Sunday, June 29, 2008


Access. Accessibility. Accessing. The word access in all of its forms can mean many things, but underlying them all is the perception of rights. To grant access; to make accessible; to be accessible - all these forms imply permission required. Imply power.

A friend of mine sent me a link to the Safe and Sound Blog maintained by author and guide dog user Beth Finke. The blog post she thought I'd be interested in was titled, "Are Little Kids Old Enough to Use Service Dogs?" As I read the story of how a four year old with autism and his service dog were denied entrance to his school bus and his school, several thoughts came to mind that weren't addressed by the article - but are specifically identified as critical within the ADA access laws for determination of whether the school was justified in barring the dog; would the dog be accompanied at school by a responsible adult? Would the presence of the dog fundamentally alter the activities at the school? Would the dog pose a threat to the health and safety of others?

The ADA laws were crafted to insure public access to all who require the assistance of service animals. The exceptions to the law are very narrow precisely to prevent the situation that occurred at the school. Because the original article was silent on the salient facts, the reader is left to use personal opinion to decide either for or against the schools decision. And that's the problem with the original story and the blog post - feelings and personal opinion don't count in these decisions - not when it comes to access rights for service animals. Why? Because the authors of the law know how easy it is for those that serve the public to discriminate against those with special needs. To prevent access to those who can't live safely without assistance, canine or other.

Whether the helper dog user is blind, deaf, physically or developmentally challenged - the question remains the same - do they have the same rights as those that don't have these challenges? The law is clear. They do.

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