BREAKING NEWS

Handling Access Disputes

Surprisingly, most access disputes are either caused by the person with the disability or escalated by them. It can be very unpleasant to have one's rights questioned, to be singled out for treatment different from everyone else, and to appear to be "in trouble" with authority figures by being pulled aside. Too often people with disabilities facing access issues respond emotionally, without thought, and without a clear plan to help them succeed. Any time a situation becomes emotionally charged, both sides tend to dig in their heels and refuse to budge, even escalating the situation in a battle to the death over what should have been a relatively benign communication.

The single most important thing to remember in any access dispute is to KEEP YOUR COOL.

The first line of defense in dealing with access disputes is to avoid them in the first place with a professional presentation. However, if someone does approach about the presence of the service dog, remember: educate, mediate THEN AND ONLY THEN litigate. Litigation should be a last resort, not the first.

Be familiar with both federal laws and state or provencial laws. In the U.S., your state laws may give you additional protections not offered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Remember that the ADA is a civil law. That means it can only be enforced through the courts. The police are not empowered to enforce it, so calling them about discrimination under the ADA will accomplish nothing. However, some state laws include criminal laws for access denial and those can be enforced by the police. You can learn about your state laws concerning service dogs on this site at http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/58 or by contacting your state's attorney general's office.

Make a plan for educating a business about public access laws for people partnered with service animals. Carry educational materials such as copies of these online documents:
2010 Revised Requirements on Service Animals
ADA Business Brief: Service Animals
Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business
AWIC's No Dogs Allowed?
Federal Policies on Access for Service Animals

The Delta Society's wallet law card

or join IAADP for a copy of their service dog brochure in seven different languages.

Share the educational information with the business person while calmly explaining that you are disabled, that your dog is a trained service dog, and that federal law permits people with disabilities to be accompanied in places of business with their trained service dogs, even in businesses where pets are generally not allowed.

If your paper educational materials are not sufficient or if the business person has questions they don't answer, instead of offering your own unsubstantiated answers advise them to contact the U.S. Department of Justice's official ADA information line at: 800 - 514 - 0301 (voice) or 800 - 514 - 0383 (TTY). If you have a cell phone, program this number into your phone now.

Consider the power of your words and choose them carefully. "U.S. Department of Justice" is much more meaningful and much more authoritative to a business person than "DOJ." They probably haven't a clue what "DOJ" means. Take time now to write a short paragraph explaining the rights of persons with disabilities partnered with service animals under the ADA. Tidy up the grammar and make efficient use of the English language. Phrase things carefully and correctly. Service dogs have no rights under the ADA--people with disabilities do, so use "people with disabilities partnered with service dogs" instead of just "service dogs" when you talk about access rights. Use "people with disabilities" or "person with a disability" instead of disabled person or people.

Memorize your explanation so that it tumbles out of your mouth effortlessly, even when you are excited or stressed, and even if you can't think clearly. Practice in front of a mirror adding gestures and facial expressions that are sincere and helpful. Get yourself into the mindset that you are helping this business person, and therefore are working together, instead of allowing yourself to fall into an adversarial position. Keep your eyebrows and the corners of your lips up, and your arms loosely at your sides or pointing at your dog or educational materials (not clenched or crossed).

If you realize you are speaking to a lower-ranked employee and are getting no-where, ask to speak to the owner or a manager and educate that person. At least 90% of access situations can be satisfactorily resolved with simple education. If you encounter a situation you cannot resolve with education, your next option is mediation, then litigation.


See also Ed and Toni Eames' article "The Carrot or the Stick?" in Ragged Edge magazine