Posts Tagged 'Americans with Disabilities Act'

One step at a time

Twenty-five short years ago, the United States Capitol had no wheelchair ramps. You read that right. The monument that pretty much defines American equality and justice was inaccessible to people using wheelchairs.

Disable demonstrators crawl the Capitol steps. Photo: Action for Access, Tom Olin

Disable demonstrators crawl the Capitol steps. Photo: Action for Access, Tom Olin

In 1990, activists in Washington, D.C. struggled out of their wheelchairs and crawled up the Capitol steps to urge lawmakers to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Capitol Crawl and other demonstrations across the country were modeled on tactics used in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and they helped push legislators to pass the ADA on July 26, 1990 — 25 years ago.

While the memoir classes I lead are on a short hiatus, I’ve been dedicating more time to my part-time job at Easter Seals Headquarters in Chicago. I’m the Interactive Community Coordinator there, which is just a fancy title that means I moderate the Easter Seals Blog. I keep my ear open for articles and issues concerning disabilities and recruit guest bloggers to write posts about those topics. They email the posts to me, I edit them and add html code, and, presto! Their posts get published.

Come to think of it, You have Easter Seals to thank — or blame — for this Safe & Sound blog. It was at Easter Seals that I learned to use the blogging tools, and now this month at Easter Seals we are “celebrating one of the most important civil rights legislations of our time.”

Accessible design is so common now that some people find it hard to remember life without curb cuts, wheelchair ramps and Braille on elevator buttons. An NPR reporter interviewed Katy Neas, a colleague of mine from Easter Seals Headquarters to remind us what things were like back in the 20th Century.

Katy told the reporter that back then too many people with disabilities were out of sight and out of the minds of the general public. “There was a lot of ignorance about the interests and abilities of people with disabilities,” she said. “Discrimination and low expectations were part of the mainstream culture. Why would someone who uses a wheelchair want to go to the movies? Why would someone who is blind want to eat in a restaurant?”

That last quote stopped me in my tracks. We’ve come a long way, baby. I learned at work that 25 years ago, Easter Seals hired a Minneapolis ad agency to create posters for adults and children with disabilities to bring along to protests and events across the country. The posters were used in print public service announcements, too. More from the NPR story:

As an outspoken advocate for the ADA, Easter Seals created a series of powerful posters that illustrated the dilemmas — and desires — of disabled Americans and helped the country understand the reasons for, and responsibilities resulting from, the anti-discrimination legislation.

We’ve still got a ways to go (25 years after the ADA was passed, the unemployment rate among people who are blind still hovers around 75%) but we really have come a long way in a short time. Just look at the posters now for an idea of what things were like for people with disabilities back in the dark ages. Happy Independence Day to Americans with Disabilities.

LGBT community is not alone

A cab driver who picked my Seeing Eye dog and me up once had such a heavy accent that I couldn’t tell what he was saying. “Dog face on floor,” he demanded. “Saliva.” He repeated that word a few times to help me understand. “Saliva. Saliva. Saliva.” Was it his mantra?

That's Floey and Ray with Great Aunt Beth at the Indianapolis zoo. We didn't catch the elephant's name.

That’s Floey and Ray with Great Aunt Beth at the Indianapolis zoo. We didn’t catch the elephant’s name.

My face must have betrayed my confusion, because the driver went on to explain that he was Muslim, and in his religion dog saliva is impure. “Dog mouth is near me, seven times I must wash.”

The driver understood that United States law required him to pick up people with disabilities who use service dogs, he just wanted me to keep my dog’s face on the ground, far from him. Whitney wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I appreciated him explaining this to me, and I’ve long believed that reasonable accommodation goes both ways. I commanded “Down!” Whitney laid at my feet, and I placed my hand on her head to keep her there.

Once home, I looked this dog saliva thing up, and sure enough, the ruling comes from the hadith:

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times.”

That cab ride came to mind again last week after Indiana’s divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act made news. If the Governor signed it the way it was originally worded, I wondered if Muslim cab drivers in Indiana would have the right to refuse people with disabilities who used service dogs.

As it happened, my niece Janet invited me to join her and her two youngest kids on a Spring Break road trip to Indianapolis last week, so we were there the very day the Indiana governor signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Nine-year-old Floey loves to practice her sighted-guide skills with Great Aunt Beth, and 6-year-old Ray never tires of folding and unfolding Great Aunt Beth’s white cane, so Whitney got a Spring Break, too: she stayed at home and played with my husband Mike while I was gone . I didn’t hear about the new amended law until I got back home — sounds like if Whitney comes along the next time I head to Indiana, the law is still on our side.

Uber’s policy about service dogs

Last night my Seeing Eye dog and I took an Uber ride to a special “accessible” performance of the play Great Expectations. From the Victory Gardens web site:

Wednesday, December 10 at 8:00 PM
Access Services include: Audio Description, Closed Captioning, Wheelchair accessibility, free UBER Transportation

All things being equal, I'd rather just walk.

All things being equal, I’d rather just walk.

Mike wasn’t interested in going, and I’ve been curious to see how a Uber driver would react to a rider with a service dog. So gee, if the ride to the theatre would be free, last night seemed like the perfect time to try it.

Regular cab drivers are required by law to pick up people with disabilities who travel with service dogs, but since Uber drivers are independent contractors driving private vehicles, they don’t have to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Uber web site says it like this:

We leave the decision whether or not to transport pets at the discretion of your driver. When traveling with a pet, we recommend calling your driver as soon as you’ve placed your request (tap the arrow next to your driver’s information, then “CONTACT DRIVER”) to make sure they don’t mind taking your pet.

A number of legal complaints have been filed alleging Uber discriminates against blind and visually-impaired people who use guide dogs. The cases are still pending, but in a move that is presumably related, Uber announced in September that they had launched a new platform to “train uberX partners on the necessary knowledge and safety requirements for those with accessibility needs.” People like me who might need special assistance were instructed to link to UberASSIST on the Uber app so a driver who’d been through the special training would come pick us up.

Mike took a photo of Whitney in her Seeing Eye harness standing next to me to use on my Uber account. He helped me plug in the special promo code and find the Uber ASSIST link on my talking IPhone, but I was so intent on simulating what the experience would be like on my own that I wouldn’t let him come out on the sidewalk and wait for the driver with me. “You can watch from inside the door there to make sure I get a ride, but you have to hide,” I told him.

When I heard my talking iPhone call out “Uber driver arriving in three minutes” I headed outside with Whitney and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I heard the door to our building squeak open behind me. “He’s right there,” Mike whispered.

”But I’m blind!” I scolded back. “I want him to have to figure out how to let me know he’s here!” Just then my phone started ringing.

  • Uber Driver: Beth! It’s your Uber driver. I’m here.
  • Me: Yeah, so am I.
  • Uber Driver: Where?

I’d been standing as tall as I possibly could, and Whitney was right at my side. Didn’t he see our photo on his app? Wasn’t it obvious I can’t see? I gave our address, the one the magic app is supposed to give to the driver, and explained that I’m blind, and I can’t see him.

  • Uber Driver (sounding confused: Oh. Well, I’m right here in front of your building.
  • Me: But I’m blind. I can’t see you.
  • Uber Driver (still sounding confused): Oh.
  • Me: Can you open the door and call out or something?
  • Uber Driver: Oh! Sorry. Yeah. Okay.

My driver got out, called my name, Whitney led me to the car, opened the back door, I got in, buckled my seatbelt, called Whitney to come in to sit on the floor at my feet, and we were off

On our ride I complimented my driver’s big car, told him Whitney appreciated all the room she had on the floor, and asked him if he’d received special notice that we’d asked for an Uber ASSIST vehicle. He had no idea what I was talking about.

I spent most of the rest of the ride explaining what Uber ASSIST is, how it’s supposed to train interested drivers on the best ways to assist people with disabilities or special needs. “I’ve never heard of that,” he said, adding that he thought ithe idea was “really interesting.”

So much for Uber ASSIST. We were late for the audio tour they’d planned before the play, but the condensed audio tour the show’s actors and actresses squeezed in for me was very helpful, and the performance was absolutely wonderful. Sighted friends who met me there said they’d drive Whitney and me home afterwards, and so I told myself what the heck, Uber ASSIST wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but at least the ride over was free.

But then I got up this morning and checked out my Uber ASSIST online receipt. I’d been charged for the ride.

Where Whitney was

People have been asking if Whitney stayed with me while I was in the hospital last week.

She did not.

That's Greg with his and Lois' dogs Gamma and Griffin.

That’s Greg with his and Lois’ dogs Gamma and Griffin.

Legally, I could have had her in the room with me — Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act allows those of us who rely on service dogs to have them along in hospital rooms. All bets are off, however, if the dog constitutes either a “fundamental alteration of goods and services available for all” or a “direct threat to safety.” So while Whitney could have legally sat at my bedside once I was recovering in a regular hospital room, she would not have been allowed while I was in ICU. She wouldn’t have been with me in any sterile rooms (such as the operating room). Certain areas of the emergency room/departments would have been forbidden, and she wouldn’t have been able to ride in the ambulance with me to the hospital in the first place — even Mike had to follow behind in a cab.

Hospital staff cannot be made responsible for caring for a service dog while a patient with a disability is in the hospital, and I’m afraid my case left doctors and nurses with bigger problems to solve than figuring out when and where to take Whitney out to pee. The truth is, we never even thought of asking my Seeing Eye dog to sit still and behave at my hospital bedside while I recovered. It wouldn’t have been fair to an energetic ball of fur like her. I didn’t need her to guide me anywhere, and she would have been bored out of her mind.

Our dear friend Greg Schafer rushed to the waiting room after cardiologists recommended Mike call a friend to be there with him while I was being operated on. After surgery was over, Greg offered to stop by our apartment and fetch Whitney, take her home with with him for a few days. Greg and his wife Lois have a huge yard with two dogs and all sorts of other critters. Whitney spent the weekend there tracking deer and enjoying long walks while Mike spent time helping me recover at Northwestern Hospital.

Greg and Lois returned Whitney to Chicago on Sunday. After getting her settled in our apartment, they stopped by the hospital to regale Mike and me with details of ways Whitney spent time with their own beautiful dogs, Griffin and Gamma. Their stories really cheered me up. Whitney was there to greet Mike at home that night, and she was at the door waiting for me when I finally returned home Tuesday. A joyful reunion for sure.

That's Whit wearing her Gentle Leader.

That’s Whit wearing her Gentle Leader.

Surgeons had to cut my sternum to perform open-heart surgery, and until that bone heals I can’t let Whitney wear a harness and pull me. Trainers at the Seeing eye have dealt with graduates who have had open-heart surgery before. Until my sternum heals, they recommend I have Whitney wear a Gentle Leader, a collar designed to gently discourage dogs from pulling while walking on a leash. Mike comes along on my walks with Whitney, and each day the length of our cardio walks expands a minute or two. Neighbors are getting used to seeing me sauntering down the block with Whitney on my left, Mike on my right: a heart-healthy sandwich.

Friends have been volunteering to take Whitney on faster walks every day too, to keep her in shape. Others fill in for Mike when he isn’t available to take me on the slower-paced walks. Between these volunteer walkers, the friend who brought her violin over to perform for me, the ones who have sent or delivered food, friends who have sent cards and music CDs and concert tickets and audio books and get-well bracelets and a lounging gown and body lotion and flowers and gift cards and whew, you’ve all been so kind I need to stop here to take a breath before I go on: my lungs aren’t back to normal quite yet!


Okay, I’m back. Thanks to all of those friends and all of you blog readers who have left such encouraging comments here on the blog, I feel loved, and I feel grateful. I’m alive, and I’m healing. And I’m looking forward to getting on the road again with Whitney.

And now a word from a fellow University of Illinois alum”

If you follow this blog, you already know guest blogger Sandra Murillo. Sandra lost her sight when she was three years old. She has always attended regular public schools, and she’s known ever since she was in high school that she wants to be a writer. Her first guest post was about using assistive technology to vote in her first presidential election and was published here four years ago. A lot has happened in Sandra’s life the past four years, and she’s back with another guest post to give you the latest.

Networking to beat the startling odds

by Sandra Murillo

“How’s the job search going?” I’ve heard that question from family and friends many times during the last few months. I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in December with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and like any recent college graduate, I’m in the process of looking for a job, or, at the very least, an internship.

U of I graduate Sandra Murillo.

U of I graduate Sandra Murillo.

I, however, am not your average recent college graduate. I also happen to be blind. This means that finding a job can present some, shall we say, additional hardships. It’s not that I can’t get on the Internet to look for jobs or type resumés and personal statements independently. No, it’s much more complicated than that. Even though legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, there are still many misconceptions that prevent many of us from being hired. Sadly, many employers believe that we are not capable of doing a job as efficiently as our sighted counterparts.

According to the American Foundation for the Blind, about 75 percent of blind and visually impaired adults are unemployed in the United States. I find this ironic, given that technology helps us be more productive and independent now more than ever before. I use my talking computer to send and receive Emails, type articles and blog posts and browse the web. The computer’s robotic voice announces each letter as I type and reads out loud what’s on the computer screen. I am bilingual, and my talking computer’s robotic voice even speaks Spanish for me when I want it to!

Journalism involves interviewing people, and I’ve learned to record the interviews with a digital recorder. That way I can make sure I won’t miss a good quote or bit of information. In some ways my blindness allows me to be a better listener during interviews. I can concentrate more on what’s being said rather than the visuals of the person or place. These and other tools have helped me in my job search.

Besides asking friends and family to keep an eye out for job leads, I also go online to sites like I was also very fortunate to come across Career Connect, a website developed by the American Foundation for the Blind specifically for blind or visually impaired job seekers. It is full of helpful information on how to write resumés and personal statements, tips on how to make job interviews go smoothly and even information for employers.

I’ve known I wanted to be a journalist since I was a sophomore in high school. I think it’s a great career because I will get to do two of the things I enjoy the most: writing and informing and educating others. I have a particular interest in writing about people with disabilities — I feel we still need to educate the general public about our struggles and capabilities. Maybe that way employers will not be as skeptical about hiring blind and visually impaired people.

Meanwhile, I plan to continue on my job search, and I hope I will not be part of that startling 75 percent of blind and visually impaired people without a job for long.

And now, a word from a puppy raiser

When I published that post about the Ann Taylor store telling Becky Andrews she couldn’t come in with her guide dog, a lot of you commented and wondered how a business could be so ignorant. Donna Sword, a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, left a response that suggested sometimes it’s negative experiences with fake service dogs that make business owners more wary. I asked her to expand that thought into a guest blog, and she graciously said yes.

Masquerading as an assistance dog

by Donna Sword

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of a person with a disability to bring their service animal with them in public, and it defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” I do not have a disability, so I rely on the good faith of businesses to welcome my pup-in-training in their stores to support our socialization efforts.

Donna Sword with her current Canine Companions for Independence pup-in-training, Yaxley (Photo courtesy of Donna Sword).

On the rare occasions when we’re met with resistance by a business, we sometimes find it’s because of a past negative experience with a fake service dog. These folk that bring their beloved, but ill mannered, pets into stores perhaps don’t realize the barriers they’re creating for those who rely on guide dogs or assistance dogs for independence. And we’ve seen these pets on our own outings.

The dog under a restaurant table that first growled, then stood and barked aggressively, as the pup and I walked past. The small dog in the front seat of a grocery cart, standing to alert with a tense mouth when children approached too closely. A Chihuahua in a handbag at a concert, invisible except when barking. And the large dog at the mall that took two hands to control as he lunged to sniff passersby.

Each one of these dogs was wearing a vest that identified them as a type of assistance dog. But were they assistance dogs — or instead pets masquerading as such? To a business owner, there’s not a big difference. Whether it’s due to inadequate training or a personality not suited for service dog work, it’s the same. These dogs are seen as potential liabilities. Will these dogs cause customer complaints, a loss of business? Will they have a toileting accident in the restaurant? And rather worrisome, will these particular dogs inflict damage, personal or otherwise?

I find it interesting, and more than a bit distressing, that an assistance dog cape can be purchased online, complete with certification documents. A Google search will net you several companies that require only a credit card and a dog; no proof of training required. And rather ironically, the ADA does not require working dogs to display any identification nor is an individual required to have their dog certified as an assistance animal. This opens the door to abuse of the law, it seems. Unless challenged, anyone may claim their pet as an assistance dog.

This is wrong.

And so of course, businesses are cautious. And maybe just a bit confused. While the ADA laws are clearly written on the access rights of individuals, some businesses just aren’t educating themselves or their employees. They don’t know that an ill-behaved dog (whether it is a service dog or not)) can be asked to leave their place of business. Or that there are some questions they can legally ask, such as “is the service dog required because of a disability?” or even “what task has the dog been trained to perform?” One question businesses can not ask an individual is “what is your disability?”

A highly trained assistance dog or guide dog is not a pet. They are constant companions and loved by their handlers, that’s for sure, but these dogs are also necessary, a sort of “assistive technology” allowing a higher level of independence.

I’m afraid we’ve allowed the bad behavior of a few to build these barriers for those who rely on these dogs. I agree that many businesses have a need for more education on ADA, but there is also a need to crack down on these fake service dogs. And on the companies out there selling service dog capes and certifications making it too easy to allow public access to pets.

Good thing Harper’s not a monkey

That's Harper doing his thing at a nearby street corner.

If you have a disability and want to bring your helper parrot, monkey or snake with you in public, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. starting today, March 15, 2011, only service dogs and trained miniature horses are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These ADA revisions were drawn up after some disability advocates asked the Department of Justice to crack down on people who were faking or exaggerating disabilities in order to get their companion animals into places of public accommodation. I wrote a post for today’s Bark Blog about all this – here’s an excerpt:

It really does make it harder for the rest of us when an animal or his handler’s poor behavior causes people to think badly about service animals. I’ve heard stories about helper parrots pecking at shoppers in stores, a therapeutic rat that quelled anxiety in his owner but caused anxiety to others, and comfort pigs going crazy on airplanes. In my own life, however, the only negative service animal stories that have affected me personally have been about…dogs.

The last time I went to a Cubs game I was stopped while trying to get into Wrigley Field with my Seeing Eye dog. The man taking tickets said he didn’t know if the dog was allowed. I pointed to the harness, told him she was a Seeing Eye dog. He was skeptical.

Turns out that a week earlier someone had brought their puppy to Wrigley, claiming the dog was a service dog. The dog misbehaved, and fans sitting nearby complained. After that, the people working the gates were told to scrutinize anyone coming in with a service dog.

Faking a disability to gain privilege is fraud. It also results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities. You can link to the Bark Blog to read my guest post in its entirety. Bonus: there’s an awfully cute photo of Harper and me there, too – it was taken when we were just getting to know each other at the Seeing Eye.

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