Sheriff’s Office/State of florida condone Discrimination against Disabled

 

Sheriff’s Office/State of Florida Condone Discrimination against Disabled

By Marion Gwizdala

 

On February 11, 2016, in a stunning blow to the rights of the disabled, the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa, Florida released a two sentence statement in response to a criminal complaint filed with their office as the result of a clear and unequivocal denial of the rights of a person with a disability accompanied by a service dog that condones discrimination against the disabled. This two sentence statement, released by Mark Cox, Chief of Investigations for the state Attorney, stated, “This case has been reviewed by numerous prosecutors.  They all agree that there is no likelihood of a successful prosecution.” Just as Jim Crow laws of the 20th century mandated segregation of the black community through the principle of separate but equal, the state of Florida is promoting an even more offensive policy of unequal but equal. How a team of the brightest minds in the legal field can come to such an arbitrary inference by drawing a conclusion without or in spite of the evidence is summed up by the repeated statement Douglas Covington, Chief of the Misdemeanor Division made to me: “You are not an attorney!” Mr. Covington had obviously arrived at a foregone conclusion based upon unfounded claims and no factual evidence would be allowed. Read on and see if you arrive at the same arbitrary inference as those whose job it is to prosecute those who violate the law.

 

Florida law states, “An individual with a disability is entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges in all public accommodations. A public accommodation must modify its policies, practices, and procedures to permit use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” (413.08(2) This statute also asserts that “Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to an individual with a service animal.” (413.08(3)(f) Lastly, the statute prescribes 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”. (413.08(4) The entire text of this statute can be viewed by visiting the official website for the state of Florida <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0400-0499/0413/Sections/0413.08.html&gt;

 

On Monday, November 16, 2015, I scheduled a trip with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) para transit service for Wednesday, November 18 from my residence to attend a professional grant writing conference. My scheduled pick-up was 7:30 a.m. with a return trip scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The conference I was to attend began at 8:20 a.m. and concluded at 4:00 p.m.

When the vehicle – a Chrysler minivan – arrived at approximately 7:10 a.m., I approached the vehicle accompanied by my guide dog. As I reached for the door handle, the driver ordered me to not open the door. When I inquired as to the reason I could not open the door, I was told there were two other people on the van. When I asked why this mattered, I was told there was not enough room for both me and my guide dog. I waited for a few minutes while the operator spoke with the Dispatcher. After several minutes, the driver exited the vehicle, approached me, and told me one of the other passengers was afraid of dogs and I could not ride on the vehicle. He told me the dispatcher had advised him to leave to drop off the other passengers and then return for me. I told him this was a violation of state and federal law and was advised he was following the orders of the dispatcher.

 

I called HART’s customer service and spoke with Kathy who put me on hold while she called the dispatcher. When she returned, she also advised me the dispatcher told her there was a passenger who was afraid of dogs and he had ordered the driver to leave, drop off the other passengers, and return for me once they had been dropped off. I also advised Kathy this was a violation of state and federal law and that fear of animals was not a valid reason to deny my ride. The communication between the dispatcher and the operator are recorded by HART, as is the telephone conversation between the customer service representative and me. The vehicle left my residence without transporting me.

 

At approximately 8:40 a.m. (1-1/2 hours later), the vehicle returned to pick me up. I advised the operator that I was recording our conversation and asked for his name and the name of the dispatcher. The operator did not object to the recording but refused to give me this information. As I attempted to pay for my ride, the operator told me there was no charge. I insisted on paying for the trip and the driver refused to accept my fare. I dropped the $4.00 fare on the floor next to the driver. I arrived at my destination at approximately 9:10 a.m. and to the conference registration table at approximately 9:15 a.m., nearly one hour late for the conference.

 

As I was leaving the conference at approximately 4:15 p.m., I was met by Gregory Brackin, HART’s ADA officer. Mr. Brackin apologized for the incident, stated there was more than adequate room for me and my guide dog on the vehicle, and handed me more than $200 worth of bus passes and coupons which I subsequently returned. I also received a telephone call from Kathryn Eagan, HART’s Chief Executive Officer, expressing her apologies and stating this incident should have never occurred. Though some may say HART apologized for the incident and question my motivation for pursuing criminal charges against those involved, it is important to note that there have been several instances of HART drivers interfering with the rights of a disabled person accompanied by a service dog in the past and each time we have met with insincere apologies, as supported by the absence of a real resolution and evidenced by this recurrent issue. Even in this instance, when HART was asked in writing what steps they would take to ensure such an incident would not occur in the future, HART did not respond.

 

When I returned home, I contacted the Hillsborough county Sheriff’s Office to file a criminal complaint against HART and was told there was nothing the sheriff’s office could do for me since this was a civil matter. I advised the person I was speaking with that it was a criminal violation and was transferred to a supervising deputy. This deputy also asserted there was nothing that could be done, in spite of the fact I cited and quoted the statute. He then transferred me to a sergeant who reiterated the same uninformed response. I asked to speak with the Watch Commander and was connected to Lt. Donald Morris. Lt. Morris also advised me that the violation was a civil matter outside the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office. I asked Lt. Morris if he had a copy of the Florida statutes and requested he take the time to read the statute. He begrudgingly read the statute, agreed it was a second degree misdemeanor, but asserted it was a civil rights violation and, as such, not within the jurisdiction of law enforcement. He then began to look up the electronic record of previous cases and told me that every case he saw was nulle prosed. Null prosequi is a legal term meaning “be unwilling to pursue”, a phrase amounting to “do not prosecute”. It is a phrase used to describe a prosecutor’s decision to voluntarily discontinue criminal charges either before trial or before a verdict is rendered. I shared with lt. Morris that I was familiar with each of these cases and knew that the decisions to dismiss the charges were only made after the defendant agreed to and completed community service hours before a verdict was rendered so as to avoid a criminal record. He then became very condescending – a pattern that seems pervasive when advocating to law enforcement for people with disabilities and not accepting their uninformed assertion. (You will find this tactic repeated later in this article when attempting to advocate with the State Attorney’s office.) He told me I could not possibly know about every case of this offense filed in the county. I assured him I did and knew the outcomes. He again asserted there was nothing he could do for me.

 

In a last ditch effort, I asked him to contact the State Attorney’s office and get an opinion from them. Surely I thought they would understand the law and agree this case had merit. Surely I was mistaken!

 

On Friday, November 20, lt. Morris called to inform me that he had spoken with Rene Murrati, Assistant state Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit. Lt. Morris reviewed the facts I had shared with him and asked me if they were correct; I agreed they were. He told me Ms. Murrati agreed with him that the case was without merit and they would not pursue it. He gave me Ms. Murrati’s telephone number and advised me to contact her if I had any questions. I called the state Attorney’s office and left a message for Ms. Murrati to call me.

 

Later that afternoon I received a return call from Ms. Murrati. Ms. Murrati reviewed the facts with me as she said they were told to her by Lt. Morris. The facts she related to me were not the same facts lt. Morris reviewed with me when he called to advise me Ms. Murrati gave him her opinion the case lacked merit. Specifically, Ms. Murrati told me Lt. Morris advised her that the vehicle was too small to accommodate me and my guide dog and that another vehicle was immediately dispatched to transport me. The fact that the vehicle – a minivan with the center bench and front passenger seat removed and with two other passengers on board – had sufficient room for both my guide dog and me is objectively verifiable; however, the state of Florida refused my repeated invitations to demonstrate this fact. Also, the fact that the irrational fear of dogs is not a valid reason to exclude me is a matter of law (413.08(3)(f)). The fact that HART did not dispatch another vehicle but left me waiting for 90 minutes while the other passengers were dropped off is a matter of record. All the facts as I have presented them in my narrative are supported by HART’s audio recorded conversations between the vehicle operator and the dispatcher who gave the order to deny me transportation, as well as audio recorded conversations between HART’s customer service representatives and me. Ms. Murrati also repeated the mistaken notion that all charges brought in the past were dismissed, a fact she said indicated the law was unenforceable. Seemingly frustrated by my persistence and the logic of my arguments, Ms. Murrati cut me off and told me she would not discuss a hypothetical case with me. When I asked what she meant, she adopted a very condescending tone and asked me if I had a case filed with her office. I admitted I did not and expressed my frustration that I could not get an unbiased person willing to consider objective evidence and the provisions of the law. She advised me that, once I had a case filed with her office she would be willing to discuss this further. I am certain she believed this would be the final time she would hear about this.

 

I then contacted Kyle Cockream, director of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Comission. Mr. Cockream, who once was a law enforcement officer and with whom I had worked on other transportation-related issues involving service animals, was stunned with Ms. Murrati’s refusal to pursue this case, as well as lt. Morris’s attitude and behavior. Mr. Cockream agreed to help me and, true to his word, he did!

 

On Monday, November 23, a full five days after the incident, I received a call from Deputy Sheriff Raymond Clites to advise me he had a request for prosecution he wanted to deliver to me. I felt relieved and encouraged that this issue was being taken seriously; however, my feelings of encouragement were to be short-lived.

 

A request for prosecution requires a complainant to wait at least ten days but no more than twenty-one days to file the complaint. This is known as a “cooling off” period and is meant to clear the docket of cases filed out of emotion. Since the tenth day (November 28) was a Saturday, I filed my request for prosecution on Monday, November 30. I was advised I would be contacted in about two weeks with a decision. As the two-week period expired without any response, I was still feeling optimistic, trusting the State Attorney was performing due diligence to ensure their case was well supported. Once again, my optimism in the legal system meant to ensure our civil rights was misplaced.

 

In early January I decided to call the State Attorney’s office to find out how the case was proceeding. I received a return call from Assistant State Attorney Allison Hearn who advised me charges would not be filed. When I inquired about how the decision was made, Ms. Hearn told me that her office agreed there was not enough room in the vehicle to accommodate the two passengers on the vehicle and me and that one of the passengers was afraid of my dog. I advised her that it was absolutely untrue that there was not enough room and this could be objectively verified, again offering to demonstrate that my dog and I were able to comfortably fit in the van without encroaching upon the space of other passengers. I also once again cited Florida law that fear of animals was not a valid reason to deny my access. Then Ms. Hearn made a statement that literally took my breath away; she told me one of the witnesses made a statement that I became very angry and made racial slurs toward the driver. Such a statement is very offensive to me and, without mincing words, is a bold-faced lie! As a matter of fact, after the initial approach to the vehicle when I was told to not open the door, I never came within twenty feet of the vehicle. How could someone inside a closed vehicle twenty feet away with the engine and air conditioning running hear what I said. Furthermore, until Ms. Hearn told me of this statement, I knew nothing about the driver except his name which was given to me by Gregory Brackin. It is also a matter of record, as reported in the criminal complaint, that the second passenger on the vehicle stated he could not hear any part of the conversation between the driver and me. Furthermore, the driver to whom these racial slurs were allegedly directed made no such accusations. In the typical manner in which those who employ arbitrary inference, only the details that support the faulty, fallacious conclusion are considered no matter how untenable. Ms. Hearn then advised me the case was closed and no further action would be taken.

 

Dissatisfied with this decision, I once again contacted the State Attorney’s office and asked to speak with mark Ober’s office. Mr. Ober is the elected State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit. I left a message at the extension to which I was transferred and received a return call from Douglas Covington, chief of the misdemeanor division. I could tell from Mr. Covington’s tone of voice he had adopted the same arrogant, condescending tone as Lt. Morris and Ms. Murrati. I had the feeling Mr. Covington was unwilling to consider anything that was to be said, yet still held out optimism that he might have an open mind to consider a reasonable argument. My assessment of his attitude was correct but my optimism was misplaced. Throughout the call, Mr. Covington reiterated the previous false assertion that there was not enough room on the minivan. I asked if he had objectively verified this and offered to get two of my biggest friends and demonstrate there is plenty of room for three people and a guide dog. He refused to objectively verify this, apparently unwilling to be confused by the facts. He stated both passengers and the driver all contend there was not enough room. I asked what expertise they had to make this assessment and was told they were both on the minivan. Again I inquired about their ability to make this assessment and he reiterated the same answer.

After reading the sworn statements of the passengers, I now know how the passengers were able to make this assessment; they were told so by the driver. In fact, the driver asked the passengers if they minded the dog sitting on their feet or on their laps! Again, this is a Chrysler Minivan with the center bench seat and the front passenger seat removed. There was more than adequate room for both my dog and me without encroaching on the space of another passenger. Mr. Covington was still unwilling to consider the facts!

 

Mr. Covington then said, continuing his mocking tone of voice, “Do you know what they are saying about you?” I told him I realize one passenger said I made racial slurs and that this was a lie. He replied the witness would testify to this fact. I asked how this excused the conduct and he told me it brought my character into question. I asked him why, if I had made such an inflammatory statement, neither the other passenger nor the driver made such an allegation and received no reply. He then stated that HART made a reasonable accommodation for me by returning to transport me ninety minutes later. I attempted to tell Mr. Covington the law does not provide for a reasonable accommodation; rather, it requires a modification of policies, practices, and procedures to allow a person with a disability accompanied by a service dog full and equal access but he refused to consider what I had to say. I asked him what part of being left for ninety minutes was full and equal to which he again replied, “And you are not an attorney!” I admitted I was not but was a primary advocate for this statute and understood its purpose and provision. He told me again that, since I was not an attorney, my opinion was irrelevant. I told him I was not satisfied, that I believed his interpretation was incorrect, and I would pursue this further. Again he said, “And you are not an attorney!” He offered to give me his supervisor’s name and I advised him I would be seeking a meeting with mark Ober. He wished me luck and terminated the call.

 

It is my firm opinion that the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit made a decision to not prosecute this case long before the facts were presented to them and they persist in their refusal despite the availability of objective evidence. The discrimination began with the refusal of HART to transport me, continued with the individual at the Hillsborough county sheriff’s Office who took my original call, was promulgated by the supervising deputy, reinforced by the Sergeant, and entrenched By Lt Morris. Rene Murrati decided before she saw the facts that the law was unenforceable, and every attorney who reviewed the case, as the reply from Mr. Cox asserts, was likely influenced by the reliance on inaccurate information about previous cases.

 

In their refusal to consider the objective evidence, the state of Florida not only denies the remedies available by law, they condone and support discrimination, marginalizing disabled people and relegating us to second-class status, unworthy of equal rights and equal protection. They set a precedent that a taxicab driver can violate state criminal law by refusing to transport a disabled person accompanied by a service dog provided another vehicle is dispatched ninety minutes later. And if that driver refuses to carry us, I guess the state of Florida would have us wait another ninety minutes; after all, they are making an accommodation! The state of Florida is telling us that a restaurant can refuse to seat those of us who use service dogs inside if they make an accommodation for us by serving us outside the restaurant. The state of Florida is telling us that, if a retail establishment refuses to allow us in the store, they can make an accommodation for us by bringing our purchase outside and letting us pay for them there. Perhaps the state of Florida also believes disabled people should live in our separate communities where we would not have the need to interact with our nondisabled peers, should have our own seating areas in restaurants, our own water fountains, be required to sit in the back of the bus (or in the front of the bus, as often attempted by HART drivers), should only be able to marry other disabled people, and, if the law does not require us to be sterilized, should we have children, we should not have the right to raise them! The legal decision by the state of Florida that the disabled are not entitled to participate in society on terms of equality is archaic and offensive. Every citizen in this state should be appalled by the treatment we are receiving by those who have the power to make an impact on this sort of discrimination, namely our law enforcement agencies and the state of Florida through their agents at the state Attorney’s office.

 

I am confident in my understanding of Florida statute and we cannot stay silent while the state pursues a pattern of discrimination against the disabled. There is no more graphic illustration of discrimination in violation of Florida law and no stronger evidence of the state’s support of our second-class status than is demonstrated by these facts. The contention that HART did not deny this right by leaving me in my driveway is irrational. The further contention that returning for me ninety minutes later was a reasonable accommodation, even if the law did allow it, is equally absurd! Mr. Covington told me he could not convince a jury of six reasonable people that HART denied my right of full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges by leaving me standing in my driveway. The only reason this would be so is because Mr. Covington has convinced himself and the other prosecutors in his office of the erroneous conclusion of law to which he has arrived. No matter how Mr. Covington rationalizes, justifies, or intellectualizes HART’s behavior, The law does not allow an entity to make an arbitrary, capricious unreasonable discriminatory decision he is calling an accommodation; rather, it requires the modification of policies, practices, and procedures so that the disabled have the rights to which all citizens are entitled: Full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges. This is what the law protects, this is what the law requires, and this is what disabled people should demand. Anything less is bigotry, plain and simple!

 

The state is not providing us equal treatment but telling all of us we should settle for less than equal

The state obviously believes disabled people are not entitled to equality but only the unreasonable accommodations those who know better what we need and deserve are willing to dole out to us. They have sent the clear, unambiguous signal that we should not expect equality but lower our expectation to the level of those, such as the state of Florida, who still hold low expectations for us

We should not live the life we want; we should be gracious and humble, living the life of low expectations, unequal treatment, and second-class status. They expect we should not be drivers in our own lives but be relegated to and settle for simply being passengers driven by those with an arrogant sense of authority who disregard our civil rights and our efforts of self-determination and self-advocacy. Unless all citizens stand up for the rights of others and demand the State Attorney prosecute those who violate these civil rights, we leave the door wide open for future discrimination and the undermining of our civil rights by the state

 

If you think this is only happening in Florida, you would be very wrong. I have faced the same arrogant condescension when advocating for guide dog users across the country. Our civil rights are minimized and trampled upon. We are seen as angry malcontents who should be grateful for the charity we receive and ignore the demeaning disregard with which we are treated.

 

The state of Florida has the strongest, most sound statute in the nation. We have used it as a model throughout the country; however, Mr. Covington and the staff of the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit are summarily nullifying it. By doing so, Mr. Covington, as an agent of the state of Florida, is actively sponsoring discrimination against the disabled. Unless we demand the state of Florida prosecute this case, we are condoning discrimination by our passivity. Unless our judicial system stands behind our fundamental civil rights, including our right of liberty, we will be unable to travel freely, unobstructed by arbitrary decisions borne of ignorance and will be relegated to second-class citizenship.

 

I urge every person who reads this article to do three things: first, call State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit at (813-272-5400 and tell them you are appalled that they condone and support discrimination against the disabled. Secondly, send this to someone else and ask them to take action. Lastly, stand up and stand behind those working to ensure the rights of the disabled by getting involved in making the change. The best way to get involved in shifting public attitudes about the blind is to become a part of the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the world – the National Federation of the Blind.            The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise expectations because low expectations are the obstacles that stand between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want. Blindness is not what holds you back.

 

For more information about the blind, the National Association of Guide dog Users, or the National Federation of the Blind, please call (813) 626-2789, email us at info@nagdu.org or visit our websites >http://www.nagdu.org> or http://www.nfb.org.

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Greyhound Lines to Resolve ADA Violations

Greyhound Lines to Resolve ADA Violations

February 8, 2016
Source: U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

Under the terms of a consent decree filed by the Justice Department today, Greyhound Lines Inc., the nations largest provider of intercity bus transportation, will implement a series of systemic reforms to resolve allegations that it repeatedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Greyhound will pay $300,000 in compensation to certain passengers with disabilities identified by the department and will retain a claims administrator to compensate an uncapped number of additional passengers who have experienced disability discrimination.

The consent decree, pending approval by the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, resolves the departments complaint that Greyhound engaged in a nationwide pattern or practice of violating the ADA by failing to provide full and equal transportation services to passengers with disabilities. The alleged violations include failing to maintain accessibility features on its bus fleet such as lifts and securement devices, failing to provide passengers with disabilities assistance boarding and exiting buses at rest stops; and failing to allow customers traveling in wheelchairs to complete their reservations online.

“The ADA guarantees people with disabilities equal access to transportation services so that they can travel freely and enjoy autonomy,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Departments Civil Rights Division. “Todays agreement marks a major step toward fulfilling the promise of the ADA, and we applaud Greyhound for entering the consent decree.”

“We are fully committed to ensuring equal access to all opportunities society has to offer, including transportation services,” said U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III of the District of Delaware.

Under the terms of the agreement, Greyhound – which serves more than 3,800 destinations and more than 18 million passengers each year across North America – will compensate several classes of passengers who faced barriers because of their disabilities. Through a claims administrator, Greyhound will compensate individuals who experienced barriers based on disability during the three years prior to todays filing. There is no cap on the number of individuals who may submit claims or on the total amount to be disbursed by Greyhound through this process. In addition, Greyhound will be required to pay a total of $300,000 among specific individuals identified by the department who experienced ADA violations. Greyhound will also pay a civil penalty to the United States in the amount of $75,000.

In addition, the agreement mandates that Greyhound implement a series of systemic reforms, including the following:

  • hire an ADA Compliance Manager;
  • require all employees and contractors who may interact with the public to attend annual in-person training on the ADA;
  • provide technical training to all employees and contractors on the proper operation of accessibility features of Greyhounds fleet;
  • report every three months to the department on its compliance efforts; and
  • ensure that persons with disabilities can make reservations for travel, and lodge disability-related requests, through its online booking system.

Individuals who experienced disability-related discrimination while traveling or attempting to travel on Greyhound buses during the previous three years may be eligible to receive a monetary award. The claims administrator for the fund will be posted on Greyhounds website, and on the departments Disability Rights Sections website at http://www.ada.gov following entry of the consent decree by the court. Questions about making claims should be directed to the claims administrator.

To read the consent decree and complaint, please visit http://www.ada.gov. For more information about the ADA, call the departments toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or access the ADA website at http://www.ada.gov.

Greyhound Consent Decree

 

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Sheriff’s Office/State of Florida Condone Discrimination against Disabled

 

Sheriff’s Office/State of Florida Condones Discrimination against Disabled

By Marion Gwizdala

 

On February 11, 2016, in a stunning blow to the rights of the disabled, the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa, Florida released a two sentence statement in response to a criminal complaint filed with their office as the result of a clear and unequivocal denial of the rights of a person with a disability accompanied by a service dog that condones discrimination against the disabled. This two sentence statement, released by Mark Cox, Chief of Investigations for the state Attorney, stated, “This case has been reviewed by numerous prosecutors.  They all agree that there is no likelihood of a successful prosecution.” Just as Jim Crow laws of the 20th century mandated segregation of the black community through the principle of separate but equal, the state of Florida is promoting an even more offensive policy of unequal but equal. How a team of the brightest minds in the legal field can come to such an arbitrary inference by drawing a conclusion without or in spite of the evidence is summed up by the repeated statement Douglas Covington, Chief of the Misdemeanor Division made to me: “You are not an attorney!” Mr. Covington had obviously arrived at a foregone conclusion based upon unfounded claims and no factual evidence would be allowed. Read on and see if you arrive at the same arbitrary inference as those whose job it is to prosecute those who violate the law.

 

Florida law states, “An individual with a disability is entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges in all public accommodations. A public accommodation must modify its policies, practices, and procedures to permit use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” (413.08(2) This statute also asserts that “Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to an individual with a service animal.” (413.08(3)(f) Lastly, the statute prescribes 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”. (413.08(4) The entire text of this statute can be viewed by visiting the official website for the state of Florida <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0400-0499/0413/Sections/0413.08.html&gt;

 

On Monday, November 16, 2015, I scheduled a trip with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) para transit service for Wednesday, November 18 from my residence to attend a professional grant writing conference. My scheduled pick-up was 7:30 a.m. with a return trip scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The conference I was to attend began at 8:20 a.m. and concluded at 4:00 p.m.

When the vehicle – a Chrysler minivan – arrived at approximately 7:10 a.m., I approached the vehicle accompanied by my guide dog. As I reached for the door handle, the driver ordered me to not open the door. When I inquired as to the reason I could not open the door, I was told there were two other people on the van. When I asked why this mattered, I was told there was not enough room for both me and my guide dog. I waited for a few minutes while the operator spoke with the Dispatcher. After several minutes, the driver exited the vehicle, approached me, and told me one of the other passengers was afraid of dogs and I could not ride on the vehicle. He told me the dispatcher had advised him to leave to drop off the other passengers and then return for me. I told him this was a violation of state and federal law and was advised he was following the orders of the dispatcher.

 

I called HART’s customer service and spoke with Kathy who put me on hold while she called the dispatcher. When she returned, she also advised me the dispatcher told her there was a passenger who was afraid of dogs and he had ordered the driver to leave, drop off the other passengers, and return for me once they had been dropped off. I also advised Kathy this was a violation of state and federal law and that fear of animals was not a valid reason to deny my ride. The communication between the dispatcher and the operator are recorded by HART, as is the telephone conversation between the customer service representative and me. The vehicle left my residence without transporting me.

 

At approximately 8:40 a.m. (1-1/2 hours later), the vehicle returned to pick me up. I advised the operator that I was recording our conversation and asked for his name and the name of the dispatcher. The operator did not object to the recording but refused to give me this information. As I attempted to pay for my ride, the operator told me there was no charge. I insisted on paying for the trip and the driver refused to accept my fare. I dropped the $4.00 fare on the floor next to the driver. I arrived at my destination at approximately 9:10 a.m. and to the conference registration table at approximately 9:15 a.m., nearly one hour late for the conference.

 

As I was leaving the conference at approximately 4:15 p.m., I was met by Gregory Brackin, HART’s ADA officer. Mr. Brackin apologized for the incident, stated there was more than adequate room for me and my guide dog on the vehicle, and handed me more than $200 worth of bus passes and coupons which I subsequently returned. I also received a telephone call from Kathryn Eagan, HART’s Chief Executive Officer, expressing her apologies and stating this incident should have never occurred. Though some may say HART apologized for the incident and question my motivation for pursuing criminal charges against those involved, it is important to note that there have been several instances of HART drivers interfering with the rights of a disabled person accompanied by a service dog in the past and each time we have met with insincere apologies, as supported by the absence of a real resolution and evidenced by this recurrent issue. Even in this instance, when HART was asked in writing what steps they would take to ensure such an incident would not occur in the future, HART did not respond.

 

When I returned home, I contacted the Hillsborough county Sheriff’s Office to file a criminal complaint against HART and was told there was nothing the sheriff’s office could do for me since this was a civil matter. I advised the person I was speaking with that it was a criminal violation and was transferred to a supervising deputy. This deputy also asserted there was nothing that could be done, in spite of the fact I cited and quoted the statute. He then transferred me to a sergeant who reiterated the same uninformed response. I asked to speak with the Watch Commander and was connected to Lt. Donald Morris. Lt. Morris also advised me that the violation was a civil matter outside the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office. I asked Lt. Morris if he had a copy of the Florida statutes and requested he take the time to read the statute. He begrudgingly read the statute, agreed it was a second degree misdemeanor, but asserted it was a civil rights violation and, as such, not within the jurisdiction of law enforcement. He then began to look up the electronic record of previous cases and told me that every case he saw was nulle prosed. Null prosequi is a legal term meaning “be unwilling to pursue”, a phrase amounting to “do not prosecute”. It is a phrase used to describe a prosecutor’s decision to voluntarily discontinue criminal charges either before trial or before a verdict is rendered. I shared with lt. Morris that I was familiar with each of these cases and knew that the decisions to dismiss the charges were only made after the defendant agreed to and completed community service hours before a verdict was rendered so as to avoid a criminal record. He then became very condescending – a pattern that seems pervasive when advocating to law enforcement for people with disabilities and not accepting their uninformed assertion. (You will find this tactic repeated later in this article when attempting to advocate with the State Attorney’s office.) He told me I could not possibly know about every case of this offense filed in the county. I assured him I did and knew the outcomes. He again asserted there was nothing he could do for me.

 

In a last ditch effort, I asked him to contact the State Attorney’s office and get an opinion from them. Surely I thought they would understand the law and agree this case had merit. Surely I was mistaken!

 

On Friday, November 20, lt. Morris called to inform me that he had spoken with Rene Murrati, Assistant state Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit. Lt. Morris reviewed the facts I had shared with him and asked me if they were correct; I agreed they were. He told me Ms. Murrati agreed with him that the case was without merit and they would not pursue it. He gave me Ms. Murrati’s telephone number and advised me to contact her if I had any questions. I called the state Attorney’s office and left a message for Ms. Murrati to call me.

 

Later that afternoon I received a return call from Ms. Murrati. Ms. Murrati reviewed the facts with me as she said they were told to her by Lt. Morris. The facts she related to me were not the same facts lt. Morris reviewed with me when he called to advise me Ms. Murrati gave him her opinion the case lacked merit. Specifically, Ms. Murrati told me Lt. Morris advised her that the vehicle was too small to accommodate me and my guide dog and that another vehicle was immediately dispatched to transport me. The fact that the vehicle – a minivan with the center bench and front passenger seat removed and with two other passengers on board – had sufficient room for both my guide dog and me is objectively verifiable; however, the state of Florida refused my repeated invitations to demonstrate this fact. Also, the fact that the irrational fear of dogs is not a valid reason to exclude me is a matter of law (413.08(3)(f)). The fact that HART did not dispatch another vehicle but left me waiting for 90 minutes while the other passengers were dropped off is a matter of record. All the facts as I have presented them in my narrative are supported by HART’s audio recorded conversations between the vehicle operator and the dispatcher who gave the order to deny me transportation, as well as audio recorded conversations between HART’s customer service representatives and me. Ms. Murrati also repeated the mistaken notion that all charges brought in the past were dismissed, a fact she said indicated the law was unenforceable. Seemingly frustrated by my persistence and the logic of my arguments, Ms. Murrati cut me off and told me she would not discuss a hypothetical case with me. When I asked what she meant, she adopted a very condescending tone and asked me if I had a case filed with her office. I admitted I did not and expressed my frustration that I could not get an unbiased person willing to consider objective evidence and the provisions of the law. She advised me that, once I had a case filed with her office she would be willing to discuss this further. I am certain she believed this would be the final time she would hear about this.

 

I then contacted Kyle Cockream, director of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Comission. Mr. Cockream, who once was a law enforcement officer and with whom I had worked on other transportation-related issues involving service animals, was stunned with Ms. Murrati’s refusal to pursue this case, as well as lt. Morris’s attitude and behavior. Mr. Cockream agreed to help me and, true to his word, he did!

 

On Monday, November 23, a full five days after the incident, I received a call from Deputy Sheriff Raymond Clites to advise me he had a request for prosecution he wanted to deliver to me. I felt relieved and encouraged that this issue was being taken seriously; however, my feelings of encouragement were to be short-lived.

 

A request for prosecution requires a complainant to wait at least ten days but no more than twenty-one days to file the complaint. This is known as a “cooling off” period and is meant to clear the docket of cases filed out of emotion. Since the tenth day (November 28) was a Saturday, I filed my request for prosecution on Monday, November 30. I was advised I would be contacted in about two weeks with a decision. As the two-week period expired without any response, I was still feeling optimistic, trusting the State Attorney was performing due diligence to ensure their case was well supported. Once again, my optimism in the legal system meant to ensure our civil rights was misplaced.

 

In early January I decided to call the State Attorney’s office to find out how the case was proceeding. I received a return call from Assistant State Attorney Allison Hearn who advised me charges would not be filed. When I inquired about how the decision was made, Ms. Hearn told me that her office agreed there was not enough room in the vehicle to accommodate the two passengers on the vehicle and me and that one of the passengers was afraid of my dog. I advised her that it was absolutely untrue that there was not enough room and this could be objectively verified, again offering to demonstrate that my dog and I were able to comfortably fit in the van without encroaching upon the space of other passengers. I also once again cited Florida law that fear of animals was not a valid reason to deny my access. Then Ms. Hearn made a statement that literally took my breath away; she told me one of the witnesses made a statement that I became very angry and made racial slurs toward the driver. Such a statement is very offensive to me and, without mincing words, is a bold-faced lie! As a matter of fact, after the initial approach to the vehicle when I was told to not open the door, I never came within twenty feet of the vehicle. How could someone inside a closed vehicle twenty feet away with the engine and air conditioning running hear what I said. Furthermore, until Ms. Hearn told me of this statement, I knew nothing about the driver except his name which was given to me by Gregory Brackin. It is also a matter of record, as reported in the criminal complaint, that the second passenger on the vehicle stated he could not hear any part of the conversation between the driver and me. Furthermore, the driver to whom these racial slurs were allegedly directed made no such accusations. In the typical manner in which those who employ arbitrary inference, only the details that support the faulty, fallacious conclusion are considered no matter how untenable. Ms. Hearn then advised me the case was closed and no further action would be taken.

 

Dissatisfied with this decision, I once again contacted the State Attorney’s office and asked to speak with mark Ober’s office. Mr. Ober is the elected State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit. I left a message at the extension to which I was transferred and received a return call from Douglas Covington, chief of the misdemeanor division. I could tell from Mr. Covington’s tone of voice he had adopted the same arrogant, condescending tone as Lt. Morris and Ms. Murrati. I had the feeling Mr. Covington was unwilling to consider anything that was to be said, yet still held out optimism that he might have an open mind to consider a reasonable argument. My assessment of his attitude was correct but my optimism was misplaced. Throughout the call, Mr. Covington reiterated the previous false assertion that there was not enough room on the minivan. I asked if he had objectively verified this and offered to get two of my biggest friends and demonstrate there is plenty of room for three people and a guide dog. He refused to objectively verify this, apparently unwilling to be confused by the facts. He stated both passengers and the driver all contend there was not enough room. I asked what expertise they had to make this assessment and was told they were both on the minivan. Again I inquired about their ability to make this assessment and he reiterated the same answer.

After reading the sworn statements of the passengers, I now know how the passengers were able to make this assessment; they were told so by the driver. In fact, the driver asked the passengers if they minded the dog sitting on their feet or on their laps! Again, this is a Chrysler Minivan with the center bench seat and the front passenger seat removed. There was more than adequate room for both my dog and me without encroaching on the space of another passenger. Mr. Covington was still unwilling to consider the facts!

 

Mr. Covington then said, continuing his mocking tone of voice, “Do you know what they are saying about you?” I told him I realize one passenger said I made racial slurs and that this was a lie. He replied the witness would testify to this fact. I asked how this excused the conduct and he told me it brought my character into question. I asked him why, if I had made such an inflammatory statement, neither the other passenger nor the driver made such an allegation and received no reply. He then stated that HART made a reasonable accommodation for me by returning to transport me ninety minutes later. I attempted to tell Mr. Covington the law does not provide for a reasonable accommodation; rather, it requires a modification of policies, practices, and procedures to allow a person with a disability accompanied by a service dog full and equal access but he refused to consider what I had to say. I asked him what part of being left for ninety minutes was full and equal to which he again replied, “And you are not an attorney!” I admitted I was not but was a primary advocate for this statute and understood its purpose and provision. He told me again that, since I was not an attorney, my opinion was irrelevant. I told him I was not satisfied, that I believed his interpretation was incorrect, and I would pursue this further. Again he said, “And you are not an attorney!” He offered to give me his supervisor’s name and I advised him I would be seeking a meeting with mark Ober. He wished me luck and terminated the call.

 

It is my firm opinion that the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit made a decision to not prosecute this case long before the facts were presented to them and they persist in their refusal despite the availability of objective evidence. The discrimination began with the refusal of HART to transport me, continued with the individual at the Hillsborough county sheriff’s Office who took my original call, was promulgated by the supervising deputy, reinforced by the Sergeant, and entrenched By Lt Morris. Rene Murrati decided before she saw the facts that the law was unenforceable, and every attorney who reviewed the case, as the reply from Mr. Cox asserts, was likely influenced by the reliance on inaccurate information about previous cases.

 

In their refusal to consider the objective evidence, the state of Florida not only denies the remedies available by law, they condone and support discrimination, marginalizing disabled people and relegating us to second-class status, unworthy of equal rights and equal protection. They set a precedent that a taxicab driver can violate state criminal law by refusing to transport a disabled person accompanied by a service dog provided another vehicle is dispatched ninety minutes later. And if that driver refuses to carry us, I guess the state of Florida would have us wait another ninety minutes; after all, they are making an accommodation! The state of Florida is telling us that a restaurant can refuse to seat those of us who use service dogs inside if they make an accommodation for us by serving us outside the restaurant. The state of Florida is telling us that, if a retail establishment refuses to allow us in the store, they can make an accommodation for us by bringing our purchase outside and letting us pay for them there. Perhaps the state of Florida also believes disabled people should live in our separate communities where we would not have the need to interact with our nondisabled peers, should have our own seating areas in restaurants, our own water fountains, be required to sit in the back of the bus (or in the front of the bus, as often attempted by HART drivers), should only be able to marry other disabled people, and, if the law does not require us to be sterilized, should we have children, we should not have the right to raise them! The legal decision by the state of Florida that the disabled are not entitled to participate in society on terms of equality is archaic and offensive. Every citizen in this state should be appalled by the treatment we are receiving by those who have the power to make an impact on this sort of discrimination, namely our law enforcement agencies and the state of Florida through their agents at the state Attorney’s office.

 

I am confident in my understanding of Florida statute and we cannot stay silent while the state pursues a pattern of discrimination against the disabled. There is no more graphic illustration of discrimination in violation of Florida law and no stronger evidence of the state’s support of our second-class status than is demonstrated by these facts. The contention that HART did not deny this right by leaving me in my driveway is irrational. The further contention that returning for me ninety minutes later was a reasonable accommodation, even if the law did allow it, is equally absurd! Mr. Covington told me he could not convince a jury of six reasonable people that HART denied my right of full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges by leaving me standing in my driveway. The only reason this would be so is because Mr. Covington has convinced himself and the other prosecutors in his office of the erroneous conclusion of law to which he has arrived. No matter how Mr. Covington rationalizes, justifies, or intellectualizes HART’s behavior, The law does not allow an entity to make an arbitrary, capricious unreasonable discriminatory decision he is calling an accommodation; rather, it requires the modification of policies, practices, and procedures so that the disabled have the rights to which all citizens are entitled: Full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges. This is what the law protects, this is what the law requires, and this is what disabled people should demand. Anything less is bigotry, plain and simple!

 

The state is not providing us equal treatment but telling all of us we should settle for less than equal

The state obviously believes disabled people are not entitled to equality but only the unreasonable accommodations those who know better what we need and deserve are willing to dole out to us. They have sent the clear, unambiguous signal that we should not expect equality but lower our expectation to the level of those, such as the state of Florida, who still hold low expectations for us

We should not live the life we want; we should be gracious and humble, living the life of low expectations, unequal treatment, and second-class status. They expect we should not be drivers in our own lives but be relegated to and settle for simply being passengers driven by those with an arrogant sense of authority who disregard our civil rights and our efforts of self-determination and self-advocacy. Unless all citizens stand up for the rights of others and demand the State Attorney prosecute those who violate these civil rights, we leave the door wide open for future discrimination and the undermining of our civil rights by the state

 

If you think this is only happening in Florida, you would be very wrong. I have faced the same arrogant condescension when advocating for guide dog users across the country. Our civil rights are minimized and trampled upon. We are seen as angry malcontents who should be grateful for the charity we receive and ignore the demeaning disregard with which we are treated.

 

The state of Florida has the strongest, most sound statute in the nation. We have used it as a model throughout the country; however, Mr. Covington and the staff of the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit are summarily nullifying it. By doing so, Mr. Covington, as an agent of the state of Florida, is actively sponsoring discrimination against the disabled. Unless we demand the state of Florida prosecute this case, we are condoning discrimination by our passivity. Unless our judicial system stands behind our fundamental civil rights, including our right of liberty, we will be unable to travel freely, unobstructed by arbitrary decisions borne of ignorance and will be relegated to second-class citizenship.

 

I urge every person who reads this article to do three things: first, call the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit at (813-272-5400 and tell them you are appalled that they condone and support discrimination against the disabled. Secondly, send this to someone else and ask them to take action. Lastly, stand up and stand behind those working to ensure the rights of the disabled by getting involved in making the change. The best way to get involved in shifting public attitudes about the blind is to become a part of the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the world – the National Federation of the Blind.    The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise expectations because low expectations are the obstacles that stand between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want. Blindness is not what holds you back.

 

For more information about the blind, the National Association of Guide dog Users, or the National Federation of the Blind, please call (813) 626-2789, email us at info@nagdu.org or visit our websites >http://www.nagdu.org> or http://ww.nfb.org.

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Who Are the Leaders of the National Association of Guide Dog Users?

Who Are the Leaders of the National Association of Guide Dog Users?

The National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU) is a strong and proud division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB believes that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of the blind because low expectations are the barriers that stand between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back!

While preparing a grant proposal recently, I asked each member of the NAGDU board to write a brief biography of themselves from a third person perspective. When I read the biographies they submitted I learned a great deal about those with whom I serve and the talent we have serving on the board of directors of NAGDU. I also realize that these brief biographies were a testament to the truth of the message of the NFB which opens this article: “You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back!” I know that these biographies only offer a glimpse of the incredible talent available to us in our grassroots membership. It also affirmed for me that the NFB, through NAGDU, is on the brink of superlative achievements that will radically shift public perception of the blind and, in doing so, unleash the incredible potential for change that lies in each one of us!

The National Association of Guide Dog Users holds its annual business meetings during the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The board of directors is elected by the membership and consists of four executive officers – president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer – and three additional board members. In order to maintain its representative function, the president and vice president must be blind and either a guide dog user or between guide dogs and a majority of the board must be blind. The current board of directors are all blind guide dog users and is comprised of the following individuals:

Marion Gwizdala has served as the president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2008. Prior to his election as president, Gwizdala served as the association’s vice president from 2004 until 2008. Marion possesses a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling with special training in Rehabilitation Counseling. Marion has been involved in disability rights advocacy since 1984, specializing in blindness and service animal issues. He is a published author, an accomplished public speaker, and an experienced workshop facilitator in the areas of psychosocial aspects of blindness, disability policy, and legal issues related to the use of service animals. Marion has been a guide dog handler since 1987. He has been involved in several high profile cases both as a complainant and an advocate. He has been instrumental in creating civil rights legislation in several states and is a recognized leader in the blindness and service/guide dog users’ movements.

Michael Hingson has served as the vice president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2008. Mike possesses a Master of Science in Physics and is a certified secondary teacher in the state of California. He is an internationally acclaimed public speaker and New York Times bestselling author for his book “Thunder Dog”, his account of his escape from the World Trade Centers during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Hingson, who has been blind from birth, now works tirelessly to educate people about blindness, Inclusion, and many other topics. He also is a well-known expert on access technology for persons with disabilities.

Antoinette “Toni” Whaley has been the treasurer of the National Association of Guide Dog Users Since 2006. She also serves as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Guide Dog Users and is the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. Toni Possesses a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. Toni worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) AND Sun Oil Company as a computer programmer. After her daughter was born, she returned to school and received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and Master of Education in Counseling. Toni was a research assistant in the Developmental Disability Center at Temple University where she developed a continuing education seminar for nurses about working with disabled patients and co-authored two papers on that subject, as well as the introductory chapter for a book about families with disabled parents. She also taught courses on the lifespan of human development at the undergraduate level

Sherrill O’Brien has served as the secretary of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2008. She is also the president of the Florida Association of Guide Dog Users and Secretary of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. Sherrill possesses a Master of Arts in teaching English as a second language and is conversant in Spanish. Sherrill is a life-long Braille reader and a tireless proponent of Braille literacy. She can often be found reading to children in Braille and teaching them about the tactile code used by the blind, as well as sharing accurate information about guide dogs.

James Boehm is our most recent addition to our board of directors, having been elected in July 2015. Jimmy is the president of the Tennessee Association of Guide Dog Users, and serves as Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. Jimmy is a senior at Middle Tennessee State University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Upon graduation in May, Jimmy will pursue a Master of Arts in counseling and licensing as a mental health counselor.

Jessica Snyder has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2014. Jessica is also the President of the New York Association of Guide Dog Users and an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of New York. She works as a Customer Service Representative for the Internal Revenue Service. Jessica enjoys skiing and competitive horseback riding, including hunt seat and Dressage, as well as Western saddle, winning a number of mainstream competitions.

Tina Thomas has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since 2012 and chairs its Social Networking Committee. Tina is the president of the California Association of Guide Dog Users and an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of California. Tina is a Braille Instructor for the Junior Blind of America in Los Angeles, California. Tina holds a 4th degree black belt in Judo. She competes internationally and is currently vying for a spot on the 2016 Para Olympic team.

The board of directors is charged with conducting the business of the Association between meetings. The board generally meets monthly via teleconference and its meetings are open for all members to observe. For more information about the National Association of Guide dog users or the National Federation of the blind, please send an email message to info@nagdu.org or visit our website at www.nagdu.org.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Service animals & the ADAFrequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA

The following information is excerpted from

http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

For more information or for advocacy guidance, please call 888-NAGDU411 (888-624-3841)

Marion Gwizdala, President

National Association of Guide Dog Users

National Federation of the blind

813-626-2789

Info@NAGDU.ORG

Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA

Many people with disabilities use a service animal in order to fully participate in everyday life. Dogs can be trained to perform many important tasks to assist people with disabilities, such as providing stability for a person who has difficulty walking, picking up items for a person who uses a wheelchair, preventing a child with autism from wandering away, or alerting a person who has hearing loss when someone is approaching from behind.

The Department of Justice continues to receive many questions about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to service animals. The ADA requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle. Accordingly, entities that have a “no pets” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities. This publication provides guidance on the ADA’s service animal provisions and should be read in conjunction with the publication ADA Revised Requirements: Service Animals.

DEFINITION OF A SERVICE ANIMAL

Q1. What is a service animal?

A. Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Q2. What does “do work or perform tasks” mean?

A. The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

Q3. Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?

A. No.  These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.  However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places.  You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.

Q4. If someone’s dog calms them when having an anxiety attack, does this qualify it as a service animal?

A. It depends. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.

Q5. Does the ADA require service animals to be professionally trained?

A. No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.

Q6. Are service-animals-in-training considered service animals under the ADA?

A. No. Under the ADA, the dog must already be trained before it can be taken into public places. However, some State or local laws cover animals that are still in training.

GENERAL RULES

Q7. What questions can a covered entity’s employees ask to determine if a dog is a service animal?

A. In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

Q8. Do service animals have to wear a vest or patch or special harness identifying them as service animals?

A. No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.

Q9. Who is responsible for the care and supervision of a service animal?

A. The handler is responsible for caring for and supervising the service animal, which includes toileting, feeding, and grooming and veterinary care. Covered entities are not obligated to supervise or otherwise care for a service animal.

Q10. Can a person bring a service animal with them as they go through a salad bar or other self-service food lines?

A. Yes. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their handlers to and through self-service food lines. Similarly, service animals may not be prohibited from communal food preparation areas, such as are commonly found in shelters or dormitories.

Q11. Can hotels assign designated rooms for guests with service animals, out of consideration for other guests?

A. No. A guest with a disability who uses a service animal must be provided the same opportunity to reserve any available room at the hotel as other guests without disabilities. They may not be restricted to “pet-friendly” rooms.

Q12. Can hotels charge a cleaning fee for guests who have service animals?

No. Hotels are not permitted to charge guests for cleaning the hair or dander shed by a service animal. However, if a guest’s service animal causes damages to a guest room, a hotel is permitted to charge the same fee for damages as charged to other guests.

Q13. Can people bring more than one service animal into a public place?

A. Generally, yes. Some people with disabilities may use more than one service animal to perform different tasks. For example, a person who has a visual disability and a seizure disorder may use one service animal to assist with way-finding and another that is trained as a seizure alert dog. Other people may need two service animals for the same task, such as a person who needs two dogs to assist him or her with stability when walking. Staff may ask the two permissible questions (See Question 7) about each of the dogs. If both dogs can be accommodated, both should be allowed in. In some circumstances, however, it may not be possible to accommodate more than one service animal. For example, in a crowded small restaurant, only one dog may be able to fit under the table. The only other place for the second dog would be in the aisle, which would block the space between tables. In this case, staff may request that one of the dogs be left outside.

Q14. Does a hospital have to allow an in-patient with a disability to keep a service animal in his or her room?

A. Generally, yes. Service animals must be allowed in patient rooms and anywhere else in the hospital the public and patients are allowed to go. They cannot be excluded on the grounds that staff can provide the same services.

Q15. What happens if a patient who uses a service animal is admitted to the hospital and is unable to care for or supervise their animal?

A. If the patient is not able to care for the service animal, the patient can make arrangements for a family member or friend to come to the hospital to provide these services, as it is always preferable that the service animal and its handler not be separated, or to keep the dog during the hospitalization. If the patient is unable to care for the dog and is unable to arrange for someone else to care for the dog, the hospital may place the dog in a boarding facility until the patient is released, or make other appropriate arrangements. However, the hospital must give the patient the opportunity to make arrangements for the dog’s care before taking such steps.

Q16. Must a service animal be allowed to ride in an ambulance with its handler?

A. Generally, yes.  However, if the space in the ambulance is crowded and the dog’s presence would interfere with the emergency medical staff’s ability to treat the patient, staff should make other arrangements to have the dog transported to the hospital.

CERTIFICATION AND REGISTRATION

Q17. Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals?

A. No.  Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.

There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.

Q18. My city requires all dogs to be vaccinated.  Does this apply to my service animal?

A. Yes.  Individuals who have service animals are not exempt from local animal control or public health requirements.

Q19. My city requires all dogs to be registered and licensed.  Does this apply to my service animal?

A. Yes.  Service animals are subject to local dog licensing and registration requirements.

Q20. My city requires me to register my dog as a service animal. Is this legal under the ADA?

A. No.  Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA.  However, as stated above, service animals are subject to the same licensing and vaccination rules that are applied to all dogs.

Q21. My city / college offers a voluntary registry program for people with disabilities who use service animals and provides a special tag identifying the dogs as service animals. Is this legal under the ADA?

A. Yes.  Colleges and other entities, such as local governments, may offer voluntary registries.  Many communities maintain a voluntary registry that serves a public purpose, for example, to ensure that emergency staff know to look for service animals during an emergency evacuation process.  Some offer a benefit, such as a reduced dog license fee, for individuals who register their service animals.  Registries for purposes like this are permitted under the ADA.  An entity may not, however, require that a dog be registered as a service animal as a condition of being permitted in public places.  This would be a violation of the ADA.

BREEDS

Q22. Can service animals be any breed of dog?

A. Yes.  The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.

Q23. Can individuals with disabilities be refused access to a facility based solely on the breed of their service animal?

A. No.  A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave.  However, if a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler, that animal may be excluded.  If an animal is excluded for such reasons, staff must still offer their goods or services to the person without the animal present.

Q24. If a municipality has an ordinance that bans certain dog breeds, does the ban apply to service animals?

A. No.  Municipalities that prohibit specific breeds of dogs must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.  Under the “direct threat” provisions of the ADA, local jurisdictions need to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal’s actual behavior or history, but they may not exclude a service animal because of fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave.  It is important to note that breed restrictions differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  In fact, some jurisdictions have no breed restrictions.

EXCLUSION OF SERVICE ANIMALS

Q25. When can service animals be excluded?

A. The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public.  Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements.  If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited.  In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded.

Q26. When might a service dog’s presence fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program provided to the public?

A. In most settings, the presence of a service animal will not result in a fundamental alteration.  However, there are some exceptions.  For example, at a boarding school, service animals could be restricted from a specific area of a dormitory reserved specifically for students with allergies to dog dander.  At a zoo, service animals can be restricted from areas where the animals on display are the natural prey or natural predators of dogs, where the presence of a dog would be disruptive, causing the displayed animals to behave aggressively or become agitated.  They cannot be restricted from other areas of the zoo.

Q27. What does under control mean?  Do service animals have to be on a leash?  Do they have to be quiet and not bark?

A. The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability. In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service animal. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times. Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.

Q28. What can my staff do when a service animal is being disruptive?

A. If a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.

Q29. Are hotel guests allowed to leave their service animals in their hotel room when they leave the hotel?

A. No, the dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.

Q30. What happens if a person thinks a covered entity’s staff has discriminated against him or her?

A. Individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.  Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit in Federal court charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.

MISCELLANEOUS

Q31. Are stores required to allow service animals to be placed in a shopping cart?

A. Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, or the person must carry the dog.  For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose alert dog, he may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to his face to allow the dog to smell his breath to alert him of a change in glucose levels.

Q32. Are restaurants, bars, and other places that serve food or drink required to allow service animals to be seated on chairs or allow the animal to be fed at the table?

A. No.  Seating, food, and drink are provided for customer use only.  The ADA gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by his or her service animal, but covered entities are not required to allow an animal to sit or be fed at the table.

Q33. Are gyms, fitness centers, hotels, or municipalities that have swimming pools required to allow a service animal in the pool with its handler?

A. No.  The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools.  However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go.

Q34. Are churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship required to allow individuals to bring their service animals into the facility?

A. No.  Religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA.  However, there may be State laws that apply to religious organizations.

Q35. Do apartments, mobile home parks, and other residential properties have to comply with the ADA?

A. The ADA applies to housing programs administered by state and local governments, such as public housing authorities, and by places of public accommodation, such as public and private universities.  In addition, the Fair Housing Act applies to virtually all types of housing, both public and privately-owned, including housing covered by the ADA.  Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are obligated to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability.  For information about these Fair Housing Act requirements see HUD’s Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-funded Programs.

Q36. Do Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, have to comply with the ADA?

A. No.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities to participate in Federal programs and services.  For information or to file a complaint, contact the agency’s equal opportunity office.

Q37. Do commercial airlines have to comply with the ADA?

A. No.  The Air Carrier Access Act is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel.  For information or to file a complaint, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, at 202-366-2220.

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Another Desensitization Session at the Zoo

As we move forward to demonstrate how live animal collections can desensitize their animals to the presence of service dog in an effort to afford the least restrictive access to disabled individuals accompanied by their service dogs, we will be posting the results of our efforts. Here is a report from Dr. larry kilmar from Lowry Park Zoologic Garden in Tampa, Florida where we are conducting our demonstration project.

Marion Gwizdala, president

Summary of Desensitization Session of June 2, 2015

by Larry Kilmar

Today we had two trainers from the Suncoast Puppy Raisers, Karen and Don along with their dogs on site for the second training session. We began the training tour by revisiting the Main Aviary. We took one dog in at a time and walked through the entire aviary with each dog. The reactions from the birds were within acceptable ranges, some vocalizing, others very watchful but none were showing a great deal of stress. Both dogs were steady and showed little to no reaction to the birds.

Next we revisited the Wallaroo station and the petting area from the outside. The goats were watchful but calm while  the llamas were very interested. The dogs were curious.

The next stop was the Giraffe Feeding Station. This was our first visit to this area. Our steadiest male giraffe, Jyoti, moved to the platform and was very interested in the dogs. Again we had one dog at a time visit the platform. At one point “Jyoti” leaned down to the level of the dog behind the fence to touch noses with the dog. A truly incredible site. Don’s dog let out with a short bark however that did not scare the giraffe. The other giraffe on exhibit was near the platform and did not react to the dogs at any time.

Our last stop was back to the Lorikeet Aviary. That was our third visit to this aviary and while the birds were vocalizing, again it was within acceptable levels. The birds would not come down to Karen to feed from the nectar cup. Interestingly, the  Blue-faced Honeyeaters were vocalizing during the entire visit and the Marbled Teal showed little concern. I believe that one more visit to this aviary and we can remove it from our restricted list.

We hope to establish two sessions a month going forward, one training session during the first and third week of the month depending on schedules.        Another successful training day!!!

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National Association Of Guide Dog Users Chooses Twilio To Power Their Hotline

The National Association Of Guide Dog Users Chooses Twilio To Power Their Hotline, Track Down Illegal Denial Of Service Issues

There’s a good reason guide dogs have “don’t pet me, I’m working” printed on their harnesses. They may be adorable, but they’re working dogs first and foremost. Guide dogs offer blind men and women tremendously valuable services from navigation, to security, to companionship. The National Association of Guide Dog Users, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, gives blind people the access, training and information they need to be successful with their guide dog.

The National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU) uses Twilio to power one of the most powerful resources they offer their members – their hotline. It provides members with instant access to critical information on the American with Disabilities Act and their rights to take their guide dogs on planes, in restaurants etc. If they need any more help, the NAGDU has a team of volunteers ready and waiting to answer any questions members might have.

Getting Back Flexibility: NAGDU Switches To Twilio

NAGDU president Marion Gwizdala started the hotline to answer common questions members had when getting accustomed to their guide dog. But their first service provider it hard for Marion to keep that hotline up and running. It was costly and brittle. Updating the hotline’s critical pre-recorded messages and announcements was a hassle. Marion had to contact his service provider, give them the audio, pay them to change the audio prompts and then wait weeks for the change to go ship. Worse, the audio quality of the hotline was less than stellar, a big sticking point for NAGDU members.

Marion contacted developer and NAGDU member Aaron Cannon to see if he had any ideas on how they could improve the hotline, and get rid of their current provide. Aaron already had a plan. He told Marion about Twilio, the pricing, and the flexibility. Marion still was skeptical. He asked Aaron “Are you sure they’re not going to change their pricing structure in six months?” Aaron was sure, and quickly got to work switching there hotline over to Twilio and joined Twilio.org

Tapping Untapped Potential: Revamping Audio Quality and Hotline Features

“My concern was not only the price but rather the flexibility, of lack thereof, to change the messages and update the messages and to do a lot more with the hotline. I saw some untapped potential,” said Cannon. “We got it all done very quickly. We’re very pleased,” he added.

When NAGDU switched to Twilio, they got to work on three primary areas of concern they had with their previous provider: audio fidelity, flexibility, and call recording.

NAGDU re-recorded all their voice prompts in a studio, confident that Twilio would deliver the level of audio fidelity their members expected. They also built a feature for NAGDU hotline volunteers that allows them to login to the hotline remotely, from their personal phone, and set hours in which they will accept hotline calls forwarded to their personal phone. However, the most valuable asset NAGDU added is call recording.

Using Twilio <Record> To Track Down Illegal Denial Of Service

When NAGDU members have an issue with denial of service in a restaurant because they have a guide dog with them, that’s not only a problem, it’s illegal. NAGDU President Marion Gwizdala heard stories time and time again about restaurants denying service, and later claiming the denial never happened.

Using Twilio, NAGDU gives members the option to call the hotline and be transferred to a volunteer while the call is being recorded. The NAGDU member who is having the issue can easily hand the phone to the restaurant owner, who will be on record with the volunteer. With this record, the NAGDU is well equipped with the evidence they need to get restaurants to respect the rights and of blind people.

NAGDU is currently working on iOS apps that integrate with the hotline as well as assembling a record of state specific regulations for guide dogs. Marion is confident they’ll be able to move fast now that they’re using Twilio.

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