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Incorrect application of law creates problems for disabled

While those with physical disability have enough problems to face, one they shouldn’t have to is abuse of laws designed to assist them. Unfortunately, either by design or accident, a recent incident illustrates the problem starkly.

Bossier City’s Louisiana Boardwalk (essentially an outdoor shopping mall) prohibits pets, which legally does not exclude service animals. However, a woman brought a dog onto the property and into establishments, claiming the dog was a service animal to detect potential oncoming asthma attacks (and her mother’s arthritis attacks). The dog, who had been her pet for many years, had received “training” at a local pet store she reported, although she carried no documentation. The Boardwalk asked that she not bring the dog onto the property

And that was the correct decision. Under Louisiana’s R.S. 21:52:

A. Any blind person, visually handicapped person, deaf person, hearing impaired person, or otherwise physically disabled person who is accompanied by a properly controlled dog which such person has been taught to use as a guide or for service at a qualified dog guide or service school is entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all public accommodation, amusement or resort, and other places to which the general public is invited, and shall be entitled to take such dog into such conveyances and places, subject only to the accommodations and limitations applicable to all persons not so accompanied, provided that the dog shall not occupy a seat in any public conveyance ….

C. The provisions of Subsections A and B of this Section shall be inapplicable unless the person, as described in Subsections A and B of this Section, accompanied by a guide or service dog, shall furnish evidence as to the training of the dog, which evidence shall be obtained from the training agency or school by which the dog has been trained.

Assuming for the moment the woman even would qualify as being “physically disabled” for asthma under federal law, the fact is she and the dog were not trained by a qualified school (training which takes weeks utilizing specially bred dogs who are trained prior to the school for two years – see the list here – and dogs in training, as the woman claimed this one still was, are to be in public only with their trainers) and that she failed to carry any documentation (typically it’s as simple as an agency-issued identification card) gave the Boardwalk the legal right to exclude the dog. But apparently the episode scared Boardwalk officials into submission, and by its statements appears unlikely to interpret correctly the law in the future.

Such a response will create problems for the truly disabled who have a right to have service animals. Without the rigorous training necessary, these dogs will prove a nuisance and become conflated with genuine service dogs, casting negative aspersions onto the disabled using them, making access to the rights guaranteed under them more difficult than ever.

This woman may have been misled about or acted out of ignorance of the law, but regardless the incident by diluting the intent behind increasing accessibility for the disabled, may lead to more limitations of it.

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