Tips for Access Problems

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Spend some time with the owner of a service dog and you are bound to hear some pretty disturbing stories about their access to a public place being denied. Often times, the story includes humiliation by an ignorant employee or manager that does not understand United States Federal Law and the ADA. This article is a compilation of my opinions and our company experiences in helping customers navigate these sometimes scary waters of access issues. Make sure to check out our other articles as well.

Ignorance is bliss:

I don't know about that statement to be honest with you. It might be blissful until the point your ignorance causes you to knowingly, or unknowingly, break federal law. This behavior is the type that kind land a company in court and nobody wants that.

So, what do you do if you have an employee that is requesting you leave the premises? The first thing to do is to make sure their request isn't legitimate. If your service dog is out of control or disruptive, they are allowed to ask you to leave. If your dog has caused a mess in a place of business, that may also be grounds for the request. 

A more likely scenario is somebody that has not been properly trained and maybe only understands their company's "no pets" policy. More often than not, these associates are polite and don't want conflict; they are simply trying to be a good employee. In a case like this, I would beg of you to take full advantage of what I like to call a "teachable moment". This means you should not begin yelling at the poor individual and humiliating them, even if you, yourself, feel embarrassed. I believe in educating every individual we can about the importance of assistance dogs and if you find yourself in the situation listed above, you have a captive audience. A little will go a long way here. Explain to the individual that your dog is not a pet, it is a service animal. Explain to them that according to U.S. Federal Law, your dog is very much like a wheelchair in that your dog is a tool that is trained to help you in a very specific way with a disability. Remember, you do not need to explain what your disability is, only that your dog is a trained service animal and what it is trained to do. This will usually solve the problem. If the person responds in a positive way, call their manager over and lavish praise upon them. Then, remind the manager that the company needs to be training their employees with regards to the ADA law.

I don't care what the law says... get out:

If this scenario presents itself, I think a fight or flight response is in order. An attitude that belittles you should not be tolerated. Depending on your own personality, you may want to leave the establishment and write a letter or make a phone call to avoid a public scene. I don't respond well to people that treat people like garbage, so my response would not be the flight response. I would handle a volatile situation like this in a very simple 1, 2, 3 way. 

  1. The very first thing I would do is attempt to handle the situation as if the person is just having a bad day and I would explain the law to them very kindly and with a good measure of grace. Again, this will typically kill the situation and leave somebody educated. Everybody wins with this.
  2. If that does not work, I would ask for a supervisor. If this person is the supervisor, I would let them know you will be having an identical conversation with their supervisor once you contact them. I would then explain to both individuals that they are clearly breaking federal law. Let them know that you want to patronize their establishment, but if they are going to berate you, you will take your business elsewhere.
  3. If they still want you to leave, you need to be prepared to do so, because this could go on all day. Before you go, however, get their names. Once you leave, do not allow yourself to continue to be victimized. Contact whomever you can within the organization and share what happened with them. This will often yield a great result in which a company will change their training procedures and also issue you an apology. I am stubborn, so I may even ask for a personal apology from the offender.

Beyond these measures, some people will take to social media, the better business bureau and just try to trash a company. I don't think that is a great strategy. I think the goal should be to educate the public for the greater good of the assistance dog community. In rare cases, however, something as extreme as legal action may be in order. We can't give guidance or direction on that as we are not lawyers, but these cases have went to court before.

Remember, the world will not educate itself.  It is going to take a lot of strong people and a lot of hard work to get there. Hopefully these tips help you begin change in your own world. If you have any additional ideas, submit your comment.

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