Guest Commentary: On Why Requiring Licensing of Service Animals is Impractical

Guest Commentary: On Why Requiring Licensing of Service Animals is Impractical
Today’s guest post is from Wayne Scace, who comments on a proposed bill in Illinois that would require service dogs to be licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). Readers might remember Wayne’s previous commentary about fake service animals.

I am writing today, in response to the proposed bill HB3162 sponsored by Illinois Rep. Natalie A. Manley. This is representative Manley’s second attempt to pass a service animal licensing law in Illinois. HB3162 is identical to HB5807 from 2016. I am writing as a service dog owner, owner trainer, and a concerned Illinois citizen who would be negatively impacted should this bill become law.

The majority of the provisions of this bill run counter to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by requiring licensure of Service dogs. Provisions within this bill propose a gross invasion of the right to privacy of Illinois citizens, and discriminate against a protected class. Last year after HB5807 did not make it out of the Rules Committee, Ms. Manley received input from myself, other service dog owners, and Heartland Service Dogs, Inc. one of the few service dog training organizations in Illinois. Yet, Ms. Manley has cavalierly chosen to ignore the preponderance of that input and inflicted HB3162 upon the state. The provisions in HB3162 that run counter to those of the ADA would be unenforceable for the following reasons.

The provision requiring that a service dog be licensed, in a vest, cape or wear a harness or that an Identification card be carried is directly against the ADA, as per the service animal FAQ issued in 2015 by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ):

“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 special harness.”

The provision requiring that a service dog behave in the home, is problematic as it is an invasion of privacy. Mandating proof that a service dog be trained to perform three tasks is also counter to the ADA, given that it only sets a minimum of one task. Besides, service animals, such as guide dogs, seizure response dogs, or diabetic alert dogs only perform one task. Again from the DOJ 2015 service animal FAQs:

“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.”….

This bill appears to be a clear attempt to legislate away the right of the disabled citizens of Illinois to choose to train their own service dog. Which is allowed under the ADA. From Question five from the service dog FAQs:

“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.”

Additionally, some states, including Illinois, permit service dogs in training into public places under the Illinois White Cane Law. (775 ILCS 30/3) (From Ch. 23, par. 3363):

“Every totally or partially blind or hearing impaired person, person who is subject to epilepsy or other seizure disorders, or person who has any other physical disability or a trainer of support dogs, guide dogs, seizure-alert dogs, seizure-response dogs, or hearing dogs shall have the right to be accompanied by a support dog or guide dog especially trained for the purpose, or a dog that is being trained to be a support dog, guide dog, seizure-alert dog, seizure-response dog, or hearing dog, in any of the places listed in this Section without being required to pay an extra charge for the guide, support, seizure-alert, seizure-response, or hearing dog; provided that he shall be liable for any damage done to the premises or facilities by such dog. (Source: P.A. 99-143, eff. 7-27-15.)”

In conclusion, this bill is unnecessary, as the ADA and Illinois laws are already adequate. Some folks may suggest that getting a license for a service dog is analogous to getting a driver’s license or a handicapped placard, but that is erroneous. Getting a driver’s license or handicapped parking placard are privileges. Being accompanied in public by our service dogs, which are legally classed as durable medical equipment, is a civil right.

Commentary: Making Gyms Accessible Benefits Everyone

A few years ago, I attended a seminar about the Americans with Disabilities Act at my local Center for Independent Living in an effort to learn more about what this legislation does and does not cover. Much to my surprise, I learned more than I expected, including the fact that the ADA covers fitness facilities. Gyms, for example, should have accessible exercise equipment, including accessible swimming pools.

These regulations for making fitness facilities accessible to customers with disabilities went into effect in 2012. Still, much more needs to be done to implement said requirements. Recently, LA Fitness modified its membership policy to accommodate patrons with disabilities in New York who need aids to accompany them into the health clubs. The membership fee for these assistants will be waved, and the policy will also require New York LA Fitness locations to train their staff on such policies.

Contrary to popular belief, people with all types of disabilities can and do need to exercise just like everyone else. Disabilities set aside, we have the same need to exercise in order to maintain good fitness and health. It is even more important considering that people with disabilities are less likely to participate in any form of exercise plan. Combined with a high unemployment rate and – in some cases – isolation from the community or other social activities, the sedentary lifestyle of many people with disabilities can lead to poor fitness, obesity and health complications like hypertension and diabetes.

Making gyms accessible is not as hard as it might seem. Simply moving equipment around to give someone in a wheelchair enough room to transfer might be all a customer with a physical disability needs to be able to access the exercise equipment. Someone who is blind or has low vision might benefit from one-on-one, hands-on instruction from a personal trainer, and large print and Braille labels will allow him or her to operate exercise machines independently. By adopting policies similar to that of LA Fitness, those with disabilities who require someone’s assistance will allow these individuals to partake in all the facility has to offer. To me, it is all a matter of finding creative, and often simple, accessibility solutions.

People with disabilities have the same right to exercise and be fit and healthy. Not only does working out help us obtain good health, but it also gives everyone a great opportunity to socialize and meet others. Gyms should create an accessible and welcoming environment for people with disabilities. By doing this, they will both comply with the law, and help an often overlooked community maintain good health and create more social opportunities. In what other ways can gyms be made more accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities? Please share your thoughts!

Commentary: Making Classroom Technology Accessible for All

Last week, the Federal government and Miami University in Ohio reached an agreement to provide access and equal opportunity to activities and classes for students with disabilities. The lawsuit – which came from a student who is blind – accused Miami University of failing to provide accommodations to students with disabilities and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Among other things, Miami University will make accessibility improvements in the technologies it currently uses, as well as meet with students with disabilities in order to develop a plan to make accommodations for each student.

Many people might wonder why there is still an accessibility problem in colleges and other facilities. After all, the ADA has been around for 26 years, so surely colleges and universities have all implemented changes to make buildings more accessible. This is accurate in the sense that many schools throughout the United States have installed ramps, elevators, Braille signs and wide entrances. Since the ADA was passed into law in 1990, it does not include accessibility standards for modern technology. Although independent organizations have developed standards to make websites more accessible, for example, few businesses or institutions adopt them, often because they are unaware they exist.

I know all too well about how inaccessible technology can present challenges to college students who are blind, because I myself experienced this situation in school. While my classmates could easily log on to computers in the library or computer lab, I would often show up just to find out that screen-reading technology was nonexistent on those machines. In other words, even finding an accessible computer can be difficult, often impossible, for students with disabilities. I was lucky to have my own accessible laptop, but there were still times when I desperately needed to do school work on another computer. The time when my laptop crashed right before finals is the first instance that comes to mind!

In today’s day and age, assistive technology helps people with disabilities be more independent and successful. Thanks to it, we can go to school, have jobs and be involved in social activities. Screen-reading and magnifying technology allows those of us with vision loss to use computers, smartphones and tablets just like everyone else. Technology is becoming more and more important in today’s world, and that is why schools should always consider the accessibility needs of its students with disabilities. Like anyone else, they want and deserve a positive experience while pursuing their education.

I hope that this agreement between Miami University and the Federal government will help create more awareness for other schools regarding the accessibility of their classes and other activities. This will in turn create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students.

Top 5 Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities

October is national disability and employment awareness month. During the entire month, numerous organizations and advocacy groups throughout the United States hold events to promote and educate employers about hiring of people with disabilities. Below are what many consider to be some of the many reasons and benefits of hiring and including people with vision loss or other disabilities in the workforce.

  1. People with disabilities are reliable employees and have an overall higher job retention rate.

Many studies have shown that people with disabilities take less absence days, and that they are more likely to stay on the job longer than non-disabled workers. Recently, The Chicago Lighthouse studied the retention rate of employees in itsIllinois Tollway call center, which employs people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veterans (as well as people without disabilities.) On average, the employees with vision loss or other disabilities and Veterans had a retention rate of 1.7 years. In contrast, the retention rate for employees without disabilities or that were not Veterans was only 0.9 years.

  1. Employees with disabilities are less likely to get into work related accidents.

Two studies, one from the Department of Labor Statistics during the 1940s and a more recent one from the DuPont company concluded that workers with disabilities had a significantly higher performance in the area of safety than their counterparts without disabilities. In other words, employees with disabilities are more aware and conscientious of safety in the workplace. Both studies looked at different types of jobs, including labor, operational, managerial, clerical and service areas.

  1. Businesses that hire people with disabilities may receive tax credits or other incentives.

Eligible businesses can receive certain tax credits to aid them in hiring and accommodating workers with disabilities. Many of these credits are awarded for expenses incurred in things like purchasing adaptive equipment for workers with disabilities, or covering the costs of any modifications needed to make the building accessible. You can read more about the different types of tax credits and eligibility requirements onthis page from the IRS.

  1. Workers with disabilities will increase diversity in the workplace.

Both workers with and without disabilities benefit equally from a diverse work setting. By working alongside employees with disabilities, individuals who are not disabled will become more aware about how to make the workplace and other settings more inclusive and accessible to everyone. They might consider things they had never thought of before, such as the accessibility challenges faced by people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities can also teach their coworkers about creativity and other ways to solve problems or accomplish different tasks.

  1. People with disabilities are as capable as anyone else!

This is the most simple, but difficult reason for employers to understand about hiring workers with disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities has constantly hovered at or above 70 percent, even 26 years after the passage of the ADA. Unfortunately, employers often refuse to hire individuals with disabilities, simply because they believe we are not capable of doing the job, or because they are unaware about the many adaptive techniques and devices that are available and allow us to work. Like anyone else, we apply to jobs we believe we are qualified for and capable of doing. If employers have doubts about if or how we will do a particular task, chances are that we have already thought about it and found a solution.

The following page lists common myths about hiring people with disabilities. What other reasons or benefits would you add to this list?

How do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Vote?

How do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Vote?

Early voting for the 2016 elections began today in Illinois. This is a good opportunity for those that have already decided who they will vote for to cast their ballot ahead of time and avoid the long lines on November 8th. People who are blind or visually impaired have options for voting independently. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Help America Vote Act of 2002 guarantee equal access for voters with disabilities. Like everyone else, voters with vision loss can vote in person or cast an absentee ballot by mail. We can either have a trusted friend or family member help us fill out the ballot, or – when voting in person at the polling place – use accessible voting machines.

Absentee Voting

People with vision loss can request an absentee ballot, which they will complete and return to their election office by mail. While a major advantage of this is that voters can do this at home and during their own time, the drawback is that they will need a person with sight to fill out the ballot for them. Still, this may be a good option for those who will not be able to cast their vote on Election Day, or who are unable to leave their home because of health or other circumstances. Although some states are beginning to make online ballots available, this is still an uncommon practice.

Voting in Person

By voting in person – either during early voting or on Election Day – voters with vision loss can take advantage of the accessible voting systems available to people with disabilities. Once at his or her local polling place, a voter can request to use an accessible voting machine. These machines offer both touch screen and audio ballots. The audio ballot can be accessed by connecting a special keypad and headset to the machine. Voters can adjust the speed and volume of the speech and make their selections. People with low vision can use the touch screen ballot and adjust the print size and contrast.

Unfortunately, voters with vision loss might encounter times when poll workers are unfamiliar with setting up accessible voting equipment. This happened to me when I voted for the first time in 2008. Thankfully, the staff was able to figure it out after a few minutes, but this is not always the case. Voters who are unable to access the special equipment, or who would prefer to have someone read the ballot, can have it read to them. They can either have a trusted friend or family member or poll worker read and mark their ballot. While this might be a good option for some, I encourage voters to use the accessible equipment whenever possible, as this gives us full independence and privacy.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to vote and elect my government officials. This is a privilege and right that all Americans should exercise. Thanks to comprehensive legislation and modern technology, voters with vision loss can participate in elections independently and privately. If you would like more information about the resources available to voters with vision loss or other disabilities,visit this page from the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Have you voted in past elections using the accessible voting equipment? Please share your experiences with our readers!

Commentary: Including Voters with Disabilities in the Election Process

Voters with disabilities are projected to play a significant role in the 2016 presidential elections, or so a recent report indicates. Researchers at the Rutgers School of Management estimate that 35.6 million individuals with disabilities will be eligible to vote by November 2016. On the other hand, only 28.7 million African Americans and 29.5 Latinos will be eligible. The number increases to 62.7 million when taking into account families, caregivers and anyone affected by disability matters.

Around 56 million people in the United States have a disability, and many go as far as describing us as the largest minority in the United States. This new report about voters with disabilities suggests that such description might be right. People with disabilities are everywhere, and we also want our voice to be heard. The reality is that we are all prone to becoming disabled, and more attention should be given to this group by politicians. Access to better health care, more employment opportunities and accessible housing are just some of the topics of concern to the millions of Americans living with, or caring for, someone with a disability.

The number of eligible voters with disabilities is without a doubt significant, but it leads me to wonder how many will actually cast their ballots independently? Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Help America Vote Act insure that everyone has equal access to polling places and voting equipment. Unfortunately, many Americans with disabilities are still unintentionally excluded from the election process. Polling places might be inaccessible to wheelchair users, or staff is unaware about how to operate the special equipment that can help those with vision loss vote independently. More attention should be given to the difficulties voters with disabilities encounter.

These and other issues should be brought to light by the media. More often than not, media places a lot of emphasis on topics of concern to minority groups like Latinos and African-Americans, but not much is said about those who have or know someone with a disability. This, I think, is partly why the general public often overlooks this group. Challenges faced by all minorities are important, and those encountered by people with disabilities are not the exception. Not only can exposing these important issues shed light about the things that affect us the most, but it will also help everyone become better informed and elect the best candidates.

What pressing issues do you have as a person with a disability? Do you think the media and politicians in general need to pay more attention to these concerns? Please share your thoughts! Stay tuned to Sandy’s View, where we will discuss how people who are blind or visually impaired can vote independently in the upcoming elections.

Commentary: On Celebrating 26 Years of the ADA

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, it forbids discrimination against people with disabilities in public places. This includes restaurants, stores, hotels, transportation and other public places. The commemoration of this anniversary is an opportunity for those of us with disabilities to reflect on how the ADA has helped us, and what still needs to be done. This week, I have compiled my list of top five ways the ADA has helped people with disabilities, and the work that is still left to do to achieve full equality.

  1. Accessible public transportation has made it easier for people with disabilities to travel independently. Audible announcements on buses and trains allow people like me with vision loss to know where we are and when we need to get on or off. Meanwhile, buses and trains equipped with ramps and accessible seating enable those with mobility impairments to use public transportation independently.
  1. Access to public places gives people with disabilities the freedom and independence to go wherever we please. Curb cuts and ramps allow individuals who use wheelchairs to be out and about on the street and enter places like restaurants, stores, school and their workplace. Braille signs on restrooms, elevators and other rooms allow people who are blind to know where we are in a building without needing much, if any, assistance.
  1. The general public is becoming more aware about the capabilities and needs of those of us with disabilities. Prior to the ADA, the lack of access prevented many people with disabilities from going out independently. The accessible environment established after the ADA allows us to be more integrated in our communities, thereby allowing non-disabled people to know us better.
  1. The unemployment rate for people with vision loss has constantly been between 70 and 75percent, and this is also true for people with other disabilities. The ADA prohibits job discrimination, but employers often have unfounded misconceptions about people with disabilities. Although I might be the most qualified candidate for a job, an employer simply might not hire me because I am blind. This is a situation which people with disabilities know all too well. It will take more than a piece of legislation to change these persisting attitudes.
  1. Today’s technologically driven world isn’t always easy for people with disabilities to navigate. ATMs, vending machines and other kiosks found in countless businesses can be difficult, if not impossible, for people with disabilities to use. Not all machines have audio or tactile accessibility features, so I and countless others cannot use them independently. Technology manufacturers can avoid this problem all together by incorporating accessibility into their products from the start.

There’s no doubt that the ADA has been instrumental in providing Americans with Disabilities with more access and countless opportunities. Thanks to this legislation, people like me can go out to events, school and work, just like everyone else. My hat goes off to all the politicians, advocates and persons with disabilities who fought tirelessly for the ADA to become law. There is still much more to do, and we should all continue fighting for a truly accessible and inclusive environment.

How has the ADA benefited you as a person with a disability? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us!