present to students at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Although many of you may not personally be a guide dog or service animal user, the information below may serve to remind us all of the laws and respectful citizenship.
Congratulations on receiving your Guiding Eyes Dog!
Please remember, whatever you face, you may be the first guide dog team a person has ever met. Whether we want to be or not, we are, to some extent, ambassadors for Guiding Eyes for the Blind as well as for the guide dog movement as a whole. It’s always best to remain calm and pleasant while we are making our needs known and demonstrating that our rights be respected.
Can I pet your dog?
You probably already know that people are anxious to pet your dog. For some reason people seem to feel that if there’s a dog present, they have a right to pet it. Most people are well intentioned; they “just can’t resist.” You have every right to ask them not to pet your dog; you have every right to say “no” if they ask you for permission to pet. You also may choose to have your dog sit and let them pet. It’s your choice. Based on my own experience, though, I recommend that you be strict about other people’s interactions with your dog for the first few weeks or months as the two of you settle in together and bond as a team.
No dogs allowed.
You will also confront the “no dog” situation, in which you enter a store or restaurant and are told that dogs are not allowed. As you are aware, service dogs are allowed anywhere the general public is allowed. Not everyone is educated about this, and you may have to do a little educating. Your packet includes the “Access Laws” booklet, which has the laws for the 50 U.S. states, Canadian provinces and US territories. It also includes a summary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. You might want to put a paper clip on the page that has your state’s law so you can find it quickly if you need to.
When you are denied access to any business, transportation or housing it’s a good idea to file an ADA complaint by calling the ADA hotline at 1-800-514-0301. While you won’t get immediate satisfaction, it lets the Department of Justice know that these incidents are still happening. At a meeting some time ago with D.O.J. representatives they told us they thought that this was no longer a problem. Sometimes just informing the offending person that you will be filing a complaint with the Department of Justice is enough to make him or her re-think the denial of access.
Screening at airport security is an issue that continues to generate a lot of discussion and concern. Below is information from the TSA (transportation Safety Administration) web site about how you should be treated at the airport security station.
• If you have a service animal, you are encouraged to inform the screener that the animal accompanying you is a service animal and not a pet. This will provide you with an opportunity to move you to the front of the screening line since the screener may need to spend more time with you.
• It is recommended that persons using a dog for assistance carry appropriate identification. Identification may include: cards or documentation, presence of a harness or markings on the harness, or other credible assurance of the passenger using the dog for their disability.
• Advise the screener how you and your dog can best achieve screening when going through the metal detector as a team (i.e., whether walking together or with the dog walking in front of or behind you while you continually maintain control of the dog with the leash and/or harness.
• The dog’s harness will likely set off the alarm on the metal detector. In such cases, the screener will perform a hand inspection of the dog and it’s belongings (collar, harness, leash, backpack, vest, etc.) The belongings will not be removed from your dog at any time.
• The screener should ask permission before touching your service animal or its belongings.
• At no time during the screening process will you be required to be separated from your service animal.
• Screeners have been trained not to communicate, distract, interact, play, feed, or pet service animals.
• If you need to leave the sterile area to relieve your animal, you must undergo the full screening process again. Inform the screener upon your return to the security checkpoint and she/he will move you to the front of the screening line to expedite the screening process.
Again, if faced with a problem at airport security, as in any other situation, do your best to get through the situation with your dignity in tact.
If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact me or anyone at Guiding Eyes. We wish you and your guide the best in whatever direction life takes you!