Access to Public Places – We get left out.

Second post on access for people who need mobility assistance. The first post was more about parking and grocery stores or places like Target with access for people who require aid. This post will go over places we go where accessibility isn’t really considered.

Malls: The lack of good accessibility is troublesome for me in particular because the mall by us has an elevator in the 3 department stores and one in the middle of the mall. The elevators in the department stores are usually quite a distance from the main entrance. When I went to the mall a while back with my family they took the escalator while I searched out an elevator because I know that being with me trying to find access is a pain in the ass. Service dogs, walkers, scooters and wheelchairs cannot go up escalators or stairs (well service dogs can take stairs, but I can’t and usually I regret it if I try because I fall a lot). For me, extended periods of walking make my internal temp increase significantly and then I start to lose all feeling in my legs like they’re Jell-O. No matter where I ended up in the mall I had to walk out of my way to find an elevator.

Restaurants: Think about a place you may frequent, do they have wide isles or are the tables very close together with narrow walkways? Most of the places I go for date night have narrow walkways to accommodate more tables which makes walking in with Oak a challenge. For the most part they also have tables where the legs are not easily used for wheelchairs and service dogs. Oak has to go under the table when we eat but if the legs are too close together or have wide bases it’s hard for him to go under so he ends up closer to the isles where people walk. When were went to Ouray in June we ate a restaurant where the seating was on the roof, with no elevator, only stairs. I did it, but my body did not appreciate it one bit.

Amusement parks: I have only been to the one in Denver since being diagnosed and I know from research the bigger places like Universal and Disneyland have more things for people with mobility issues. Over all access is not a problem around the park, it becomes an issue with the rides though. Roller coasters and anything that spins are an issue for me due to my extreme vertigo from my meniere’s disease. You cannot take a service dog on rides so you have someone your with to hold them while it’s your turn so you cannot be on a ride with everyone at the same time, ever. I used a walker when we went because it was so hot that I was pretty sure Oak would be miserable trying to walk on the very hot cement. Heat poses an issue for my MS too, so I have to go with a cooling vest, cooling cloth and a portable fan. There isn’t much in the way of shady spots though so after a couple of hours when those cooling things are no longer cool and you cant have a cooler with you its just a matter of time before the heat takes a serious tole.

For those who are in wheelchairs, if they can transfer themselves or walk short distances it would probably work, but wouldn’t it be amazing if they made a cart on the roller coasters that wheelchairs can lock into? Can you imagine how much better that person would feel not having to depend on someone every time they want to go on a ride?

As a person with mobility issues I can tell you that access sucks. It’s not inclusive for most places, it’s depressing when you feel left out because of something you cannot control. No one chooses to require mobility aids, and we all want to do the same things we could do before or do the things that our friends and family can do.

I challenge you to look at the places you go with a new view of the way it’s laid out. Imagine you are in a wheelchair, would you be able to maneuver around easily or would it take other people to help you?

 

 

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.