Wheelchairs, walkers and canes oh my…

Scooters and service dogs too to be fair. Personally I’ve used canes and walkers and obviously my service dog Oak. Let’s talk accessibility!

Ideally every building, parking lot and public space should be decked out for us mobility challenged people. That unfortunately is not the case, some places try but for the most part only the bare minimum of the law is achieved.

My previous office building, where I worked for 10 years before my MS and other health issues decided my body and brain just couldn’t do it anymore, had quite a few disability parking spots. That was great, the down side to that is that you have to get there early because those spots are shared with three buildings. The building also had buttons that open the doors for you in case you can’t. Most cases this is if you’re in a wheelchair or walker or scooter, but opening heavy doors with or without a service dog is challenging for me due to muscle atrophy and a tore biceps tendon. Going into the building the buttons worked, going out of the building it did not. I advised the maintenance workers of the problem and it worked for a week before it stopped working again.

I don’t believe that people who work in buildings or maintain them think about those of us who are forced to use other methods of transportation for our bodies.

When I go to the store I can walk with my service dog and that is great, he keeps me from falling down. As a short person I see the issues that people in wheelchairs or scooters face. What happens if the thing needed is on the top two shelves? When it happens to me I have to wait for a tall person to walk by and beg the for help. Now, imagine that you cannot reach above chest or abdomen level every time you have to go shopping.

Both schools my children attend only have FOUR disability spots for parking. I can guarantee there are more than 4 people who need those spots because when my son was in kindergarten and most of first grade I had to arrive an hour early in order to have a parking spot so I could go fetch him from line. When there is a back to school night or even at either school I have to arrive more than 30 minutes before a normal person would to ensure that I can have a spot.

The current law in the USA for ADA parking is based on how many parking spaces you have in the lot. The other law for accessibility depends on the setup of buildings, an outdoor mall requires a certain amount of spaces based on access to different outdoor buildings. An indoor mall only has to have handicap spots next to an entrance. Now, if you enter an indoor mall for example there are escalators and regular stairs but elevators are less frequent. People in wheelchairs, scooters, walkers or service dogs cannot take anything but an elevator.

Next time I will talk about some places that people don’t often think about access unless they require it or are with someone who does.

 

Service Dog Laws – Know Your Rights

Something that everyone needs to be aware of is their rights under the law. Especially when you have a disability, regardless of whether or not you have a service dog, laws are there for a reason and you should know yours.

Having a service dog is very helpful for me, but it also comes with the responsibility of being aware of my rights as a person and the laws that are in place to protect me. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to inform people what they are saying to me is incorrect and actually illegal. I am writing about this so that you are aware and hopefully you take this information and learn about your rights.

Per ADA.gov below are the requirements for a service dog in the United States:

  • Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
  • Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.

“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. ADA FAQ

The portion about Service Dogs not being pets is a VERY important distinction because “pets” do not have the same laws protecting them. You must think of a Service Dog as medical equipment, it is required for the handler, much in the way a wheelchair is needed for people who are unable to walk. You would not pet someones wheelchair or tell them they cannot bring it into a store because it’s medically needed.

“When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two 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 cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.” ADA Service Dog Requirements

Legally here the only answers I have to provide the staff of where I am located is “yes” and “brace and balance”. The downside to this is that those questions are rarely the ones I get, I get asked if I am training him a lot. The answer to this question is always no, this is an important question though because legally, service dogs in training are not protected by ADA laws.

You cannot be asked to leave or move due to someone else’s allergy or fear of dogs. This is illegal. This gets a bit tricky and very frustrating when you services like Uber or Lyft. I was in California twice and the drivers in San Francisco were less pissy about my service dog than the ones in San Diego. The driver is legally allowed to tell you they will not take you in their car if they have an allergy, though they have to get you another ride and there is no way to actually confirm they have an allergy or just don’t want dog hair in their car. I had this happen in both locations, once the driver in San Diego told me to keep my dog on the floor of his very small sedan in which his seat went back all the way so my husband had to sit in the front with his knees in his chest so I could put Oak on the floor. It would be helpful if there was a way to indicate on your request that you have a service dog so you could get an SUV with no additional cost so there is a place to put them while allowing everyone to sit comfortably.

Per the ADA laws, you are not required to have your service dog in a vest; I do because I signed a contract with Freedom Service Dogs and Oak was trained to know he is working when wearing the vest so for him it’s important. You are not required to have an ID or paperwork proving your dog is a service dog. Do not let a business tell you otherwise.

I had an issue last year at my youngest son’s school. I was invited to have lunch with him, he was so excited. Oak and I showed up to school and went through the lunch line to get our lunches, I got some dirty looks from one of the women working there. She made a comment about how she didn’t know if Oak was allowed. I informed her he was indeed allowed, apparently later she asked questions about me and my disability to the school nurse who is very much aware of my situation because she’s nice and I share information with nice people. The nurse also informed the woman that my service dog is allowed. After lunch we went outside to play, at a different teacher told me my dog was not allowed on school property. I advised her that he is a service dog and actually is legally allowed to be there. She gave me some attitude at which time I chose to leave because I was getting very angry. I told my son that I enjoyed having lunch with him but was going to leave so I didn’t ruin his recess by getting into an argument with a person who doesn’t know the law.

People who work at schools should be informed of the laws, chances are they may not have to deal with service dogs, but just in case, they should not be ignorant. A few days later, after I cooled down, I gave business cards with ADA law to the front desk and the school nurse and advised them to enlighten the employees because I did not appreciate what I had to deal with that day.

Having a chronic illness is exhausting, I have enough with trying to be a mom, wife and full-time employee. I do not need the extra stress that comes with ignorance, and neither do other people. Knowing your rights is important, standing up for those rights is even more important. While taking on the task of teaching other people the law is not something that I enjoy, I will do it because I am hoping it makes it easier for someone else in the future. If I can help one person from having the experience I did then I will continue to do it.

Getting My Service Dog

I went through the application and interview process with Freedom Service Dogs and was so happy and grateful when I was accepted. The next step was to wait on the waiting list until they called to tell me they had a dog that they thought matched with me.

What this means is matched for personality and needs. I was asked to come meet my potential service dog. It was love, he was awkward, silly and had a beard that made him look like an old man. It was summer when we met so I was wearing a dress and he got his head stuck in it and all confused trying to get out. It was hysterical. At the end of the meeting they asked me if I was interested in him and I jokingly said he could either be my service dog or they would have to chase a disabled person with a dog to get him back.

Freedom Service Dogs did all the training prior to when I started working with him. He had all the tasks I needed ready in his brain. Now, it was my turn to learn the commands, hand signs and him to learn about me. We had several weeks of training, several weeks of bonding and more than two years later I cannot imagine my life without him. Some days going out is kind of like having a toddle in toe, because you have to get them dressed, make sure you have treats (aka snacks) and know that it will take longer doing whatever it is you’re doing because people will stop you and ask questions.

All of that is worth it though, I don’t have to focus on my feet anymore because he does that for me. If I drop something I know he will pick it up, I know I have my own little support system when I am alone, because he is there to help me.

He is allowed to go everywhere, so if you have a service dog, know the laws in your area. The US has ADA laws that allow you to go everywhere the public goes and bring your service dog along with you. Do not allow people into bullying you not to be somewhere.

The laws, rights and trouble I have run in to will be my next service dog post. So if you are interested in knowing more about that, keep an eye open for that.