The Sound Off! blog is a place for CCDC members to share their experience of living with a disability from the perspective of a disability rights activist. Express opinions on disability issues or other issues that relate to disability. Share their feelings about the issues of the day.
The Distinctions between Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals and Pets
Written by Andrew Montoya
Most people like animals of all sorts. I mean, what’s not to like about their furry faces, precocious personalities, and constant companionship? People love their animals so much, in fact, that Colorado has become increasingly “pet-friendly,” with restaurants placing water bowls in patio areas and carrying menu items intended for pets, and other establishments like stores and office buildings permitting animals where they once were forbidden. Usually, those animals are dogs, but there has been a marked increase in recent years of other types of animals accompanying folks in public, including snakes and lizards, birds both large and small, and other mammals more often seen at the Stock Show or Denver Zoo. Although there are some safety and sanitary guidelines that prohibit pet-friendly policies, generally restaurants, stores, and other such spots are permitted to allow animals if they so desire. Nevertheless, for some folks, that’s just not good enough. Some of those people have discovered that claiming a disability and purchasing a cute little vest or tag with words like “service animal” or “assistance dog” can not only get their four-legged friends in the door but also can save on things like fees and deposits. Meanwhile, websites boast that, for a low, one-time fee, people can purchase vests, tags, and even letters from medical professionals substantiating the claimed disability. That is, of course, not to say there aren’t legitimate service animal and emotional support animal users who also might have such vests, tags and documentation (even though vests, tags and documentation aren’t required under the law), but the proliferation of online shops has caused many to begin to question service animal users, especially those with invisible disabilities, and has led to conflict between inadequately trained pets and highly trained service animals. That conflict, coupled with the rise of news reports of atypical emotional support animals (or ESAs), such as peacocks and squirrels, being taken on airplanes, has even led to proposals for new laws and new rules at both the state and federal levels.
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog—and only a dog—that is specially trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. The ADA regulations also permit miniature horses as a reasonable modification, but dogs are the only specifically identified service animals. Under the ADA, service dogs are permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities in most situations with very limited exceptions, such as sterile operating rooms in hospitals, and are exempt from many fees often associated with pets, such as hotel fees and deposits. In addition, under the ADA, a public entity under Title II and an operator of the place of public accommodation under Title III are only permitted to ask two questions about an animal: (a) whether the animal is a service animal and (b) what tasks the animal performs for the person with a disability. If the answers to both of those questions are yes, then the service animal must be permitted. Moreover, those public entities and places of public accommodation are prohibited from asking for proof of the person’s disability or proof of the animal’s status or training. Although an individual with a disability may have to prove disability if the individual brings a claim or lawsuit later alleging discrimination because of the denial of a service animal, at the time the individual with a disability visits a place of public accommodation or public building operated by a public entity, the ADA only requires answers to these two questions.
Both the FHAA and ACAA, on the other hand, recognize the right of an individual with a disability to have ESAs, and both laws permit a much greater variety of animals than just dogs (or miniature horses). ESAs provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, and neither of these two laws requires the animal to have specialized training. Both laws also often exempt individuals with disabilities with ESAs from many fees associated with pets. To take a slightly deeper dive, much like how the ADA recognizes miniature horses as reasonable modifications, the FHAA also views service animals and emotional support animals as reasonable accommodations. That is, housing providers are required to modify their “no animals” policies to permit both service and emotional support animals for people with disabilities. Although such housing providers may request evidence of the claimed disability if it is not obvious, there are not many regulations or requirements related to animals under the FHAA.
The ACAA, by contrast, has some hoops for travelers to jump through, including requirements that the passenger provide very specific documentation related to the disability and the animal. The ACAA also specifically permits air carriers from prohibiting snakes, ferrets, rodents and spiders, and other animals that are too large to fit safely in the cabin.
Now get ready for the twists and turns, as we walk through a hypothetical scenario. A college student, let’s call him Michael, has an emotional support dog, Rex, that lives with him in his apartment. Michael travels to another city for a vacation. Michael is permitted to keep Rex in his apartment pursuant to the FHAA, but Michael has to put Rex in a crate in order to travel in a cab to Union Station in Denver because Rex isn’t a service animal and that cab is covered by Title III of the ADA. Michael can take Rex out of the crate once at Union Station, however, because Union Station is “pet-friendly.” Once the A Line train arrives to take Michael and Rex to DIA, Michael again has to put Rex back in the crate for the trip. DIA, however, is also “pet-friendly,” so once at the airport, Michael frees Rex again and stops at one of the airport’s new $100,000+ pet relief areas to give Rex a much-needed pit stop. After washing up, Michael decides to stop off at one of DIA’s many restaurants for a quick bite to eat. Unfortunately, though, that restaurant doesn’t permit non-service animals, so it’s back in the crate for poor Rex. After packing up a doggy bag, it’s off to the terminal for Michael and out of the crate once again for Rex.
Rex can stay out of the crate while on the plane because Rex is a documented ESA and is neither an unusual type of animal nor too large. However, once in the air, Rex begins to get a bit jumpy and starts barking at another passenger’s emotional support rabbit, so the flight crew asks Michael to crate Rex until he calms down, which, fortunately, doesn’t take long. A short while later, Michael and Rex land in their destination city and head off to rent a car to drive to their hotel. The rental car company, however, has a sign on the door that reads “service animals only,” so Michael puts Rex back in the crate while he goes inside. The desk agent, however, says that she is allergic to dogs and requires Michael to leave Rex outside entirely, commenting that there will be a significant cleaning fee when Michael returns the car if there is any dog hair left inside as well. Suffice it to say, Michael and Rex leave pretty quickly, without renting a car. Michael then pulls up a rideshare app and orders a vehicle. The driver shows up but, upon seeing Rex, says “no dogs” and drives away. A kind passerby who saw what happened informs Michael that there is a city bus that goes within a couple of blocks of his hotel, so Michael sticks Rex back in the crate and hops on board. Michael is able to uncrate Rex for the walk to the hotel but puts him back in the crate to check in. Unfortunately, Michael didn’t realize that the hotel charged an extra $50 per night as a pet deposit, which renders him broke for the remainder of his trip.
As that hypothetical illustrates, the patchwork of legal obligations from place to place varies a lot, making it pretty difficult to determine what animals are permitted where (and why). It’s easy to see, though, why some people try to pass off their pets as ESAs. Even though ESAs aren’t permitted everywhere, they are permitted in more places than pets (despite the current “pet-friendly” trend) and sometimes without a fee. Contrasting poor Michael’s and Rex’s experiences with those of a service dog user, who is permitted to keep the dog in all of these places Michael and Rex visited (and without being subject to any additional fees), it’s also easy to see why some people claim untrained animals and ESAs as actual service dogs. Although it is easy to understand why folks do this, it’s equally important to understand why doing so is harmful to real service animals and ESAs.
Service animals are critical supports for people with disabilities, allowing for greater independence with an awesome companion in tow. True service animals are generally very well-trained and very well-behaved, so much so that you might not even notice that the dog is there unless it is needed. A guide dog for an individual who is blind and a dog trained to assist an individual who uses a wheelchair to pick things up and assist with opening doors are examples of commonly used service animals. ESAs and pets, on the other hand, often do not receive the level of training that service animals do, and can exhibit less than appropriate behaviors. Things like excessive barking or jumping up (unless these are signals the dog uses to alert their handlers) and attempting to eat from a table can be enough to give the general public pause and put questions in their minds about other ESAs and service animals they may encounter in the future. Inadequately trained animals also can cause significant harm to service animals by interfering with, distracting, or even attacking trained animals. Although there is liability under Colorado state law for attacks on service animals, those sorts of attacks have caused some people with disabilities to have to retire their service animals early, costing them thousands of dollars and potentially months of independence until a different animal is located. And even then, the service animal user is left hoping that the same fate doesn’t befall the new dog. Because of all of the potential harms that can occur to true service animals, even by inadequately trained ESAs, the “pet-friendly” trend can be somewhat alarming. What’s more alarming, though, is the proliferation of websites offering certifications, credentials, letters from medical professionals (who have never personally interacted with the “patient”), and vests for a modest one-time fee. Despite efforts at both the state and federal levels to curb such abuses, these efforts have yet to produce results. It appears inevitable that more restrictions are coming for air carriers, as the Department of Transportation issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on February 5, 2020, related to animals on airplanes. The Colorado Legislature was also considering additional protections for people with disabilities and their service animals and ESAs, but it is unclear whether those efforts will gain traction. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon all of us pet owners, ESA companions and service animal users to keep all of our fuzzy friends safe and happy. As much as your own Rex might give you those infamous puppy dog eyes, unless Rex is an adequately trained pup, it might be best to just leave him home because failing to do so could result in thousands of dollars in liability, but more importantly, in a person with a disability losing their best friend and their independence.
The Colorado Trust is pleased to share a landscape assessment of community organizing in Colorado. The assessment was conducted to better understand the priority issues of community organizing groups or organizations, their approaches to community organizing, and the unique challenges they face.
This report provides information on where organizing is taking place across the state, who is being organized and around what issues. Characteristics of groups and organizations engaged in community organizing are shared, as well as information on tactics and strategies used, and leadership and governance structures. It also highlights the perspectives and expressed needs of community organizers across Colorado, as well as their successes and challenges in doing this work.
The assessment was conducted by AMGB Consulting from September to November of 2019. Three hundred and thirty community organizing groups or organizations were identified, 181 completed a survey and 40 staff members or organizers participated in an interview or focus group. While the assessment was successful in identifying organizing efforts in urban and rural areas across Colorado, it should be noted that it does not include data from all community organizing groups that are active in the state.
Please contact Abby Bohannan or Mayra Gonzales of AMBG Consulting with any questions about the landscape assessment. For information on advocacy grantmaking at The Colorado Trust, including our new Building and Bridging Power strategy—which will support the work of organizing people and building policy infrastructure (letters of intent are being accepted through Feb. 7, 2020)—please contact Noelle Dorward, advocacy and policy partner at The Colorado Trust.
“Our goal is to provide safe, efficient and comfortable service to all of our passengers. We are pleased to provide additional services to passengers with disabilities, and we have worked to make our facilities more accessible to customers with disabilities.”
The above is a direct quote from the Amtrack website on the Accessible Travel Services page.
The following article is what that reality looked like for two passengers are reported on January 17, 2020, by Joseph Shapiro, Correspondent, NPR Investigations.
“It costs just $16 to buy a one-way ticket on the Amtrak train from Chicago to Bloomington, Ill., unless you’re the two people who use wheelchairs and tried to buy tickets recently. They were told their tickets will cost not $16 — but $25,000.” (Click to read the full NPR article.)
CCDC is pleased to announce that in July 2020, there will be changes to two of the Single Entry Point Agencies (SEP). The Single Entry Point System is a collection of more than 20 state-wide SEPs that provide eligibility determinations and case management for particular Home and Community Based Services Waiver programs. Continue reading “Changes coming to two of the Single Entry Point Agencies (SEP)”
The New Year brings with it reflections on the past year, hopes for the year to come, resolutions to do better at something or perhaps a resolution to stop making empty promises to oneself. Why do we celebrate the New Year? Have we not had enough time off from work, enough to eat and drink, and enough time with family by now? The reason we celebrate is the passage of time is something to celebrate –as a culture that is a blend of many different cultures, we celebrate survival. Continue reading “The New Year Brings with it Reflections on the Past Year by Julie Reiskin”
Remembering some of the artists, innovators, and thinkers we lost in the past year.
View original article: Carrie Ann Lucas Obituary in the New York Times
By Katharine Q. Seelye
Feb. 27, 2019
Carrie Ann Lucas, who championed people, especially parents, with disabilities and won a major lawsuit to make Kmart more accessible, died on Sunday in Loveland, Colo. She was 47.
Her sister, Courtney Lucas, said the cause was complications of septic shock. Continue reading “Carrie Ann Lucas Obituary in the New York Times (Quoted)”
The aim is to reduce Medicaid fraud by requiring therapists, respite workers and nurses to log in and verify their location when they visit someone’s home to provide care. But backlash, especially from the parents of children with disabilities, has been fierce.
“We’re disabled, not criminals!” shouts one petition. Continue reading “Medicaid law forcing caregivers to be tracked by GPS inspires privacy backlash from Colorado’s disabled community”
The Regional Transportation District on Thursday proposed cutting six bus routes, reducing service on 19 bus routes, suspending special buses for sporting and community events, and curtailing service on three of its light rail lines.
The agency hopes those reductions are enough to give their operators a needed break. Because of a driver shortage, they’ve been required to work overtime for the last four years to keep service levels up. That in turn has led to more turnover, and, in October, senior staff told the RTD board they wanted to make “significant” cuts to service in a last-ditch bid to fix the problem.
“Clearly, we would rather not be doing any of this,” spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas said at a press briefing Thursday. “But this is our responsibility; we’re owning this. Some of these are going to be painful.”
The agency is currently short about 80 bus drivers and 60 light rail operators; it needs 1,084 and 216 of each, respectively. RTD says the cuts to regularly scheduled service alone would reduce the need for 44 bus drivers and six light rail operators on a given weekday. The suspension of special service buses — which include BuffRide, BroncosRide and RunRide on Memorial Day Weekend — would mean anywhere from six to 114 fewer drivers would need to report to work.
The 16L on West Colfax, the 55 in Arvada, the 99L in Lakewood and Littleton, the 157 to the Community College of Aurora and Buckley Airforce Base, the 236 in Boulder and the 403 in Highlands Ranch, would be cut completely. This map shows which regular bus and light rail routes would be affected by the cuts.
Peak frequency on the 16th Street MallRide would drop to three minutes and the D Line from downtown Denver to Littleton would no longer operate on weekends. Only part of the R Line would see reductions because the federal government, which funded part of the line, turned down RTD’s request to reduce service in Lone Tree.
Service on the 16 would be expanded, as would weekend service on the D Line’s cousin, the C Line. Many 16L riders will likely migrate to the nearby W light rail line.
But on a recent morning, some said they’ll have to switch to the 16 local. Solomon Joseph, who said he takes his kids to school Lakewood on the 16L every day, said the local bus will add at least another 15 minutes each way — and more if he misses his connection.
“RTD, you’re going to make a big mistake if you cut this route,” he said. “Because there are people more than just myself that ride it on a regular, daily basis and depend on it.”
Carla Respects Nothing said she takes the 16L from her home on the west side to her job in downtown Denver every day.
“It takes me not even 10 minutes to get to work. I’m lucky,” she said. “I just hope they don’t cut it because we really need these limited routes to get where we are going faster.”
And it also appears that cuts could affect future users of RTD’s paratransit service, Access-A-Ride. Anyone who lives within a 3/4-mile radius and has a qualifying disability is entitled to use the service. Advocates had worried the cuts would affect their communities, but in November, outgoing General Manager Dave Genova told the board that “We don’t need to touch Access-a-Ride.”
But now, RTD says no new customers will be added to the program if routes are eliminated in their area.
“I have issue with that,” said Jaime Lewis, a transit adviser with the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition who attended the press conference. “I can see the scenario where if somebody obtains a disability, that their neighbor is going to have access to Access-A-Ride and they won’t. That proposes an issue with our community.”
Additionally, what were originally advertised at “temporary” cuts now contain a caveat that poorly performing service will likely not be reinstated. RTD staff say those services likely would’ve been cut through the agency’s routine service changes.
At a special board meeting Thursday evening, several directors said they’d like to know which specific lines are unlikely to come back. Staff said they couldn’t say at the moment.
Overall, RTD says 1,049 out of 10,102 daily bus trips would be affected, along with 420 out of 1,036 light rail trips. Two board members estimated that added up to about 5 percent of RTD’s services, though staff did not corroborate that assessment.
“I think this is a good start. I think we don’t want to go too far,” said RTD COO Michael Ford. “We want to stabilize the system, and we don’t want to cut it so much where we’re impacting the system in a negative way.”
Even if the board approves the cuts, RTD says they will not amount to enough to completely eliminate the need for forced overtime. As the process moves forward, public meetings will be held in January and February in each of the 15 districts that make up RTD. The final plan would likely be in front of the board in March and would go into effect in May.
If the plan is a success and RTD is able to add and retain more drivers, well-performing routes that were dropped would then be considered for reinstatement.
The monster snowstorm that pummeled the Denver metro area just days before Thanksgiving strained Littleton’s snowplowing capacity, but advocates say poorly shoveled sidewalks can pose a threat to vulnerable people long after the roads are cleared.
People with mobility issues can find themselves effectively trapped by iced-over walkways, said Julie Reiskin, the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.
“Shoveling sidewalks means everything” for people with disabilities, said Reiskin, who uses a wheelchair. “A lot of us don’t drive. We use buses, and in many cases after this last storm we couldn’t make it down the block, much less to a bus stop.”
Businesses and absentee landlords seem to be some of the worst offenders, Reiskin said.
“We notice businesses that keep them clear, and we patronize them year-round,” she said.
Reiskin said even some well-meaning shovelers simply scoop out a path as wide as their shovel blade, which doesn’t accommodate wheelchairs or people with walkers.
Shoveling the vast majority of sidewalks in town is the responsibility of adjacent property owners, said David Flaig, Littleton’s landscape manager.
“The law says you’ve got 24 hours after the snowflakes stop falling to get your walk shoveled, and that means all the way to the corner,” Flaig said.
The city is responsible for shoveling about five miles of city-owned sidewalks, many on bridges or around city buildings, Flaig said, but citizens are responsible for many dozens more.
“If you live on a corner, that includes the curb cuts,” Flaig said.
The Thanksgiving storm was especially gnarly because the following days didn’t warm up enough to melt the snow and ice, Flaig said, and while city crews could put down more ice, there are environmental concerns at work.
“We could salt everything like crazy, and it would work, but at the end the South Platte would be about as salty as the South Pacific,” Flaig said.
Snowplows may fling snow and ice right back up on curb cuts, Flaig said, but it’s still residents’ responsibility to make sure they stay clear.
Poorly shoveled sidewalks can spell trouble for blind people, said Dan Burke, the spokesman for Littleton’s Colorado Center for the Blind.
“We teach independence, and that means we’ve got to be out in all kinds of weather,” Burke said. “You can’t be a fair-weather employee. But when we’re out and the sidewalks are jammed, it pushes us into the street, which just isn’t safe. Also, we use curb cuts to know where crosswalks are, and if we can’t find them, it’s easy to end up headed off at a bad angle.”
Poorly shoveled sidewalks are bad news for the elderly, said Diane McClymonds, the executive director of TLC Meals on Wheels, which brings food to homebound seniors.
“It can mean the difference between being able to get to the doctor or not,” McClymonds said. “And in a big storm like this last one, many of our clients aren’t able to shovel that much snow.”
The program always needs volunteers, Jorgensen said. Right now, she’s got 11 volunteer shovelers on the list, but last year she wound up with more than 80 seniors who needed shoveling help.
“It means everything to the folks on our waiting list,” Jorgensen said. “If you can help, get in touch. Your neighbors need you.”
Whether city code enforcement issued any tickets for unshoveled sidewalks after the Thanksgiving storm wasn’t immediately available, said Jennifer Henninger, the city’s community development director, but residents who encounter unshoveled sidewalks can report them to the city through the “SeeClickFix” phone app.
Reiskin, the advocate for people with disabilities, said reporting unshoveled sidewalks doesn’t help much in the moment.
“We’d really like to see cities doing their own enforcement, rather than putting the onus on people out on the street,” Reiskin said. “Reporting violators doesn’t help someone who’s stranded. We just really need people to take this seriously.”