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.

Guest Commentary: Fake Service Animals Are Not the Problem

Guest Commentary: Fake Service Animals Are Not the Problem

The topic of fake, or ‘phony’ service dogs is commonly discussed among service animal users, and we have previously covered it in the Sandy’s View Blog. This week, Wayne Scace, a service dog user, shares his point of view on the issue.

This is in response to the Fake Service Dogs post previously published in Sandy’s View. First of all, there isn’t a problem with ‘fake service dogs’, there is, however, a problem with non-disabled individuals faking a disability to claim rights or privileges that are not due them. Next, I would like to address the statement in the post regarding the ease of acquiring service animal equipment. I say that this ease of acquiring Service Animal gear is a good thing, and for great reasons. Restricting access to the equipment WON’T stop someone from committing the fraud of faking a disability, but it WILL have the nasty side effect of making life even more difficult for disabled citizens that have a legitimate need for service animal related equipment.

Some people who received their service animal from dog guide schools choose to purchase additional leashes and harnesses to supplement the equipment they received with their dog. Most guide dog schools in the U.S. provide leather harnesses (to my knowledge, Gallant Hearts in Mississippi is the only guide dog school that issues harnesses made from nylon webbing), so some guide dog owners buy a nylon harness to use at the beach, or in the woods because it is very easy to wash if it gets soiled. Another reason is to try out a different style of harness – a Y front as opposed to the more traditional straight front harness. For individuals who choose to train their service animal, buying their equipment is not just a handy option, but it is a necessity.

Allow me to repeat this, restricting access to service animal equipment is not a solution to the problem of people that commit the fraud of faking a disability, only to gain rights and privileges that they are not due. Educating the public and businesses about service animals and the ADA would be a more constructive way to help reduce the scourge of people faking disabilities. If a dog isn’t housebroken or out of control, an establishment can ask that it be removed and the owner may then re-enter the establishment. This applies to any dog, even a fully trained service animal.

Wal-Mart is a prime example of an establishment that doesn’t use the rights granted them under the ADA, because it forbids their employees from asking customers the two legally allowed questions (1. is that a Service Animal? and (2.) what work, or task(s) has the dog been trained to perform to mitigate your disability? This can make shopping at Wal-Mart chaotic for legitimate service animal teams.

I’ve personally experienced this backlash at Wal-Mart years ago, when I realized an employee was following us around. Needing some assistance finding something, I asked the gentleman for help. As he assisted me, I asked him why he was following us, and he told me that earlier that day, someone had brought in a badly behaved, or as he put it, ‘yappy’ dog that barked, growled, and urinated in the housewares section. He had been assigned to follow us to make sure my dog did not do the same. When I attempted to educate the employee about the two legally allowed questions, he politely thanked me for the information, and stated that Wal-Mart’s policy only allowed him to ask the first question.

The way I see it, is this: The problem of people faking a disability to receive rights and privileges that aren’t due them isn’t going to go away by restricting access to equipment. Enacting a law in Illinois that criminalizes faking a disability, as Florida has done, would, in my humble opinion, be more efficacious at combating the faker problem.

Do you have comments or questions about this or other topics? Please leave us a comment, or send an email to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org.

Commentary: On Training Wrangler and Other Future Guide Dogs

image2Training a future guide dog requires a lot of time, effort and patience. Those who watch the Today Show on a regular basis got the rare opportunity of seeing the training and socialization of Wrangler, a prospective guide dog. The Today Show partnered with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization in New York that trains guide dogs for people with vision loss. For over a year, viewers saw how puppies are trained and exposed to different social situations. Wrangler’s time on the Today Show concluded last week, and now the formal guide dog training begins!

We at the Chicago Lighthouse know firsthand the importance of well-trained guide dogs and service animals. These special dogs enable their handlers to live full and independent lives every day. People who are blind or visually impaired can travel independently with the help of guide dogs, and this obviously gives them more freedom to go wherever they please. Most importantly, these animals help their handlers travel safely, thereby giving them more confidence in going out of their comfort zone and trying out new things.

As much as we would not want to think about it, guide dogs can only work for a limited number of years, typically from 8 to 10. Handlers choose to retire these dogs for a variety of reasons. Such is the case with Promise, the faithful guide dog of Maureen Reid. Maureen is a job placement counselor at the Chicago Lighthouse, and will soon train with a new dog. Like Wrangler, Maureen’s soon to be guide dog received special training and socialization as a puppy from a volunteer puppy raising family. Thanks to this training, the pup will know how to behave and react during different situations it will likely encounter as a working dog.

I am thrilled that the Today Show and Guiding Eyes for the Blind showcased the training of Wrangler. This partnership will spread more awareness to the general public, both about what it takes to train a guide dog and about how these animals assist those with vision loss. Although guide dogs are allowed to go anywhere with their handlers, many people still refuse their entrance to businesses. I sincerely hope that by learning about Wrangler and guide dogs on the Today Show, people will become more aware about the importance of these special animals.

Kudos to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the Today Show for such an entertaining and informative project! The media has a great potential of spreading awareness about disabilities, and Wrangler’s year long appearance on the Today Show did just that. I hope that more media outlets and nonprofit organizations will join forces in the future. Finally, best of luck to Wrangler on his formal guide dog training! I’m sure he will be a great guide dog thanks to all the support he received from his puppy raiser, the Today Show and of course the thousands of viewers who kept track of his training and progress!

How Do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Travel in Snowy and Cold Weather?

SCOTLAND Snow 140159 Weather December Snow

I had just gotten out of a lecture in college, when a classmate pointed out that it was snowing pretty hard and that there were already a couple of inches. This happened in 2011, a year when Chicago had a very brutal winter. I knew my commute back home would not be easy when my classmate gave me these not so great news! The ground was covered with snow, so even knowing where the sidewalk was became difficult. Crossing the street also became a nightmare. Needless to say, I got disoriented on my way home more than once.

 

Traveling in snow is challenging for everyone, but it can present additional obstacles for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Like anyone else, we must still go on with our activities during the winter – hibernating is not an option! While winter travel will always create hardships, there are a few tips and tricks that might help relieve some of the challenges for both blind and sighted individuals.

 

Most people are not aware, but snow muffles the sounds of things. Someone who is blind or has significant low vision relies on echoes and other sounds to orient themselves to their surroundings, so naturally snow will make this difficult. Crossing streets can also become challenging, as it can be harder to hear the sound of cars. Snow also interferes with the information we get with our canes. When streets, sidewalks and grass are covered in snow, it is difficult, if not impossible for cane users to know where we are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten thrown off my path because I had no idea where the sidewalk begins and ends!

 

Dog guide users have other challenges when dealing with ice and snow. While the salt is wonderful for getting rid of the ice, it can hurt a dog’s paws. Blind dog guide users won’t always know if or where salted spots are located, so they must take additional precautions to prevent their four-legged companions from getting their paws hurt. Dog boots can help keep the paws warm and prevent injury from the salt or other sharp objects hidden under the ice and snow.

 

Perhaps the best advice for blind and visually impaired individuals is to be cautious when traveling in the winter. The white cane is generally good at detecting snow and icy spots, so take precaution and walk at a slower pace if need be in these areas. If you get disoriented and need assistance, don’t hesitate to ask whoever is nearby for help. Of course, when it snows it’s generally cold, and this can make traveling outside more unpleasant — keep in mind that you might already be traveling at a slower pace to begin with! Always bundle up when traveling in extremely cold temperatures.

 

When winter conditions are extremely cold or dangerous, you might want to look at other forms of transportation. If you feel unsafe waiting for a bus or train in cold or icy weather, it might be a good idea to consider taking a cab, Uber or asking a friend or family member for a ride. Of course, there will be times when you will absolutely have to wait for public transportation outside. Always bundle up with extra layers of clothing and find a shelter to protect you from the inclement weather in this situation.

 

Winter is hard on all of us, and it is something we have to deal with each year whether we like it or not. Coping with this often brutal weather is no walk in the park for anyone, but by having good independent travel skills and using our common sense, we’ll be able to safely get around. If you want more tips on how to travel during the winter as a blind or visually impaired individual, read this article from the Lighthouse Guild. Stay warm, and safe travels to everyone!

How Do Blind and Visually Impaired People Get Around?

Woman with dog 085Being blind or visually impaired doesn’t mean you automatically lose the independence of getting to and from places whenever you please. Several techniques and methods can help people get around safely regardless of their amount of vision. I will briefly talk about the different methods and how they work.

When in familiar places, visually impaired people generally know the layout and memorize where things are. Learning to travel in different or unfamiliar places is done by using orientation and mobility (O&M) skills. Orientation is the actual planning of how to get to and from places. Blind and visually impaired people use other senses – like sound, touch and smell – to orient ourselves to our surroundings. So, if I am walking outside and know there is a school nearby, then I can assume that it is near when I hear children playing and laughing. Likewise, the smell of freshly baked bread and cookies tells me I am near a bakery.

Memory is also important when traveling as a person without vision. We memorize important street names, locations, etc. Contrary to common belief, we do not count our steps! Those with low vision may use their other senses along with their remaining vision to get around.

Mobility is the physical traveling done to get to and from places. This includes walking, taking public transportation or even getting a ride from friends or family. Mobility devices are the tools we use to travel independently and safely from point A to point B:

  • The white cane helps people who are blind or severely visually impaired know when there are tripping hazards such as cracks, poles, etc. The cane is swept from side to side to clear one’s path from these and other obstacles. Other techniques allow us to know when we’ve reached a crosswalk or the entrance to a room. The white cane also signals to drivers that the pedestrian about to cross the street is visually impaired.
  • Guide dogs are service animals that have received special and extensive training to guide blind and visually impaired individuals. These dogs guide their handlers around obstacles and can also help find things like entrances, escalators and elevators. It is up to the handler to tell the dog where to go – it is only there to lead the person and help him or her arrive safely to the desired destination.
  • A sighted (or human) guide is probably the simplest of all the methods, and is the proper way of assisting someone who may need help getting somewhere. A blind person is guided by someone else by holding on to their arm. This method is preferred by some of us when in unfamiliar places or if there are large crowds.
  • Various technology devices are now making it easier for blind and visually impaired people to find their way around. We will cover this area in a future Sandy’s View post.

All of these methods are equally effective. There is no one right method for every person given that we all have different needs, preferences and lifestyles. Other types of accessibility features, such as audible announcements on buses and trains are of enormous help to people with visual impairments. While not everyone might need this type of assistance, it is great to know it is available.

What other methods or techniques help you get around as a blind or visually impaired person? Are there other accessibility features that help you be more independent in your travels? Please comment! You can also send any blindness and visual impairment related questions to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Have a great weekend, and safe travels out there!