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Intolerance to woman’s disability brings guide dogs to forefront

By Staff | Apr 8, 2008

Last week, a Cape Coral resident who is legally blind, was reportedly told that she was not allowed to enter a prospective school for her son because she was accompanied by her guide dog.

On Wednesday, the woman, who asked to be identified only as Bethany, called a local Christian school to find a pre-kindergarten program for her son when she informed the school director that, “I’ll be coming with myself and my service dog.”

Unfortunately, the school director was not prepared to allow the guide dog into the school due to potentially harming students who have allergies or respiratory conditions. According to Bethany, who is in her 30s, the director said that there are certain children with allergies and no dogs are allowed.

The woman said that she called the facility twice — and was hung up on each time — trying to explain to the school director that she needed the guide dog because she was disabled, but she was continually denied access.

While the reported denial violates certain laws barring discrimination against people with disabilities, Bethany said that her concern is not with being denied, but that people do not misunderstand seeing a visually impaired person with their guide dog in a grocery store or other public venue.

“I hear people ask about guide dogs in the grocery store all the time,” she said.

On Monday she said that her son is not going to attend the school, but she still wants the school’s director and others to know that guide dogs for the visually impaired are allowed inside buildings.

The school director later apologized to her for not being familiar with the law pertaining to people with disabilities, Bethany said.

“People need to be educated in the community because there are several dozen people in Cape Coral with guide dogs,” she said. “My worry isn’t that she apologized, but to make sure people are aware.”

Bethany’s guide dog, a 69-pound, short-haired Vizsla, had just been assigned to her after she attained her “independence,” for which she completed a 25-day in-residence training program at the Southeastern Dog School in Palmetto, Fla.

The program features individualized instruction with a dog that is matched to the visually impaired owner’s physical and personal needs. In training, the two learn how to work together in maneuvering through crowds or walking through doors.

Bethany said she had only recently been assigned her guide dog, but now she is worried about possibly being denied entry to other venues in the future. Still, she does not regret switching from the cane she used in the past to the guide dog she uses now.

“I don’t regret it, I love my dog and I love the independence,” she said.

Since guide dogs are specially trained and considered “guiding eyes” for someone who is visually impaired, there are several guidelines for those who come in contact with the dogs.

Some guidelines include:

n Do not touch, feed or district the dog while they are trying to concentrate.

n Do not treat the dog like a pet.

n Do not give the dog commands unless you are the master.

n Do not take control in situations unfamiliar to dog.

n Do not walk on the dog’s left side. Walk on the owner’s right a few steps behind.

n Do not attempt to grab or steer the person while the dog is guiding.

n Do not allow children to tease the dog.

n Do not pat the dog on the head, instead pat its side.

According to Florida statutes, it is unlawful for “anyone to deny access to disabled persons who use service animals or those engaged in the act of training service animals.”

Service animals may guide a person who is visually impaired or blind, alert a person who is deaf, pull a wheelchair or protect a person who is prone to seizures.

The American With Disabilities Act states that it is a blind person’s right to be accompanied by a guide dog in places such as hotels, restaurants and schools, to name a few.