News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Maine's Human Rights Panel Ruled Correctly that Man with "Service Dog" Was Not Discriminated Against

by Sharon Wachsler

The Bangor Daily News reported last week that a Dennysville man's complaint of discrimination was not supported by the Maine Human Rights Commission panel that investigated the incident. The issue arose when Kenneth Stanhope was asked by a manager at Helen's Restaurant in Machias for documents proving that his pit bull is a service dog.

BDN lays out the crux of the matter:
At question was whether Helen’s had asked questions of Stanhope that violated the Human Rights Act, which states that the only permissible questions to ask of a person who presents with a service animal are whether the animal is required because of a disability, and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. 
Stanhope alleged that Helen’s manager had asked to see documentary proof that his pit bull, Sneg, was in fact a service animal, which an HRC investigator, Michele Dion, said was not allowed by the law. 
In its response, Helen’s Restaurant did not deny that documentation was requested, but said that Sneg had growled menacingly at one of the restaurant’s employees in the past, prompting the owner, who was not named in the investigator’s report, to question Stanhope. After Stanhope left the restaurant in frustration, the owner researched the state’s law and called Stanhope to apologize for asking for documentation.
As a member of the service dog community since 1998 and a service dog trainer, I applaud this ruling. The issue in the case of Steg, above, is not related to him being a pit bull. The issue is the dog's behavior.

service dog is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a dog that has been individually trained to mitigate the effects of the handler's disability by performing tasks or working. More and more disabled people are bringing dogs into the community and identifying them as service dogs. In many cases, these are service dogs. What their breed or perceived breed is, is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if they are pit bulls, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, or Poodles. What is relevant is their temperament, comportment and level of training. There are many excellent, well-trained pit bull service dogs.

A serious problem is that some dogs that are being referred to or dressed as service dogs by their disabled owners are not actually service dogs. Some of these dogs may be well-behaved pets who have not been tasked trained to mitigate the effects of the handler's disability. Other dogs, whether they have been trained in assistance tasks or not, cannot be service dogs because the handler cannot keep them under control. A service dog cannot be a "reasonable accommodation" if its behavior is disruptive to the place of business.

Here's a section from the Commonly Asked Questions page on service dogs from the Department of Justice:
10. Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control? 
A: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually. 
Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises. 
11. Q: Can I exclude an animal that doesn't really seem dangerous but is disruptive to my business? 
A: There may be a few circumstances when a public accommodation is not required to accommodate a service animal--that is, when doing so would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business. Generally, this is not likely to occur in restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities. But when it does, for example, when a dog barks during a movie, the animal can be excluded.
A dog that is aggressive or reactive or that otherwise interferes with the normal workings of the business with bad behavior is not a service dog and must be removed by their handler. Further, unless this is an isolated episode -- such as the result of an acute medical problem that can be effectively treated and remediated -- this dog should not be asked to work in public again. Bringing a reactive or aggressive dog into public settings is not fair to the dog, the handler, or the public.

Unfortunately, many people don't know that aggression or other disruptive behavior (whining, howling, urinating, or defecating in a place of business) automatically strips the handler's right to access with that dog. The burden is on the handler, in these cases, to remove the dog, attempt to ameliorate any damage the dog may have done, and address the problem with the dog and/or the dog's veterinarian or trainer.

This is an area where perception of the law has not caught up with what the law actually requires. The case of "Steg" is all-too-exemplary; the handler filed a discrimination complaint even though he did not have access rights in this case, and some of the Human Rights Commission wanted to uphold his his so-called access rights to be accompanied by an aggressive dog.

For more information on this topic:

It behooves the disability community, including assistance dog activists and disability rights activists, to protect the rights of disabled handlers with trained service dogs. Part of this protection is to work against the culture of tolerance that allows disabled people to bring untrained or reactive dogs into public. I am hopeful that more rulings like the Maine Human Rights Panel's ruling will help clarify the legal access rights of disabled people accompanied by service dogs.

Maine's Age Imbalance: Northern New England Has Nation's Oldest Population

The Portland Press Herald recently reported, in "Maine, neighboring states confront aging challenges," that Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have the nation's oldest populations. Median age in Maine is the highest in the country at 44 years old. Vermont and New Hampshire are next at 42.5 and 42.3, respectively.

Economists say that if this imbalance is not corrected, it will result in higher labor costs, lower-quality education, and a poor-functioning state government. The article also addressed concerns around housing and long-term care:
Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center of Public Policy Studies, noted that a dearth of two- and three-bedroom homes in his state is forcing young, first-time buyers to compete with empty-nesters who are downsizing.
Read the article:

Charter Schools Preventing Education of Disabled Students

From the MPBN (Maine's Public Broadcasting Network) site, "Are NOLA Schools Failing Students with Disabilities?"

Listen to or read the NPR story on the struggles of kids with disabilities and their families who are trying to get an education in New Orleans. The "all-charter landscape" in New Orleans is not serving kids with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities and health conditions:

"The needs of children with disabilities have been an afterthought in New Orleans' all-charter landscape," says parent and activist Karran Harper Royal. She once had high hopes that the charter revolution — with its focus on innovation and change — would mean good things for her two sons with disabilities.  
"I tell people I cannot believe I am longingly wishing for the old days of the Orleans Parish school system when it comes to children with special needs," she says.  
Four years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of the city's special needs students citing the state's "systemic failures to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational services and are protected from discrimination." The case continues to drag on, to the point that the presiding federal judge recently ordered mediation and appointed another federal judge to help spur negotiations.  
"Right now we are seeing a lot of schools here that are simply unable to serve the most vulnerable and highest-need kids," says Joshua Perry, executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "Unfortunately it's too frequently that we find schools here for whom baseline compliance [with federal law] would be an improvement."

Read the article or listen to the radio story here.

Links on Health and Exercise Topics for Disabled People

Access to Medical Care for Individuals with Mobility Disabilities’s Guide to Health Information and Resources

Medicare Coverage if You're Disabled

Cigarette Smoking Among Adults with Disabilities

Disability and Obesity

Chronic Pain Relief with Swimming Exercises

Physical Activity for People with Disabilities -- Including cancer survivors, those with type 2 diabetes, and those with osteoarthritis

A Safety Guide for Disabled Pedestrians

Physical Activity/Exercise Resources for Seniors

Senior Health and Well-Being Resource Collection

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active. Despite the age-defying benefits of getting fit, seniors are the least physically active of all Americans—40 percent of women and 30 percent of men over 70 report that they never exercise. Explore the resources below to learn about the benefits of exercise, the dangers of inactivity, and helpful tips on getting started:

Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging

Senior Fitness: You’re Never Too Old to Exercise 

Exercise and Fitness as You Age

Strength Training for Older Adults

Health & Aging: Seniors and Swimming 

Heart Disease Prevention with Exercise 

Exercise: A Drug-Free Approach to Lowering High Blood Pressure 

Exercise and Stroke Prevention

Article: "Senior Citizens Need to Work Out, Too"

NIH Senior Health: "The Benefits of Exercise"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Resources on Voting with a Disability (Maine & US)

by Sharon Wachsler

Support Voting Rights of Disabled People!

"In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of Election Day, here are links of interest on disability and voting. I hope everyone will vote today, unless you have already voted by absentee ballot.

Disability Justice has a "right to vote" page that is chock full of terrific information! I highly recommend this site. It has several youtubes explaining different voting- and disability-related issues, as well as short blocks of text on these topics, lots of resource links and citations for further reading. A lot of it was surprising and informative to me (and I thought I already knew a lot about this topic, but there is a lot I didn't know!)

Topics of interest include "ADA to Today," about segregation and how people with developmental disabilities are denied the right to vote, "Constitutional Law & Voting Rights," "Complexities of Voting Law" references the Maine constitution specifically, "Voting is a Fundamental Liberty Right," "Stereotypes & Voter's Rights," and a section on "Recent Challenges to State Restrictions on the Voting Rights of People with Developmental Disabilities," including the Maine decision of Doe v. Rowe, and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 See

PDF Absentee Voting by People with Disabilities: Promoting Access and Integrity by the American Bar Association.

Nonprofit Vote: National and state-by-state resources for "voting with a disability"

Disability Rights Center of Maine's PDF guide, "People with Disabilities VOTE! How to Vote and Your Rights in the Voting Process." (Here's the DRC Facebook page, too.)

The Rights of Maine Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities (at the Maine Health and Human Services site)

A Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities ("Vote. It's Your Right," by Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law)

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities by the Department of Justice

VA Home Loans for Disabled Veterans

This post was contributed by VA Home Loan Centers.

Of the 22 million veterans currently living in this country are 5.5 million living with some form of disability. 3.4 million of these veterans sustained their disability as a result of service. 2.9 million veterans receive service-related compensation yearly. As a result of 12 continuous years of war, qualitative advancements in medical technology and the influx of severe burns and amputations, the post-2002 number of veterans with a 70 percent or higher disability rating has exponentially increased. Nearly 590,000 veterans have been assigned a disability rating of greater than 70 percent by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA provides numerous benefits to military members who have sustained a service-related disability; many of these entitlements pertain to homeownership. The VA home loan allows for qualified applicants to receive housing adaptation grants. The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) and the Special Housing Adaptation  (SHA) grants enable owner occupied homes to be modified to the specific needs of the individual. The SAH grant as stated by the VA is to be used to “create a barrier free environment.” This grant is designed to make a home more wheelchair accessible. The SHA grant was tailor-made to assist veteran homeowners who have suffered reduced vision or blindness create a safer more inhabitable living space.  Redeemable for $67,555 (SAH) and $13,511 (SHA), these grants can be used to customize already owned homes or homes being purchased. Examples of allowable adaptations include but are not limited to:

• Added Ramps
• Added Stair Lifts
• Specialized bathroom fixtures, toilets and baths
• Increased storage space
• Added stair rails
• Added outdoor lighting
• Paving/adding wheelchair paths

Furthermore, these adaptations are applicable to the home of a family member if the loan applicant makes the home their primary residence. Eligibility for these grants is based on the severity of the individual’s disability. Representing an additional cost savings benefit is that the VA home loan funding fee is waived for disabled veterans. In qualifying for a VA home loan, an applicant can use their disability compensation to meet income standards.

For veterans, disabled or able-bodied, no better option exists in aiding in the attainment of home buying than the VA Home Loan. For more information, visit or the VA HLC Home Loan Information page.