Discrimination Under the Golden Arches: McDonald’s franchise ignores unjust treatment

Discrimination Under the Golden Arches;
McDonald’s Franchise Condones Unjust Treatment
By Marion Gwizdala

On Friday, July 11 at about 7:15 p.m., my wife, Merry Schoch, and I entered the McDonald’s Restaurant located at 1002 S. 78th Street in Tampa, Fla. This store is a Casper’s company franchise. Both Merry and I are blind and use guide dogs. Our dogs were both in harness and were obviously guiding us. We stood together in the lobby for a few minutes waiting to place our order. When we approached the counter, a young man came from the back of the restaurant and stated that the manager told him to tell us that dogs were not allowed. We shared these were service dogs and the female employee taking our order stated such, as well. I then asked to speak with his manager. He replied that his manager did not speak English. Merry stated to the female employee that she found it difficult to believe that the manager did not speak English and such conduct was being encountered. The female employee was very apologetic, stating she knew service animals were allowed. I asked her for the name of the manager and was told it was Olga Montana. We ordered our food, got our drinks and sat down to eat.

As we ate our meals, we discussed with each other that we needed to ask for a translator, educate the manager, and video record this interaction. Beginning at 7:37 p.m., we recorded an introduction before moving toward the counter area. (This introduction and the following interaction can be viewed by going to the link provided later in this narrative.) As we began to approach the counter, a woman stopped us. Merry asked to speak with the manager and the woman identified herself as the manager. Contradictory to the male employees assertion and as the recording clearly demonstrates, the manager does speak English, although she does assert “only a little”. She seems to have no problem understanding us; however, she also seems disinterested in what merry was saying to her, as evidenced by the fact that she continually turns her head away from us and finally simply walks away. Her apologies seem insincere and there was never an offer to resolve the issue. Rather, she shifted the blame to her employee, putting him on the spot and he shifts the blame to another employee, indicating that he was the one who told him to confront us about our service dogs. No matter under whose direction the employee acted, the manager is ultimately accountable, yet she takes no responsibility and seems to develop a ruse that she speaks little English. I contend it is a ruse because the female employee who took our order and attempted to intervene at the time of the confrontation was taking a break in the lobby after our recorded discussion with the manager and she told us the manager speaks better English than she is letting on.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” (28 CFR Part 36.104) According to the ADA, a “public accommodation shall modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” (28 CFR § 36.302(c)(1)) “A public accommodation may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public accommodation shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Generally, a public accommodation may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision”. (28 CFR § 36.302(c)(6)) As stated earlier, our dogs were in harness and obviously guiding us. According to Florida law, “An individual with a disability is entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges in all public accommodations.” (413.08(2) f.s.) Florida law further provides that “Any person, firm, or corporation, or the agent of any person, firm, or corporation, who denies or interferes with admittance to, or enjoyment of, a public accommodation or otherwise interferes with the rights of an individual with a disability…commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.” (413.08(4) f.s.) Second degree misdemeanors are punishable by incarceration of up to 60 days and/or a fine of $500.

We have worked with Casper’s Company in the past to raise awareness among the general public on issues of blindness. We are aware that such conduct is not in keeping with the corporate culture of Casper’s Company nor McDonald’s. What we find most offensive is the conduct of the manager. Rather than taking responsibility for the situation – no matter on whose direction the first employee acted – is how the manager absolves herself of responsibility, seems to discount the issue of discrimination, offers what appeared insincere apologies, blames her entry level employees for the incident, turns her back on us and walks away, leaving her entry level employees with us. In defense of this employee, he seemed to be acting under another’s direction; whether that was of the manager or some other employee – and seemed genuinely and sincerely apologetic for the incident, in stark contrast to the manager. In such a setting, the manager is the ultimate authority, but her conduct demonstrated very poor leadership. We are also disturbed by the manager’s assertions that she speaks very little English. As already stated, she seemed to have no problem understanding us and her employee contradicts this apparent deceit. If this is so, it goes to the integrity of the manager and this behavior reflects poorly on McDonald’s. Please click on the following link to view the aforementioned video.

http://youtu.be/kePK2vedOog

It was our intention to resolve this issue amicably and attempted to discuss it with bob Conigliaro, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Casper’s Company. The National Federation of the Blind had worked with Mr. Conigliaro in the past on issues of blindness and felt he would fairly and appropriately resolve this issue. This, however, was not the case.

I spoke with Mr. Conigliaro on July 14 at about 4:40 p.m., explained the situation to him, and briefly discussed the incident. He confirmed that Olga Montana spoke perfect English and he would look into the incident. I sent him the above narrative, including the link to the video.
Within 40 minutes, Mr. Conigliaro called me back to tell me how embarrassed I should be by the way my wife and I conducted ourselves. He told me that we were not discriminated against because we were allowed to remain in the restaurant, to which I replied that the discrimination occurred when we were told we were not welcome with our guide dogs. He told us that we handled the situation inappropriately, that we brow-beat his employees, and that we were the ones who discriminated against his employees by asking them how they would feel if they were told they were not welcome because of their ethnicity. Mr. Conigliaro, in his convoluted logic, turns this incident into our fault, absolving Casper’s Company from any responsibility for the blatant discrimination we face! Mr. Conigliaro asserted that the manager in the video is not Olga Montana, but never identified who she is. Mr. Conigliaro asked me what I wanted and I told him I wanted this employees to be better trained about the rights of service animal users to which he replied they were already adequately trained. I replied they obviously were not! Mr. Conigliaro stated he was “unwilling to continue on the Merry-go-round” and, like the manager, abruptly ended the call.

Unfortunately, those of us who face discrimination know that we are often made to be the ones at fault, while those who discriminate against us assert they are the victims. We are the ones who are unreasonable. We are the ones who are rude. We are the ones who lack compassion. However, I did not expect this posture from someone I considered our ally! Then again, what else should I expect from a multimillion dollar company whose perspective is the need to protect their assets? He could have resolved this issue in the amicable manner with which we approached it; rather, he chose to take the stance of a victim by failing to take responsibility for his company’s actions and blame the ones who faced the indignities levied against them! Such a tactic has been used in nearly every incident of discrimination I have ever encountered.

Like the manager in the video recording, Mr. Conigliaro has turned his back on us. He tells us we are the ones who are rude by resisting unfair treatment. He tells us our assertiveness in protecting our civil rights by confronting discrimination and educating his employees is brow-beating. He tells us we should accept the insincere apology of a manager who refused to speak to us when we asked and when the incident first occurs and only approaches us when we begin to make a video recording twenty minutes later. Mr. Conigliaro would ask us to believe the manager’s apologies were sincere, in spite of the facts that she kept blaming someone Mr. Conigliaro calls “an entry level employee”, constantly looked away from us, attempted to deceive us into believing she spoke very little English, and then walked away from us without so much as an “Excuse me!”, leaving her entry level employees we are accused of brow-beating behind! Of course, Mr. Conigliaro justifies the manager’s quick exit by telling me she had a multimillion dollar corporation to run. And Mr. Conigliaro has the audacity to tell us we should be the ones who are embarrassed?

Bob Conigliaro contends we created this situation and that we should not be angry with his employees. He may contend it was not discrimination, but no matter how he colors it, discrimination it was. Mr. Conigliaro seems to have never faced the humiliation of discrimination. He probably has never been denied the right to eat in a restaurant, enter a store, ride in a taxicab, obtain a hotel room, rent an apartment, or choose his seat on an airplane. He has likely never faced the indignity of being asked by a doctor who bathes him, has never had a waitress ask his five-year-old what her father wants to drink or had a stranger tell her how proud she should be for the way she takes care of her dad, nor had a bus driver tell him there was a special seat just for people like him. Bob Conigliaro has never faced the humiliation and anxiety those of us who are blind face as we strive to participate in society on terms of equality, never knowing where the next instance of discrimination will occur. And when it does occur to be blamed for its occurrence! Mr. Conigliaro has likely never faced the social, legal, and economic barriers we face as blind people striving to live the lives we want. If Mr. Conigliaro has ever faced such an indignity, he has left it behind as he sits in the seat of the Vice Presidency of his multimillion dollar company that we, as his consumers have helped him build! Mr. Conigliaro may tell me we should be ashamed of the way we confronted the discrimination we encountered by Casper’s Company and McDonald’s; however, we are not ashamed! I am proud of how my wife had the courage to stand up to the injustice! It is Mr. Conigliaro who should be ashamed of how he condoned the unjust and discriminatory actions of his employees toward their consumers and then turns it around to make it our fault! It is his embarrassment and shame that he projects upon us so he can ignore the injustice he promulgates by ignoring this issue and blaming us for his company’s unjust behavior.

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As a advocate for guide dog users and one who is currently working to change the policies of several school districts and colleges with oppressive policies concerning service animals, I found this settlement very encouraging. I hope you will feel the same!

 

Marion Gwizdala, President

National Association of guide dog Users

National Federation of the Blind

 

New Jersey School District to Adopt Service Animal Policies and Pay Fine to Resolve Justice Department Investigation

June 24, 2014

Source: http://www.enewspf.com/latest-news/law-and-order/federal-and-international/53937-new-jersey-school-district-to-adopt-service-animal-policies-and-pay-fine-to-resolve-justice-department-investigation.html

 

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—June 24, 2014. The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with the Delran Township School District in New Jersey under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The agreement resolves allegations that the school district violated the ADA by refusing to allow a student with autism and encephalopathy to have his service dog in school or at school-related activities.  The service dog alerts to the student’s seizures, provides mobility and body support and mitigates the symptoms of his autism.

 

The department found that the student’s mother spent six months responding to burdensome requests for information and documentation, and still the school district refused to allow the student to be accompanied by his service dog.  Despite her efforts, the student was even prevented from bringing his service dog with him on the bus for his school’s end of the year field trip.  Instead, his mother followed the school bus with the service dog in her car.

 

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public schools.  Under the ADA, public schools must generally modify policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a service dog by a student with a disability at school and school-related activities.  Because service dogs must be under the control of a handler, students often act as the handler of their own service dog; when that is not possible, the family may provide an independent handler, as the family offered to do here.

 

The school district worked cooperatively with the department throughout the investigation.  Under the agreement, the school district will pay $10,000 to the family to compensate them for the harm they endured as a result of the school district’s actions.  In addition, the school district will adopt an ADA-compliant service animal policy and provide training to designated staff on the school district’s obligations under Title II of the ADA, including requirements related to service dogs.

 

“The old view of service animals working only as guide dogs for individuals who are blind has given way to a new generation of service animals trained to perform tasks that further autonomy and independence for individuals with a myriad of disabilities , ” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division will vigorously enforce the ADA to ensure that students who use service animals have a full and equal opportunity to participate in all school activities with their peers.”

 

Enforcing the ADA is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division.  Those interested in finding out more about this settlement or the obligations of public entities schools under the ADA may call the department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access the ADA website.  ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

 

The Civil Rights Division would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey for their assistance in this matter.

 

Source: justice.gov

 

 

 

 

 

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New Jersey School District to Adopt Service Animal Policies and Pay Fine to Resolve Justice Department Investigation

June 24, 2014

Source: http://www.enewspf.com/latest-news/law-and-order/federal-and-international/53937-new-jersey-school-district-to-adopt-service-animal-policies-and-pay-fine-to-resolve-justice-department-investigation.html

 

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—June 24, 2014. The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with the Delran Township School District in New Jersey under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The agreement resolves allegations that the school district violated the ADA by refusing to allow a student with autism and encephalopathy to have his service dog in school or at school-related activities.  The service dog alerts to the student’s seizures, provides mobility and body support and mitigates the symptoms of his autism.

 

The department found that the student’s mother spent six months responding to burdensome requests for information and documentation, and still the school district refused to allow the student to be accompanied by his service dog.  Despite her efforts, the student was even prevented from bringing his service dog with him on the bus for his school’s end of the year field trip.  Instead, his mother followed the school bus with the service dog in her car.

 

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public schools.  Under the ADA, public schools must generally modify policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a service dog by a student with a disability at school and school-related activities.  Because service dogs must be under the control of a handler, students often act as the handler of their own service dog; when that is not possible, the family may provide an independent handler, as the family offered to do here.

 

The school district worked cooperatively with the department throughout the investigation.  Under the agreement, the school district will pay $10,000 to the family to compensate them for the harm they endured as a result of the school district’s actions.  In addition, the school district will adopt an ADA-compliant service animal policy and provide training to designated staff on the school district’s obligations under Title II of the ADA, including requirements related to service dogs.

 

“The old view of service animals working only as guide dogs for individuals who are blind has given way to a new generation of service animals trained to perform tasks that further autonomy and independence for individuals with a myriad of disabilities , ” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Civil Rights Division will vigorously enforce the ADA to ensure that students who use service animals have a full and equal opportunity to participate in all school activities with their peers.”

 

Enforcing the ADA is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division.  Those interested in finding out more about this settlement or the obligations of public entities schools under the ADA may call the department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access the ADA website.  ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

 

The Civil Rights Division would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey for their assistance in this matter.

 

Source: justice.gov

 

 

 

 

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The following information is exerpted from

 

 

Link: http://www.ada.gov/roumou-taxi-sa.htm

 

 

For more information about guide and other service animals or about the National Association of Guide dog Users, please visit

 

http://nagdu.org

 

or contact

 

Marion Gwizdala, President

National Association of Guide Dog Users

national Federation of the Blind

813-626-2789

Hotline: 888-NAGDU411 888-624-3841

Info@nagdu.org

 

SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT UNDER THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND ALTAGRACIA ROUMOU DJ No. 202-90-32 ——————————————————————————– I. INTRODUCTION 1.The parties to this Settlement Agreement (“Agreement”) are the United States of America (“United States”) and Altagracia Roumou (“Roumou”), located on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. 2.The parties agree that it is in their best interests, and the United States believes that it is in the public interest, to resolve this dispute without engaging in protracted litigation. The parties have therefore voluntarily entered into this Agreement, as follows: II. THE PARTIES 3.The United States Department of Justice (the “Department”) is responsible for enforcing title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189, as amended, and the relevant regulations implementing title III, 28 C.F.R. pt. 36 and 49 C.F.R. pts. 37 and 38. 4. Ms. Roumou is a private individual, who resides on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. She is licensed to and engaged in the business of providing taxi services to members of the general public on a regular and continuing basis on St. Thomas. Ms. Roumou is the registered owner of a “safari” taxi, designated by St. Thomas Taxi Medallion # 0307. As such, Ms. Roumou’s taxi business is a private entity which provides public transportation services within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12181(10) and 49 C.F.R. § 37.29. III. BACKGROUND 5.This matter was initiated by a complaint filed under title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189, with the Department by Zane Birnie (“Birnie”). 6.Mr. Birnie is an individual who is blind and utilizes a service animal. Mr. Birnie alleges that on May 4, 2012, on St. Thomas, he was denied taxi service by Ms. Roumou because she refused to transport his service animal. 7. Mr. Birnie is an individual with a disability within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12102, 42 C.F.R. § 37.3, and 28 C.F.R. § 36.104. 8.Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability in the full and equal enjoyment of specified public transportation services provided by an entity that is primarily engaged in the business of transporting people and whose operations affect commerce. 42 U.S.C. § 12184(a); 49 C.F.R. § 37.29(c). Section 37.167(d) of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations provides that such an entity shall permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in vehicles. 9. Ms. Roumou admits that she did not permit Mr. Birnie to ride in her taxi on May 4, 2012, but claims that she did not know that he was blind or that his dog was a service animal. 10.In order to resolve this matter without engaging in protracted litigation, the parties have agreed to settle this matter according to the terms in this Agreement. This Agreement shall not be construed as an admission of liability by Ms. Roumou. 11.In consideration of the terms of this Agreement, the United States agrees to refrain from undertaking further investigation or filing a civil suit pertaining to the allegations made in this matter, except as provided in the Enforcement and Implementation sections of the Agreement. IV. REMEDIAL ACTION 12.Consistent with title III of the ADA, Ms. Roumou shall not discriminate against any individual on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the taxicab services she provides by excluding or providing unequal treatment to persons with disabilities, including those who use service animals. 42 U.S.C § 12184; 28 C.F.R. §§ 36.201, 36.202; 49 C.F.R. §§ 37.5, 37.21, 37.29. Specifically, Ms. Roumou will make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures that are necessary to afford goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including those who use service animals. 42 U.S.C. §12184(b)(2)(A); 28 C.F.R. §§ 36.302(a), (c); 49 C.F.R. §§ 37.5, 37.21, 37.29, 37.167(d). 13.Service Animal Policy: Ms. Roumou agrees that, henceforth, all persons with disabilities, including those accompanied by service animals, will be welcome in all taxicabs that she operates. Ms. Roumou agrees to adopt and abide by the Service Animal Policy (Exhibit A) attached to this Agreement. Ms. Roumou agrees that she shall not refuse to transport a person with a disability because that person is accompanied by a service animal. She also agrees that she shall not charge a person with a disability any extra fee or ask a person with a disability to comply with any additional condition of service because they are accompanied by a service animal even if an extra fee or charge or condition of service is required for the transportation of a pet. 14.Training: Ms. Roumou shall attend the next available training offered by the Virgin Islands Taxi Cab Commission regarding service to persons with disabilities by taxicab operators. Ms. Roumou shall inform the Department when she has completed this training. 15.15. Ms. Roumou shall not retaliate against the complainant for filing a complaint with the Department or otherwise exercising rights protected by the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a). V. MONETARY RELIEF FOR COMPLAINANT 16. The ADA authorizes the Attorney General to seek a court award of compensatory damages on behalf of individuals aggrieved as the result of violations of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12188(b)(2)(B); 28 C.F.R. § 36.504(a)(2). Within ten (10) days of the effective date of this Agreement, Ms. Roumou shall compensate the complainant in this matter by providing him a certified check in the amount of one thousand dollars ($1000.00), via certified mail to the address provided by the United States. Ms. Roumou will simultaneously send a copy of the check and the accompanying letter to counsel for the United States. 17. In consideration for the compensatory damages set forth above, the United States agrees that within ten (10) days of its receipt of the Agreement signed by Ms. Roumou, it will obtain the complainant’s signature on the Waiver and Release of Claim form attached hereto as Attachment B. The Department will mail the original of the signed Waiver and Release of Claim form to Ms. Roumou within fifteen (15) days of the Department’s receipt of same. 18.The ADA also authorizes the United States Attorney General to seek a civil penalty as a result of violations of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12188(b)(2)(C); 28 C.F.R.§ 36.504(a)(3). Ms. Roumou shall make a payment to the United States in the amount of one thousand dollars ($1,000) as a civil penalty in the public interest. This payment shall be made in two installments of five hundred dollars ($500) by certified check or money order payable to the United States Treasury. The first installment is due within sixty (60) days of the effective date of this Agreement. The second installment is due within ninety (90) days of the effective date of this Agreement. The installments shall be delivered to counsel for the United States. VI. ENFORCEMENT 19.This Settlement Agreement cannot be modified or amended except by an instrument in writing, agreed to and signed by the Parties. 20.The United States may review compliance with this Agreement at any time. If the United States believes that this Agreement or any of its requirements have been violated, it may institute a civil action in Federal District Court to enforce this Agreement or the requirements of title III, following written notice to Ms. Roumou of possible violations and a period of 30 days in which Ms. Roumou has the opportunity to cure the alleged violations. 21. For purposes of the immediately preceding paragraph, it is a violation of this Agreement for Ms. Roumou to fail to comply in a timely manner with any of its requirements without obtaining sufficient advance written Agreement with the United States for an extension of the relevant time frame imposed by the Agreement. 22.Failure by the United States to enforce this entire Agreement or any of its provisions or deadlines shall not be construed as a waiver of the United States’ right to enforce other deadlines and provisions of this Agreement. VII. IMPLEMENTATION 23.The Agreement, including Attachments A, and B, constitute the entire agreement between the parties on the matters raised herein, and no other statement, promise, or agreement, either written or oral, made by either party or agents of either party, that is not contained in this written Agreement, will be enforceable under its provisions. 24.This Agreement is limited to the facts set forth above and does not purport to remedy or resolve any other existing or potential violations of the ADA or any other local or Federal law. 25.This Agreement does not affect Ms. Roumou’s continuing responsibility to comply with all applicable aspects of title III of the ADA. In particular, title III imposes an obligation to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when the modifications are necessary to afford goods, services, and facilities to individuals with disabilities. 26.A copy of this document or any information contained in it will be made available to any person by Ms. Roumou or the United States on request. 27.The effective date of this Agreement is the date of the last signature below. This Agreement will remain in effect for three (3) years from the effective date of this Agreement 28.The provisions of this Settlement Agreement shall be deemed severable, and any invalidity or unenforceability of any one or more of its provisions shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the other provisions herein. RONALD W. SHARPE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY DATED: May 15, 2014

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New organization trains guide dogs for visually impaired

 

By Shirley Qiu

 

Seattle Times staff reporter

 

http://seattletimes.com/html/living/2023854416_guidedogguyxml.html

 Toby Willis, who has lost most of his vision to retinitis pigmentosa, started his own guide-dog training organization after discovering the logistical, social and emotional benefits of working a guide dog.

 Meeting with Toby Willis, you may not notice his visual impairment.

 

 He greets you with a cheery smile and a friendly handshake. He makes eye contact with you during conversation. He treads carefully but confidently, sans walking cane.

 But you will notice his sidekick: a young German Shepherd guide dog named Dazzler. Willis, at 40 years old, has gradually lost his vision to retinitis pigmentosa since early childhood. He said his guide dog has been a big factor in creating a normal life for him, increasing his sense of safety and freedom, and expanding social opportunities.

 Disheartened by the shortage of guide dogs available for visually impaired individuals in the United States, he was inspired to take matters into his own hands. In 2011, he founded Independence Guide Dogs (IGD), a nonprofit organization based at his home near Georgetown, to help train guide dogs for blind and visually impaired individuals.

 IGD is run predominantly by a group of 30 volunteers, Willis included, as well as two certified guide-dog trainers and a few contractors. Their mission, he said, is to increase independence for individuals – hence, the name of the organization.

 

 “Not only does (a guide dog) provide safer, faster travel, self-confidence and security, there’s also a great social catalyst that few people think of,” he said. “You know, I often say, ‘Nobody ever wanted to pet my white cane’ … The dog allows me the opportunity to meet people, which is really important in today’s professional community that requires that we be good networkers.”

 An estimated 12,000 people now use guide dogs in the United States, and the wait time is typically three to six months, according to Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users. IGD is the first guide-dog training organization based in Washington state and the second in the Northwestern United States.

 After a long period of fundraising through small dinner parties, social-media promotion and outreach to corporate sponsors, IGD was able to train then match its first two German Shepherd puppies, donated by private breeders, with owners in the past couple of months. A committee of trainers and professional care providers reviewed each applicant’s health and mobility information, which included a video of the applicants walking to demonstrate their gait and stride.

 Dazzler turned out to be a good fit for Willis, who recently retired his previous guide dog of eight years.

 

 The other German Shepherd, Bozzy, was matched with Janis Limon, from Arizona. Limon, 59, had owned several guide dogs in the past 38 years before finding IGD online. She was matched with Bozzy a couple of months after applying, a vast improvement from the one-plus years she has had to wait for past guide dogs.

 Since meeting Bozzy, Limon has been able to more easily lead the active and independent lifestyle she strives for – in which she travels by foot at least three miles per day. She considers him “without a doubt” the most hardworking and healthy guide dog she’s had.

 “When you get the harness out, he’s ready to go,” she said. “That’s what he lives for, that’s what he loves to do … All he wants to do is to please you.”

 

 She owes his work ethic and good health, she said, to IGD’s kennel-free training program, which Willis calls “Home to Harness.” As opposed to traditional guide-dog training programs, which move dogs to a kennel training facility after a period of house training, IGD does all training and socializing in homes and around the future owner’s neighborhood.

 This, Willis said, makes the transition easier for both the dog and the owner.

 

 “I think for any dog, it can be a challenge going from a home to a kennel like that,” he said. “I’ve heard of guide dogs being placed who weren’t housebroken, because that six-month time in the kennel, they forgot it … I never want to put a client in that position where there’s extra hurdles to overcome in order to be a successful team.”

 With its first two trained guide dogs successfully matched, Willis and his team are now looking forward to helping the next clients, and that starts with fundraising and finding new puppies. They’re hoping to start their own breeding facility in Seattle in the near future to eliminate their dependence on puppy donors.

 Each puppy costs $25,000 to train but is offered to each client free of charge.

 

 “We provide it free to the clients, but someone has to pay for it,” he said with a laugh. “Most people in general – who can write a check for $25,000 for a dog? But the change that the dog makes is priceless.”

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BOARDS OF EDUCATION IMPLEMENT ILLEGAL POLICIES REGARDING THE USE OF SERVICE ANIMALS

>> MCMINN AND BLOUNT COUNTIES’ BOARDS OF EDUCATION IMPLEMENT ILLEGAL POLICIES REGARDING THE USE OF SERVICE ANIMALS—TENNESSEE SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION NEGLECTS TO PUSH FOR CHANGE
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>> The Tennessee Association of Guide Dog Users (TAGDU), a division of the National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU), is dedicated to educating and advocating for the use of guide dogs throughout Tennessee. George Hall, a concerned guide dog user of McMinn County notified us at TAGDU of a policy issued in February 2011 by the county’s Board of Education regarding the use of service animals on academic premises. Mr. Hall informs us: “I sent the policy to the U.S. Department of Justice in DC. They responded, agreeing that the policy was totally out of line and that I should turn it over to an attorney or an organization that will deal with it.” This policy is in direct violation with state and federal laws, and it includes requirements such as prior approval to use a guide dog, proof of disability and annual updates, and proof of liability insurance, none of which are constitutional.
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>> After numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact Mickey Blevins, McMinn’s Director of Schools, we were referred to the Tennessee School Boards Association where subsequently, our concerns and requests for action were apparently disregarded. Loniel Greene, Jr., Director of Policy Services & Staff Attorney at the TSBA indicated they weren’t willing to discuss the matter any further with us. As the public, shouldn’t we be able to discuss potential changes within public school systems? Loniel Greene’s professional email signature reads: “I Support Local Schools, Local Decisions!” Does he also support local discrimination within these local schools?
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>> Recently, we discovered the service animal policy was adopted from Blount County’s Board of Education. Blount County’s service animal policies issued in May 2010 are similar to McMinn’s, but more alarming, since they have specifically targeted employees. TAGDU President James Boehm says, “Any person with a disability including a blind student or employee, has a right to equal access and mobility! Advocacy organizations like TAGDU, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, and Tennessee legislators spend countless hours, to ensure a service animal user may travel in their daily routine without discrimination or hindrance. How sad it is for these school systems and the TSBA to vehemently discriminate [against] a service animal user. Through public awareness, improper policies such as these will implement standards and policies in line with state and federal laws.”
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>> By updating Tennessee’s Access Laws in July 2013, State Senators Massey, Bowling, Burks, and Ford, had hoped to secure the rights of service animal users and businesses alike, to prevent accidental discrimination and ensure there are no discrepancies between state and federal laws. It is disheartening to witness our school boards and associated state organizations dismiss these laws and ignore the hard work of our senators and representatives. As James Brown President of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee, says, “Equal access is one of the final frontiers to people with disabilities. Removing these antiquated policies will go a long way to achieving that goal.”
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