Civil Complaint Filed Against Hotel

In my workshops and discussions concerning the legal rights and responsibilities of guide and service dog users, I always share the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act not only protects the interests of disabled individuals, but also those of the nondisabled who are a party to discrimination by association. In other words, if a guide dog user is refused service at a restaurant and, as the result of the denial of service, others in the party are affected by the discrimination, even the nondisabled associates are protected by the ADA. Specifically, the ADA states

“Association. It shall be discriminatory to exclude or otherwise deny equal goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, accommodations, or other opportunities to an individual or entity because of the known disability of an individual with whom the individual or entity is known to have a relationship.” 42 U.S.C. Section 12182(b)(1)(E)

I would like to share the following civil complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against the Days Inn of Tulsa, Okla. Alleging discrimination against a disabled person accompanied by a service dog and the associates (wife & children) of the disabled person. I would also like to remind you that the NAGDU Information & Advocacy Hotline is available 24/7 by calling 888-NAGDU411 (888-624-3841).

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NAGDU Responds to Petition to Ban Online Sale of Service Animal Gear

A petition is being circulated by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and seems to be supported by other service animal training programs to ban the online sale of service animal gear. The following response is the official position of the National Association of Guide dog Users (NAGDU) concerning this effort.

I am writing on behalf of the membership of the National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU), a division of the National Federation of the Blind. We are aware of the effort to ban the sale of service animal gear and identification over the internet and disagree with the assertion that such sale proliferates the use of what the advocates of such a measure refer to as “fake service animals”. We are writing in opposition to this petition. The text of this petition can be found by visiting

As the representative voice of guide dog users for the largest organization of the blind in the United States, it is our opinion that the fundamental premises of this effort are flawed and restricting of the sale of such products is not in the best interest of those of us who use service animals. While we agree there is a widespread problem with those who falsely assert their pets are service animals which needs to be addressed, we do not agree that the action requested is the equitable resolution. This correspondence will outline what we believe are the inaccuracies of this effort and offer suggestions to better address the issue
We believe the references to “fake service dog gear” and “a loophole in the Americans with Disabilities act” are fallacies of circular cause and consequence. It is not the gear nor any loophole that presents the problem; rather, the problem we face are those individuals who deceitfully assert they are disabled and their dog is a service dog in order to secure the access afforded to individuals with disabilities accompanied by service animals. More accurately, the problem is that many individuals mistakenly believe that the rights of an individual with a disability accompanied by a service dog are absolute and entities are defenseless to restrict such access, even when the dog is poorly behaved. We believe this misconception is held by both disabled individuals who use service animals, as well as those perpetrating the deceit.
NAGDU supports the current implementing regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act contained in 28 CFR part 35 & 28 CFR Part 36. We believe the regulations are very clear and would oppose any revision to those regulations that would be more restrictive. In particular, we support the regulations that do not require documentation as a precondition for access. NAGDU has a number of members who have owner trained their guide dog and, therefore, do not have access to the sort of documentation issued by formal training programs. In our opinion, it is the practice of such training programs that promulgate the problem, rather than resolve it. These training programs, when issuing their documentation that the animal they have trained is “certified”, advise their consumers that the presentation of such documentation helps to resolve the access issues they may face. Although this may be true for that person, it further serves to complicate such access for someone who refuses to present such documentation, as well as those who have owner trained their service dog, Both of which are congruent with the current regulations. When one person presents documentation to an entity, it leads the entity to believe that all service dog users will have such identification and be willing to present it. Though it may be true that some official-looking identification card with the consumer’s picture and that of their service dog sometimes helps the individual, it is equally true that anyone with a computer can create a similar official-looking identification card to facilitate access with an untrained pet. Perhaps the Department might consider following the illogical conclusion of the online petition and ban training programs from issuing documentation.
Another illustration of misinformation being promulgated in support of this measure states, “Legitimate service dogs require years of expert training to perform specific commands like picking up dropped items and opening doors that benefit people with disabilities”. Though such an assertion may make for good public relations and fund raising campaigns, it is patently false! Though it is true that service dog training programs have their own internal processes for certifying their trainers, what is untrue is that it takes such experts to train a service dog. As already mentioned, there are a number of people who have trained their own guide dogs who would not consider themselves “experts” and these dogs are just as well trained as any you would find from a formal training program. Neither does it take years to train a service dog. In fact, a review of the websites of programs involved in the training of guide dogs – widely agreed upon to be the most high level service dog work in the field – asserts that it takes about 3 – 6 months to train a guide dog. If we take into consideration that one guide dog trainer has a string of several dogs they are training, the actual time it may take could be much shorter. It seems that the intent of the Department was to allow for owner trained service animals, based upon its implementing regulations defining the term “service animal”.
Another problematic issue with the request to restrict the sale of service animal gear over the internet is the danger of making such gear proprietary to the training programs. Most training programs retain ownership of the gear they issue during training. As such, these training programs reserve the right to repossess the gear at any time and for any reason. This practice lends itself to a great deal of abuse by training programs through custodial and paternalistic interference in the lives of their consumers. There have been a number of instances in which a training program has repossessed gear without cause, leaving the disabled person temporarily without the benefit of their service animal. In these cases, the ability to purchase their gear from a third party doing business on the internet allowed them to continue to use their service dog, in spite of the unjust interference of a paternalistic training program. Likewise, many of us who have received our service dogs from formal training programs often opt to purchase alternative gear, such as lightweight washable nylon harnesses, gear of different colors, and designs that are better suited to the individual. Some of us even have several harnesses we have purchased in different colors to match our wardrobe.
The National Association of Guide Dog Users believes that. instead of banning the sale of service animal gear on the internet, a far more effective approach would be to better educate entities about what constitutes a service animal and their rights and responsibilities under the law as it pertains to an individual’s access with their service animals. We believe many entities may be hesitant to deny access to a person claiming protection under the ADA when the dog is ill behaved for fear of reprisal from the individual and accusations of discrimination. We further believe the real threat to our access is not the proliferation of service animal gear and unnecessary documentation; rather, it is the poor behavior of these dogs in public – service animal or not. It would also serve society well to better educate those who use service animals of their responsibility to maintain control over their animal’s behavior and that their right to be accompanied by a service animal is not absolute. We believe that supporting entities when they assert their rights, demanding that individuals who use service dogs act responsibly, and educating the public about what constitutes a direct threat and unacceptable behavior would better protect the rights of all concerned.”
The National Association of Guide Dog Users will continue to utilize our resources to disseminate accurate information about the rights and responsibilities of service animal users and those of public entities. If you have any questions, need additional information, or would like to solicit further input on this or other issues from a large consumer base, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

With kind regards,
Marion Gwizdala, President
(813) 626-2789 (Office)
(888) 624-3841 (Hotline)

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Fidelco Responds to Bill of Rights

Fidelco Responds to Bill of Rights

The following is a transcript of prepared comments to the National Association of Guide Dog Users Bill of Rights. The full text of the Guide Dog Users’ Bill of Rights is contained below. These comments were delivered by Julie Unwinn, Chief Operating Officer of the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation Inc., to the membership of NAGDU on July 3, 2013. They are a precise transcription and have not been modified or edited.

“Thank you very much! Fidelco has read the Bill of Rights and there are some points that we agree on to some of the concepts, but not to all of them. . Fidelco believes it is a free market of choice for the consumer and that competition is the best option for guide dog consumers, especially where services are not charged to a consumer. And we believe the options concerning training methods, follow-up services, and things of that nature are best for all participating parties to decide on together. We also agree that bona fide accredited providers will develop their own appropriate policies based upon their business model and operations. We believe that broader acceptance by a group of guide dog consumers is very important when it comes to a Bill of Rights. We recognize the NFB and NAGDU for its efforts on behalf of all its members, and we think it’s very important to encourage the NFB and NAGDU to seek ideas and input from other similar organizations across the country, including federal and state agencies because the more input that is received the better the final documents will come out. . So, that’s Fidelco’s viewpoint on the Bill of Rights.”

After reading this prepared statement by Fidelco’s Chief Operating Officer, I hope you can appreciate what a challenge it was to write this commentary. Perhaps your first response was the same as mine when I heard it on July 3. “What did she just say?” This response was a combination of disbelief and confusion. The disbelief was in the fact that all guide dog training programs were afforded three months to prepare their comments and this is what Fidelco had to say! I was also in disbelief that such archaic views still exist in the field of work with the blind! My confusion was founded in the fact that I heard a lot of words but it did not seem to say anything. Therefore, my first impression was writing a commentary on this statement will be a very challenging task.

From my first contact with Fidelco advocating for a consumer from whom they unjustly and deceptively removed a guide dog because she repeatedly asked for follow-up training and was ignored while refusing to offer any explanation nor accountability – some of the very things this Bill of Rights addresses – (see “Fidelco Guide Dogs: Dreams of Independent Travel Become Nightmares of Sorrow”, The Braille Monitor, April 2011), I found them to be very dismissive of the National Association of Guide Dog Users and extremely uncooperative. Eliot Russman refused to discuss the issue with me, citing privacy concerns despite the fact that the consumer had signed a valid release authorizing fidelco to do so. Mr. Russman’s cavalier attitude toward us was illustrated in his belief that Fidelco had the right to act without accountability. These comments by Ms. Unwinn are further evidence of Fidelco’s belief that consumers have no input concerning the services they provide, “especially where services are not charged to a consumer”.

Fidelco seems to ignore the fact that the blind are their primary stakeholders and the funds they receive from their donors are, essentially, meant for us. They are merely the channel through which their donors support the provision of a tool for independence. The money Fidelco’s donors give them are meant to benefit the blind, not abuse them. As such, we have a say in their policies and practices.

Some may assert using the word “abuse” is a bit harsh; I disagree. As one reads our Guide Dog Users’ Bill of Rights, one wonders what is so offensive about this document that Fidelco might take issue. Every provision of the Bill of Rights protects blind consumers from paternalism, custodialism, and arbitrary unjust treatment. Yet, in so many words and saying nothing at all, Fidelco dismisses a document that demands dignified, equitable treatment of their blind consumers. In their offensively presumptuous language, Fidelco takes a paternalistic posture, ignoring the collective voice of the largest organization of the blind in the United States.

Though Fidelco asserts that “the options concerning training methods, follow-up services, and things of that nature are best for all participating parties to decide on together”, Fidelco’s behavior is incongruent with this assertion. We are aware that Fidelco makes surprise visits to consumers, calling them to advise them they are minutes away from their homes, demanding access to the guide dog and not affording any options. Does Fidelco inform their consumers about these intrusive visits prior to the beginning of training or do they wait until the consumer becomes attached to their new guide dog and enjoying the mobility it is affording them? Do they tell their consumers at all or is it as much a surprise as the visit itself? And what would happen should a consumer refuse to grant Fidelco such an unannounced visit? They would likely invoke what Eliot Russman insolently referred to as “paragraph D, as in ‘dog’”, which states, “Fidelco may repossess the dog in the event I do not comply with this agreement, in the event I do not provide proper and humane care for the dog as determined by Fidelco in its sole judgment, or for any other reason as determined by Fidelco in its sole and absolute discretion.”. Even the language of this clause illustrates Fidelco’s arrogance, asserting their “sole and absolute discretion” is sufficient to deny us our property rights! And they have the audacity to call this “ownership”? This is the very sort of systematic oppression, maltreatment, and exploitation from which the Bill of Rights is meant to protect us! Is it any wonder Fidelco rejects this document?

Fidelco is also so pretentious as to believe that the members of the NFB would accept that status as a “bona fide accredited provider” translates to quality services that respect the dignity of the blind. We found it to be untrue as it pertained to the National accrediting Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired (NAC) and I am not convinced the International Guide Dog Federation has any more value than NAC! As for their “appropriate policies based upon their business model and operations”, I would dispute the use of the adjective “appropriate”, as they reflect an attitude of paternalism and contempt toward the blind, further explaining Fidelco’s dismissive attitude toward a Bill of Rights that empowers consumers!

It would be interesting to know exactly what Fidelco means when they state they believe “that broader acceptance by a group of guide dog consumers is very important when it comes to a Bill of Rights”. Since they never commented on any of its provisions, which elements contained within this document do they believe this broader base of consumers would reject? Perhaps Fidelco’s objection is the fundamental idea that blind consumers have any rights at all. Fidelco seems to hold the archaic notion that the blind are powerless second-class citizens who can only live productive lives because of their goodness and charity, that we should be grateful for the service we receive, especially since we do not pay for it, that their judgment and discretion is sole and absolute, and mistakenly believe the blind hold this notion, as well! Their perception is so clouded by their arrogant, condescending paternalism they believe if we were “to seek ideas and input from other similar organizations across the country”, there would be blind people who would reject the notion that blind consumers should be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness!

Their final statement seems to sum up their basic philosophy: Rather than crafting our own Bill of Rights, we should leave the decisions about how we the blind should be treated to the federal and state agencies. Again, this further illustrates how oblivious Fidelco is to the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and the disability rights movement, as a whole. Fidelco spoke a lot of words while saying absolutely nothing of substance about the Guide Dog Users’ Bill of rights; however, they communicate loudly and clearly their organizational philosophy and attitude toward their blind consumers.

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Guide Dog Users’ Bill of Rights

Guide Dog Users’ Bill Of Rights


  1. General
    1. The guide dog training program shall seek input from the consumer
         concerning the type of dog requested    throughout the matching process.
    2. Consumers shall expect that every effort shall be made to provide dogs in excellent health and appropriate temperament

The training program shall fully disclose to the consumer, in writing and in the accessible format of the consumer’s choice, all known issues concerning the dog’s health, temperament, behavior, and training prior to placement.

  1. The consumer shall expect a high level of competence from the training staff to develop sound skills of working a guide dog. 
  2. The guide dog training program shall correspond with individual consumers in the accessible format of the consumer’s choice, e.g., large print, Braille, audio recording, or electronic text.
  3. Guide dog training programs shall maintain their websites and on-line media, including newsletters, press releases, and other collateral materials in a format accessible to the blind.
  4. Equitable Treatment
    1. The consumers freedom of independent travel with a white cane shall not be restricted by the training program, unless doing so would interfere with the training process or adversely impact other consumers.
    2. Consumers shall be free to independently monitor and manage their personal health, including, but not limited to blood pressure monitoring, blood glucose testing, insulin injections, pain management regimens, and all other health maintenance routines. Assistance may be offered; however, the consumer has the right to refuse such assistance.
    3. The consumer shall have the right to discontinue training at any time with the full cooperation of the training program.    
    4. Consumers shall be afforded opportunities to independently travel off-campus accompanied by their guide dogs prior to completion of training At the discression of the training program.
    5. With the permission of the puppy raiser, consumers shall be given the option of contacting their dog’s puppy raisers near or after the completion of training. Further contact, such as meetings, phone calls, etc., is at the sole discretion of the consumer and will not be required, expected, or discouraged by the training program.
  5. Informed Choice/Due Process
    1. All binding contracts, agreements, and other documents shall be available for review in the accessible format of the consumer’s choice prior to making a commitment for services.    
    2. Consumers shall be provided, in the accessible format of the consumer’s choice, all policies, practices, or procedures that govern their behavior while participating in services, e.g., engaging in professional endeavors, use of cell phones, computers, or other technology, and furloughs, prior to making a commitment to receive services.
    3. Consumers shall be afforded the right to utilize the services of an advocate of their choice. The designation of a consumer advocate shall be made in writing to the guide dog training program.
    4. All decisions or actions of the training program that affect the relationship with consumers, individually or collectively, shall have specific written due process procedures, including mediation options. Due process may be initiated by a consumer or a designated advocate.
    5. All decisions and actions of the training program, such as denial or discontinuation of services, removal of a dog, or repossession of a harness, shall be made in writing and in the accessible format of the consumer’s choice, with a detailed explanation for the decision made or the action taken.
    6. The removal or repossession of a guide dog for reasons of safety shall include an assessment of the working team through direct personal observation by an individual competent to make such an assessment. The specific safety concerns that serve as grounds for the removal or repossession shall be provided in writing to the consumer in the accessible format of the consumer’s choice prior to the removal or repossession, and/or to an advocate acting on behalf of the consumer.
  6. Confidentiality
    1. All personal information about a consumer, whether verbal or in writing,   shall be kept confidential. This confidentiality policy extends to all staff and volunteers of the guide dog training program.
    2. A consumer’s refusal to allow other training programs to share information during the application process   shall not be used as the sole grounds for denial of services.
    3. A consumer’s personal information and records shall not be shared with anyone without the expressed written permission of the consumer authorizing the training program to release information. Only the information that is authorized for release may be shared.
    4. No personal information shall be shared with any other person or organization without the expressed written and signed consent of the consumer. In such cases, only the information authorized for release may be shared.
    5. Individual consumers shall have the right to access any and all of the information gathered or collected about them by the guide dog training program and contained in their files.
  7. Ownership & Disposition
    1. The Consumer shall be given legal title, ownership, and possession of the dog upon completion of the training program. Such title, ownership, or possession shall not be revoked, suspended, or otherwise interfered with without due process and in accordance with other provisions of this document.
    2. Follow up services shall be optional. Invitations for follow up services may be made when a representative will be in the area, with the understanding that the consumer may decline the offer without consequences.
    3. The retirement and disposition of the guide dog shall be at the discretion of the consumer. Training programs may offer advice and guidance, but may not impose mandatory retirement, unless doing so is necessary to protect the dog from abuse, maltreatment, neglect, or for reasons of safety as provided for in this document.
    4. The disposition of the dog after retirement will be the
         decision    of the consumer, unless the retirement is the result of abuse, maltreatment, or neglect.
  8. Abuse, Maltreatment, or neglect
    1.                                                                i.      Consumers shall have the right to know the identities of those who file allegations of abuse, maltreatment and/or neglect and shall be given the opportunity to answer such allegations before the training program commences any action. Anonymous complaints shall not be accepted.
    2. The removal or repossession of a guide dog based upon allegations of abuse, maltreatment, or neglect shall only be done after a thorough investigation by an objective third party of competent jurisdiction over the consumer and the dog. A detailed explanation of the decision to remove or repossess a guide dog shall be given to the consumer and/or a designated consumer advocate in writing, in the accessible format of the consumer’s choice.


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