By: Andrew Sagona
The Family Café is a free conference for Floridians of all ages with disabilities and their families to learn about the latest developments in the Florida disability community and to attend the annual Florida “Governor’s Summit on Disabilities.” I have been attending Family Café for over ten years, and I still feel the same sense of wonder and excitement now as I did at my first Café.
This is in part because the atmosphere is fun, warm, friendly, and inclusive. There is always something fun to do for everyone and there are new and interesting things to learn at the Café, whether it is information on disability advocacy, an invention that helps people with disabilities, or a law that fights discrimination.
However, the main reason for my wonder and excitement – my favorite part of attending Family Café – is getting to meet new friends and see old friends again. Many of the people at Café attend the conference every year, the result being that you begin to see familiar faces at each conference. For some, like myself, Family Café serves as an annual family reunion of sorts. After attending the conference even once, you make some very close friends – to the point that they become your second family. But because of time and distance restrictions, we are unable to see each other at any other time of the year. So when the three days of Family Café rolls around each year, there is a great deal of anticipation, happiness, and joy when you see your “family” again.
Ultimately, friendship is the defining trait of Family Café. It is the heart of Family Café because there is a sense of acceptance and belonging at the conference that doesn’t exist to the same extent outside of the conference. Many attendees spend all but three days of their year experiencing stares, strange questions, and even discrimination. However, for the three days each June that the conference is held, all of that goes away. For those three days, everyone is kind to each other and no one is viewed as “less than” anyone else. For those three days, everyone is welcomed.
This year marked the 18th Annual Family Café, and it was held from June 10–12 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, Florida. According to Family Café founder and organizer Lori Fahey, this year’s conference was the largest in history: approximately 10,000 people in attendance, over 160 training sessions, and more than 100 booths filled the exhibition hall. The Café also featured fun activities, including a Gatorland wildlife show, rock climbing wall, photo booth with Superman, and a fashion show. Each Family Café features three keynote speakers and two and a half days of workshops, which are informational presentations given by professionals, business owners, governmental agencies, and self-advocates covering diverse topics such as education, employment, starting a business, social security, Medicaid, technology, medicine, and advocacy. In addition, Family Café provides many activities for individuals with disabilities like paddle boarding, scuba diving, and sensory rooms.
The conference also has an exhibition hall filled with booths sponsored by vendors, businesses, and government agencies with the goal of letting attendees discover new products and services, or speak to agency representatives to help them with problems they are facing
This year’s “Governor’s Summit on Disabilities” featured information relating to the disability community. The biggest news announced at the summit was the introduction of the ABLE Trust, a savings account for people with disabilities that allows them to save money above the $2,000 limit set by Social Security, as well as the news that, as a result of increased funding, 5,000 individuals will come off the 20,000 people waiver waitlist this year. The summit was attended by Governor Rick Scott, members of the Florida Legislature such as Senate President Andy Gardiner, and heads of governmental agencies such as Barbara Palmer of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Pam Stewart of the Department of Education, and Florida Surgeon General Celeste Phillip.
The Family Café conference isn’t just about education and policy, though. It is also about having fun and making new friends–and the fun begins with the hotel. Each year, the hotel chosen for the conference has something for everyone: massive pools for kids to play in, restaurants for families to dine at, and much more. This year’s hotel was no exception. The Hyatt Regency had three pools to choose from, the largest of which featured a water slide and other amenities. The Regency also had numerous eateries, including bars for the adults, an up-scale restaurant, and a 50’s-style diner.
The fun continues with the conference itself. Throughout the three-day event, DJs pumped music throughout the convention hall, enticing children and adults alike to dance. Performance groups, such as bands, a choir, and a dance troupe, performed throughout the Café as well, and they entertained large crowds with their talents. And there were lots of giveaways, with prizes ranging from gift cards to PCs.
The culmination of the fun was a massive dance party that was held on Saturday night. For more than two hours, hundreds of attendees packed a large ballroom and danced the night away to all kinds of popular music. Children and adults “raised the roof,” breakdanced, and danced free style. There were organized dances as well, with songs like “YMCA” and the “Cha-Cha Slide” bringing everyone together to dance in unison. The sense of excitement and pure joy that filled the ballroom was infectious.
For more information on Family Café, visit www.familycafe.org.
By: Lorinda Gonzalez
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
Deaf people can’t dance. Blind people don’t like art. People in wheelchairs can’t have sex. These are just a few of the stereotypes and misconceptions that are common trains of thought about individuals with disabilities. Many people assume all sorts of falsehoods that are, in fact, not true! Such assumptions can lead to extremely serious mistakes in judgment—and lead to missed opportunities to engage with a group of wonderful people. In order to break through these stereotypes and misconceptions, we can start by having an open mind and acknowledging that no two people are exactly alike.
Deaf to Dancing – Breaking Barriers One Step at a Time
Nyle DiMarco, an American model and actor, showed the public that a deaf person could not only dance, but win the infamous Dancing with the Stars Mirror Ball. He was paired with professional dancer Peta Murgatroyd, who had no experience whatsoever with working alongside a deaf person, nor did she have any training in sign language. Interestingly, as the show progressed viewers saw the couple peel away stereotypes one week at a time by showing America that yes … a deaf person can dance and dance well! During the ninth week of competition, the couple decided to show viewers exactly what it was like for DiMarco to dance without sound. During a powerful Paso Doble dance series, DiMarco performed 1/3 of a minute to this lively style of dance modeled after the drama and movement of the Spanish and Portuguese bullfight. These few moments replicated the way DiMarco experiences dance; with no sound, yet high energy and passionate emotion. His success on the show broke barriers and brought us one step closer to breaking the many misconceptions the deaf community faces on a daily basis.
Good Sex with Any Body – Dr. Sheypuk
The way people with disabilities are viewed related to sex and intimacy is riddled with stereotypes and misconceptions of inadequacy. Asexual. Not able to have sex. Not able to have good sex. Can’t be a wife. Can’t be a mother. Can’t be a good mother. Weak. Infertile. Can’t be a good father. All of these and more are inaccurate patterns of thought that challenge equality and make it an unfair playing field for individuals with disabilities. Dr. Danielle Sheypuk is a Clinical Psychologist in New York City, who specializes in socialization and sexuality amongst individuals with physical disabilities. According to Sheypuk, “Societies misconceptions and inaccurate assumptions are the largest obstacles we face in this area with a disability, and let me tell you…it’s the size of Mount Everest.” There are hundreds of different disabilities and even more variations making each person completely different from one another. Through her public appearances and private practice, Dr. Sheypuk is initiating a new trend of accepting that people with disabilities are in fact capable of having healthy, active, and mutually enjoyable intimate relationships. Her work has caught the public’s eye, as she’s been interviewed and featured in Fox News, Elle Magazine, Daily Mail, The Guardian, and presented a Ted Talk.
Personal Thoughts – Don’t Assume, Just Ask!
I have found that some of my relationships were more open and honest while others were closed off and full of assumptions, since my suitors varied in their previous experience with a person in a wheelchair. The key to the most enjoyable of my experiences has been open and honest communication. I always encouraged them to ask me any questions that may pop up rather than assuming there was anything we couldn’t do. This same piece of advice goes beyond relationships and can also be used as a way of integrating individuals with disabilities into all societal activities. This is the first step in eliminating misconceptions and combating stereotypes surrounding disability.
 Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd, DWTS Season 22. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3609242/Peta-Murgatroyd-celebrates-DWTS-win-Nyle-DiMarco-GMA-Erin-Andrews-let-pregnancy-news-slip.html
By: Matthew Dietz
Unless the housing facility is a qualified 55 and over housing development, a housing provider cannot have rules that treat children differently, and less favorably than adults. When the US Congress amended the Fair Housing Act in 1988, it prohibited housing practices that discriminate on the basis of familial status.When it amended the Act, Congress recognized that “families with children are refused housing despite their ability to pay for it.” In addition, Congress cited a HUD survey that found 25% of all rental units exclude children and that 50% of all rental units have policies that restrict families with children in some way. The HUD survey also revealed that almost 20% of families with children were forced to live in less desirable housing because of restrictive policies. Congress recognized these problems and sought to remedy them by amending the Fair Housing Act to make families with children a protected class. So any rules, that do not have a legitimate safety justification, cannot indicate a “preference, limitation, or discrimination” against children under the age of 18. This includes rules that prohibit children from common areas in the facility with or without supervision, or limit the facilities of the housing development to adults. All rules must apply to children and adults equally, and cannot solely target children’s behavior.
If rules have a legitimate safety rationale, then such rules may be legitimate. But, again rules such as all children under sixteen must be supervised by an adult does not have a safety rationale, but a discriminatory basis against loud teenagers. On the other hand, a fifteen year old at a gym may injure him or herself on free weights without having supervision.
Summer camp must be inclusive
Over the past fifteen years, I have had several cases involving children who were not permitted to go to the summer camp of their choice, or were segregated in the summer camp because of the child’s disabilities. A summer camp, like any other public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, must provide reasonable accommodations for campers with disabilities, and must not segregate them from other students. Camps operated by governmental entities or colleges have a broader duty to accommodate campers with disabilities than some private entities that do
not have the same resources as a governmental entity. Examples of situations which I have encountered over the years are as follows:
- Children who are Deaf – Deaf kids have the right to a qualified sign language interpreter for all programs and services of a camp that involve communication that is long, complex, or important. Examples of this would be instructions on how to play a complicated game, story time, puppet shows, and educational instruction. If there are games that involve communication, then an interpreter would be appropriate so the Deaf child is included.
- Autistic kids – If a child who lives with autism has a one-on-one aide at school, for the same reasons, that child may need a one-on-one aide at a camp. Further, if a child needs further instruction in a game, or assistance with social interactions, that would be an accommodation that must be provided.
- Kids who have a medical condition such as Diabetes – If a child has a medical condition, or needs assistance with a medical condition, such as diabetes or HIV, then the question is whether the child poses a direct threat to his or her own health or the safety of others. If a child needs minor assistance with a medical condition, or can manage his or her own medical needs and monitoring, a camp cannot discriminate against these children.
- Kids with mobility impairments or other physical disabilities – Camps, like any other public accommodations, must have their facility accessible to children with disabilities. Older camps must do modifications that are readily achievable, easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense, and those camps altered or built after 1991 must be constructed accessibly. The camp is also responsible for making reasonable accommodations for campers with disabilities, which may involve some personal services, such as assistance in dressing, if similar services are available for able bodied campers.
- Kids with allergies – Kids who have allergies cannot be excluded from camps, and camps must be prepared to exclude certain allergens to accommodate a camper, and be trained in the event a camper has an allergic reaction. It would not be unreasonable to expect camp counselors to learn how to administer epinephrine auto-injector (“Epi-pen”) shots and dispense asthma medication, assist in administering Diastat for seizures in emergencies or otherwise teach camp counselors in basic first aid or CPR.
Parents can choose to send their child to a segregated camp, because some camps may provide special skills or advantages for children with disabilities, but the choice of going to a specialized camp is a choice, such as camps where all children are deaf.
However, all children may not be able to go to integrated camps. For example, there may be children with developmental disabilities or intellectual disabilities who would not be able to care for themselves at a sleep-away camp, and it would be a fundamental alteration of the camp’s programs to develop a program for one child’s disability. Further, if a child is dependent on mechanical supports, a camp would not be required to hire medical personnel to accommodate medically complex children. For these kids specialized camps are a phenomenal way to get out and enjoy the community. For example, Nicklaus Children’s hospital operates the VACC camp for technologically dependent children which includes swimming, field trips to local attractions,campsite entertainment, structured games, “free play”, to promote family growth and development while enhancing these kids’ self-esteem and social skills.
It’s so damn hot – my kid has asthma and needs an air conditioner
Last year, we represented a mother who had a child who lived in HUD-subsidized low-income housing. Asthma is often triggered by inhalation of air particles that contain allergens such as pollen, mold spores, dust mite droppings and animal dander. Air conditioners contain filters that collect and store these particles, keeping intake to minimum. Air conditioning also helps eliminate humidity on hot Florida nights which enables mold and algae to grow much more rapidly than it could if it were living in dry air. Some children and adults suffer from asthma to the degree that not having air conditioning may result in serious harm and hospitalization. Requesting to install an air conditioner unit in a home or apartment would be a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability.
According to the Fair Housing Act, a tenant with a disability can request a reasonable modification. According to HUD Guidance, “A reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, in order to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises. Reasonable modifications can include structural changes to interiors and exteriors of dwellings and to common and public use areas.” Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider must permit the modification, the tenant is responsible for paying the cost of the modification. If the housing provider is a public housing authority or a housing provider that receives federal financial assistance, the modification must be paid for by the housing provider unless providing the modification would be an undue financial and administrative burden.
Another example modifications can be a pool lift!
Discrimination in Pool Rules
- No inflatable flotation devices.
- Water wings, swimmies, floats, bathing suits rings, and other inflatable devices are not permitted in the pools.
- Absolutely no dogs allowed in pool area
Also, under the Fair Housing Act, persons with disabilities can ask for “reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford … person(s) [with disabilities] equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” So when a person is required to use water wings, floats, special swimming devices, they can do so. In order to request an accommodation, the person needing an accommodation should ask the housing provider, and if the disability is not obvious, then the person may need to obtain verification from a doctor, therapist, or any other provider verifying the disability and need for the accommodation.
In addition, “no dogs allowed” rules do not apply to service or emotional support animals, where their presence is necessary for the person with a disability equal use and enjoyment of the premises. The Fair Housing Act and the ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where others are allowed to go.
by Lorinda Gonzalez
Tropical weather, palm trees on every corner, and delicious Cuban coffee. Welcome to Miami! The city whose heart beats to the sounds of a Latin drum, where beaches and nightlife never end. Miami is one of the world’s most renowned vacation spots because of its rich culture and diversity, which also embraces accessibility.
Known as one of the most populous urban area in the United States, the Miami area is a hub for culture, media, entertainment, fashion, art and international trade. The city boasts modernized infrastructure design and is a central tourist location. Just like the rest of the state, the terrain is smooth with no high mountaintops or steep hills in sight. The vast majority of the city is well paved, with proper cutouts at each street end for wheelchair users. Miami International Airport is a newly renovated hub connecting domestic and international flights directly into the city. The airport was recently linked to the Metrorail Train system, making Miami one-step closer to a fully accessible city via public transportation. However, take note that the trains stop at midnight so if you’re a night owl, you’re better off renting a private vehicle.
The transit system is a bit old – the trains date back to the 70’s – but are ADA compliant. As of 2013, all public transit bus routes were made wheelchair accessible and equipped with a lift. There are two train systems serving Miami Dade County – Metrorail and Metromover – that are fairly easy for a person with a disability to use. All stops have elevator access to platform levels and aside from a two-inch gap between the platform and train car, the Metrorail is easy to get on and off of. The Metromover is a free option, circling Downtown Miami 7-days week. Venues such as the American Airlines Arena, the James L. Knight Center, the Port of Miami and the Perez Art Museum are a few of the hot spots one can easily travel to on the Mover. If you’re interested in going to Miami Beach, a quick Mover ride to Bayside will lead you to a dock where you can get on a water taxi to cross the Intercoastal. That’s where you’ll find south Florida’s premier wheelchair accessible beaches. At select spots, both manual and motorized beach wheelchairs are offered on a first-come first-serve basis, free of charge. The City of Miami Beach provides this service along with a mobi-mat system that allows wheelchair access directly to la playa. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Interested in the nightlife? You’ll find that Miami is a city where there’s always something going on. From the bustling streets of South Beach, surrounded by the beautiful – while not very accessible – Art Deco district, to the infamous Cuban neighborhood of Little Havana, Miami has something enticing to offer everyone. If you’re interested in embracing Latin history and culture, Calle Ocho is your go-to spot. The streets in this area are somewhat outdated, so getting around in a wheelchair can be a challenge. About half of the stores have one small step to enter the buildings while the others are stuffed wall to wall with knick-knacks to take home. Don’t fret; if you visit Calle Ocho September through May, the weather will be just cool enough to enjoy a stride up and down the main street where you can enjoy great music, yummy treats and a cultural experience you’re sure to never forget. If you’re more into the high end lifestyles of the rich and famous, the plush hotels of Miami Beach and the historic hideaways of Coral Gables may be you’re preference. Both are fairly wheelchair accessible, with Coral Gables boasting some of the most beautiful Spanish Colonial style architecture in the southern US. If you prefer quieter, mom & pop shops, Coconut Grove is a great place to visit. While the main sidewalks are clear of debris, hundred-year-old trees grow naturally out of side street sidewalks making it difficult to get around.
The hottest parties are in South Beach, but it wasn’t until recently that the city updated their bus system to make it accessible for wheelchair users. They now offer a new bus system, the South Beach Local, where you can ride throughout the city for only 25¢ per trip. Buses run every 13 to 30 minutes daily, stopping at popular destinations throughout the area. All air-conditioned buses are wheelchair accessible, making it a breeze to take a leisurely stroll down Lincoln Road or Española Way or down to South Pointe Park for a view of Fisher Island and cruise ships sailing out of the Port of Miami. Hop on again and ride in comfort to any place on Washington Avenue – a prime shopping area in Miami. The South Beach Local makes getting around SoBe a breeze. Just be careful not to drink too many mojitos – the bus stops running at 12:49 am every day.
If you’re ready for the warm Florida sun on your face, miles of blue ocean and a never ending night, pack your bags and get ready to enjoy the Magic City! Bienvenidos!
Lorinda Gonzalez resides in South Florida with her family and service dog, Remy. She was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of three, and has used a motorized wheelchair for mobility since the age of nine. Lorinda holds a Bachelor in the Arts Degree in English Writing and Rhetoric, and is currently completing a Masters of Arts Degree in Communications. She is a co-founder of NMD United, 501 ©3 and on the board of multiple non-profit organizations. In her free time, Lorinda enjoys spending time with family and friends, painting, listening to music, and traveling to historical locations.
Litigation – Pledger v. SAS Transportation
Jeff and Suzanne Pledger love to go on cruises. Jeff is blind and he uses a guide dog named Joelle. As an advocate for persons with visual impairment, Jeff is the past President of Verizon’s Disabilities Issues Awareness Leaders (DIAL), which provides support and resources to Verizon’s employees with disabilities. As part of his accomplishments, he was part of the task force to develop the 1996 Telecommunications Act. This Act provided many benefits to people with disabilities. For example, this work force was instrumental in developing cell phones that are easier to use by people who have low vision and hearing loss.
Jeff and Suzanne have been on a number of cruises, and on January 13, 2014, they flew into the Ft. Lauderdale Airport for a five day cruise departing out of the Port of Miami. Prior to the flight, the Pledgers contacted SAS Transportation, Inc. for transportation to the cruise ship and, as a courtesy, they disclosed to the transportation company that there would be a service dog included in the requested trip.
The owner of the transportation services declined the transportation request because there is no room on the vehicle for a service dog and it would make other passengers uncomfortable. He suggested they would need to arrange a private shuttle. The Pledgers attempted to educate the owner of SAS regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and state statutes requiring equal access to individuals with disabilities with service dogs, but the owner would not bend, and wrote back:
“I respectfully decline your request as my vans are not set for animals even service dogs and with how heavily reserved we are and the vans being full it is not in the best interest of my vehicle to transport your request. I apologize but I do have the choice if I decide to turn down a request especially if I feel the situation is uncomfortable for all of my passengers. There is just no room for a dog in the shuttle vans because our vans are full and the vans have no extra room for a dog.”
The Pledgers requested assistance from Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s federally-mandated protection and advocacy system that provides legal and other services to persons with disabilities. An advocate reached out to the owner and attempted to educate on the requirements of the ADA, but again was ignored.
On June 17, 2014, Disability Independence Group joined Disability Rights Florida to sue SAS Transportation on behalf of Jeffrey Pledger to ensure that SAS Transportation would not discriminate against persons who use service dogs, and just four months later, obtained a settlement agreement that ensured adequate policies, training, and notice to customers that SAS was going to allow persons with service dogs to travel in their vehicles.
All Air Carriers are legally required to allow both emotional support animals and service animals on flights without charge. However, it is always good to review the requirements for service animals for your particular airline, and whether there are any conditions that need to be met. In addition, some international destinations and Hawaii provide additional qualifications for transportation of any animal.
Upon arrival at the TSA checkpoint, advise the officer that your animal is a service animal. At that time, you can use the disability or family lane to expedite the screening process. If the passenger and service dog are screened by a metal detector, they can proceed one of three ways:
- The passenger can walk through first with the animal following behind on its leash;
- The animal can walk through first on its leash with the passenger following behind; or
- The passenger and dog can walk through at the same time. If the passenger and the dog walk through at the same time and the metal detector alarms, both the passenger and dog are subject to additional screening, including a thorough pat down.
Where does the dog go in the airplane?
When making reservations, a passenger with a disability can request either a bulkhead seat or a seat other than a bulkhead seat. A dog or other service animal may accompany a passenger with a disability to the passenger’s assigned seat and remain there as long as the animal does not obstruct the aisle or other areas that must remain unobstructed for safety reasons. If a service animal cannot be accommodated at the seat of the passenger with a disability and if there is another seat in the same class of service where the passenger and the animal can be accommodated, an airline must offer the passenger the opportunity to move to the other seat with the service animal. Switching seats in the same class of service must be explored as an alternative before requiring that the service animal travel in the cargo compartment. However, if the service animal’s behavior in a public setting is inappropriate or disruptive to other passengers or carrier personnel, an airline may refuse to permit the animal on the flight or offer the passenger alternative accommodations such as accepting the animal for carriage in the cargo hold.
Is it required to give advance notice?
It is not required under the law to provide advance notice if you are traveling with a service animal. However, in order to guarantee your seat assignment, you should be aware that, depending on whether the carrier provides advance seat assignments and the type of seating method it uses, it may have a policy requiring passengers with a disability (i) to request a particular seat assignment 24 hours in advance of the departure of the flight or (ii) to check in at least an hour before the departure of the flight.
What proof is necessary to prove that the animal is a service or emotional support animal?
For a service animal who’s use is not obvious, as with any public accommodation, the airline agent may ask (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. According to DOT regulations, an airline must accept the following as evidence that the animal is indeed a service animal: (1) the credible verbal assurances of a passenger with a disability using the animal, the presence of harnesses or markings on harnesses, tags, or identification cards or other written documentation.
For emotional support animals, the documentation required is different, and most airlines require current documentation (i.e., dated within a year of the date of travel) from a mental-health professional stating that: (1) the passenger has a mental health-related disability; the passenger needs the animal for the mental-health condition; and the provider of the letter is a licensed mental-health professional (or a medical doctor) and the passenger is under the individual’s professional care. Most airlines have specific forms that are found on their website.
How do you get problems resolved – the Complaints Resolution Official
Each Air Carrier has designated at least one Complaint Resolution Official under the Air Carrier Access Act to handle disability-related matters at each airport that carrier serves. Each CRO must be trained and thoroughly proficient with respect to the rights of passengers with disabilities under the ACAA and accompanying regulations. Whenever there is any disability related problem involving an air carrier, the first person to request is the airlines CRO, and the CRO has the ability to resolve the complaint. If the CRO does not resolve the situation or take a complaint, the Department of Transportation has an aviation consumer disability hotline for resolving issues related to disability accommodations. The toll-free number for the hotline is 1-800-778-4838 (voice) and 1-800-455-9880 (TTY).
References for specific Airlines
- United Airlines: http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/specialneeds/disabilities/assistance_animals.aspx
- American Airlines – http://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/specialAssistance/serviceAnimals.jsp
- US Airways – http://www.usairways.com/en-US/traveltools/specialneeds/animals.html
- Delta Airlines – http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/special-travel-needs/disabilities/service-animals.html
- Alaska Airlines – http://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/accessible-services/specialservices-support-animals.aspx
- JetBlue – http://help.jetblue.com/SRVS/CGI-BIN/webisapi.dll?New,Kb=askBlue,case=obj%281095%29
- Southwest Airlines – https://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/unique-travel-needs/customers-with-disabilities-pol.html#unique_travel_needs_allergies_disabilities_pol_tab_list_tab_10
Department of Transportation FAA regulations regarding service animals- http://airconsumer.dot.gov/rules/20030509.pdf
TSA for service animals and monkey helpers – http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/service-animals
By: Aaron Carter Bates, Esq.
Speaking from personal experience, one of the most difficult situations I regularly encounter, as both an attorney and an individual with a disability, is air travel. Unbeknownst to most, air travel is one of the least accessible day-to-day accommodations encountered by individuals with disabilities. As such, one of the most common questions I get asked in my practice is: Why does it seem like airlines are so far behind other public accommodations in terms of accessibility? This article hopes to briefly address that question while also giving disabled air travelers some critical tips for reducing the inconvenience of flying as much as possible.
There are several reasons that, in terms of accessibility, air travel is not on par with other modes of transportation. One, airplanes are in no way designed for, or accessible to, air travelers with disabilities. Prior to boarding a plane, an individual with a disability must leave their chair for an “aisle chair” (an ineffective assistive mobility device for most disabilities) or be assisted by untrained airline personnel onto the plane. Further, the chair (or power chair) is then taken by baggage handlers who, more often than not, damage the chair during loading and unloading in the cargo hold of the plane. This is especially problematic if the chair is a custom, power wheelchair, as service and repairs are especially expensive. Additionally, if a service or support animal is involved, an additional layer of obstacles must be overcome to ensure that an individual can make the trip with their assistance animal.1
All of these reasons, however, stem from the fact that domestic air carriers are largely exempt from the enforcement provisions of federal civil rights laws, including, importantly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41705 (“ACAA”),2 is the primary law setting forth the obligations of air carriers as it relates to disabled travelers. The ACAA was passed in 1986 and is enforced by the United States Department of Transportation. The DOT issues implementing regulations from time to time, and those regulations provide the meat on the bones of the ACAA.
At first glance, many aspects of the ACAA appear to be taken directly from the ADA. For example, issues like the definition of “disability” are identical to the ADA. The main difference between the ACAA and ADA, however, is that under the ACAA, disabled travelers do not have a private right of action against an air carrier that discriminates against the customer.3 Unfortunately, the most effective means for effectuating change when dealing with large venues or companies is the legal process. However, if an individual is discriminated against while on an airplane, there is no recourse through the courts for the most part. Any complaints or allegations of discrimination are handled in concert between the customer, the airline’s customer service, and the DOT. Aside from potential reimbursement of repair costs or fines levied by the government against the airline, there is no real incentive preventing air carriers from repeating bad conduct. At the end of the day, the degree of effort required to remedy, and the consequences for, misconduct is more trouble than it is worth for the average disabled air traveler to pursue.
With all of that in mind, here are some important tips for individuals with disabilities to follow prior to their next flight:
A. Know your rights. The sad reality is that most airline employees are poorly trained when it comes to providing services to disabled air travelers. I can’t stress enough how important it is to carry a copy of the DOT’s rules as it relates to air travel for persons with disabilities. Entitled “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel”, these rules address 95% of the questions that might arise while traveling by air.4
B. Don’t take the first no for an answer. In the event questions or issues arise, always ask to speak to the airline’s complaints resolution official (”CRO”). Each airline is required to designate and make available to customers a CRO, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Generally, CROs are the airline employees with the most knowledge concerning disabled air travelers and associated accommodations. Additionally, the DOT maintains a customer assistance line for these types of issues.5 If the CRO is not being as helpful as they should, contacting the DOT may assist in expediting the process.
C. Contact the airline prior to your date of travel. A lot of the issues commonly encountered by disabled air travelers can be resolved ahead of time through the carrier’s reservation and/or customer service departments. At a minimum, contact your airline 48 hours prior to your departure to inform them of the specifics related to your disability and accompanying needs. This includes advising them of what type of assistive device you’ll be traveling with (i.e. chair, power, type of battery, etc.), whether or not you need assistance enplaning or deplaning, or seat assignment (i.e. the need to be reassigned to seating near the bulkhead of the plane to reduce the amount of distance you’ll need to traverse from the door of the plane to your seat, etc.).6
D. Become very familiar with the complaint resolution process. As mentioned previously, in the event you believe an airline has discriminated against you
on the basis of disability, the designated means for recourse is a complaint filed with the DOT. The DOT’s air consumer department provides a bevy of information on both the rules airlines are required to follow, and the forms and steps necessary to pursue a remedy through the DOT’s administrative process. Having an understanding of these rules prior to traveling will assist a disabled traveler in making sure that the full scope of remedies available through the DOT’s grievance process are in play in the unfortunate event that further steps are necessary. In summary, traveling with a disability already presents certain obstacles and concerns that are just inherent to being disabled. However, the very limited range of available options to a disabled passenger that is discriminated against makes it very important that such travelers are well-versed in their rights and their legal options.
1. Additional guidance on traveling with an assistance animal can be found here: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/20030509.pdf
2. See also Title 14 CFR Part 382; 70 FR 41482; http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/ACAAcomplaint.htm
3. In other words, generally, a disabled air traveler does not have the right to file a lawsuit for discrimination against an air carrier. This rule is not set in stone or uniform. While most circuits have found that a private right of action by an aggrieved, disabled traveler does not exist – see, e.g., Love v. Delta Air Lines, 310 F.3d 1347 (11th Cir. 2002) – circuits, such as the 9th, do recognize such a right under the ACAA. See Newman v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 176 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 1999).
4. The most recent version can be found here: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/382short.pdf.
5. The DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division: 800.778.4838 (voice) or 800.455.9880 (TTY), hours of operation: 9 AM to 5 PM EST, Monday through Friday.
6. Up until the day of departure, airlines block out certain bulkhead seating (i.e. close to the door) to accommodate the travel schedules of employees, travelers with disabilities, or any other passenger with special needs.
Dogs have long been the companion of our U.S. Navy Sailors on vessels for their ability to build morale. In the early days, dogs often served a more practical function by leading patrols onto foreign shores to search for food and warn of any dangers lurking out of eyesight. Now, most cruise ships allow service animals on board their ships. While service animals are permitted, emotional support animals or pets are not.
At the time of reservation, you should advise the disability services office of any disability related needs or accommodations, such as a service animal. Most ships designated relief areas with cypress mulch, paper pellets or sod to accommodate service dogs. The ships are not required to provide food or care for the dog, so you may need to bring your own dog food on board. Many of the ports you may visit will only accept annual rabies vaccinations; however, it is a good idea to research the requirements needed at each port. If the service animal does not have the required vaccinations or documentation the service animal not be able to disembark.
By Rachel Goldstein
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the holidays and bring in the New Year traveling to Paris, Madrid and Barcelona. In Paris, we went to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saint Chapelle, Arc De Triomphe, and the Louvre and took a day trip to Versailles. In Madrid, we did a hop on, hop off tour bus to see as much of the capital and largest city of Spain as possible. We went to the Prado Museum and the Royal Palace, and we saw a Flamenco show. In Barcelona, we went to see many of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces, like Casa Mila and Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. We also made a trip outside Barcelona to Montserrat, a multi-peaked mountain in Catalonia, Spain. It was an unforgettable trip full of a lot of new experiences!
I am always thinking about disability-related issues and notice them throughout everyday life, and that didn’t stop just because I was on vacation. The hotel we stayed at in Paris had steps leading to the only elevator, which was outdated and so small that it was a tight squeeze for two people to fit inside. We researched and brought converters and adapters so we had the right voltage to power our electronics and a blow-dryer and still managed to burn out a converter as soon as we plugged something in. Using public transportation to get around is a must – I noticed the elevators out of service, leaving stairs as the only option in several metro stations, and the large opening between the train and the station platform that requires you to take a big step to get on or off the train.
Planning a trip abroad and traveling to a new place is stressful on its own. I spent countless hours researching and planning as many of the details as possible, from hotels to restaurants to site-seeing and activities. For a person with a disability, traveling abroad can involve additional considerations, like having a backup plan for charging an electric wheelchair when you burn out your voltage converter and for your accommodations when it requires you to use the stairs to get to the elevator. Despite this, don’t let the extra planning that may be required discourage you! It’s hard to imagine a trip abroad going completely as planned, regardless of the circumstances. (I know our trip didn’t!) There are many resources that can be used by travelers with disabilities to ensure an amazing trip abroad!