Friday, August 19, 2016

Tennessee Access Law paves Way for Guide Dog Users to Seek Justice



Tennessee Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind stands up for its members

By Christina Clift

Christina Clift
Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee traveled to Murfreesboro to support Mr. James Boehm and his guide dog Shep in court. They wanted to send a clear message to Criminal Court Judge McFarland and to former Uber driver, Ms. Douglas that guide dog users were no longer going to let discrimination go unchallenged. 

At 3:30 A.M. on Tuesday August 9, 2016, eight members of the Memphis chapter of the National Federation of the Blind began a three and a half our trip to Murfreesboro to meet members from other chapters and divisions of the NFB of Tennessee. Everyone needed to arrive by 8:00 A.M. at the Rutheford County courthouse in room 102, for the case of Rutheford County verses Ms. Rolonda Douglas. It would be the first case of its kind because instead of being a civil prosecution, this would be a criminal case.

On April 28, 2016, Mr. Boehm and Shep were left stranded at an animal hospital in Murfreesboro, TN. The Uber driver defiantly squealed away, refusing to transport the guide dog team.  

Shep with admirers
“I was distraught and infuriated all at once!” stated Mr. Boehm, who filed a police report with the Rutherford County sheriff’s department. After an investigation, the state Attorney filed charges against Rolonda Douglas for violating the Tennessee Access Law and scheduled her to appear in criminal court on August 9, 2016.  

Similar incidences have happened to other guide dog users and they have not been limited to Uber drivers.  Guide dog users have been denied access to taxis, restaurants, housing complexes, and other public facilities where they are allowed to be. 

On the evening of Friday July 15, 2016 a similar episode happened to Dr. Deborah Carter and her guide dog George.  Since her air conditioning system was out and the temperature outside hovered around 95 degrees she scheduled a ride with Uber to travel from her home in Cordova to a local hotel.   

Her driver stated “It is my right to deny you service.”  He denied her service because she was accompanied by George.  Ironically, there was an article in the Commercial Appeal the next day about Uber’s proposed settlement regarding a lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind.  It outlined the proposed settlement and Uber’s promise to have all of their drivers comply with the law.

Not only does the Americans with Disabilities Act make it clear that people with disabilities have a civil right to be accompanied by a service dog, Tennessee statute 62.7.112 (The Tennessee Access Law) strengthens the ADA by providing criminal penalties for discrimination. As a Class C misdemeanor, violating the civil rights of a disabled person accompanied by a service dog is punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $50.

Dr. Deborah Carter and George
When Ms. Douglas’ name was called to appear in front of the judge, everyone who had traveled to support James Boehm and Shep stood up.  This included Dr. Deborah Carter and George, along with a dozen Federationists.  

“So what option on the screen do you choose,” asked Judge McFarland after calling Ms. Douglas’ case.  

She replied with “What are the charges?” 

After listening to the charges against her, Ms. Douglas chose to reset or continue her case until September 20, 2016 so that she could obtain the services of a lawyer.  She looked slightly terrified as she exited the courtroom.  

Tara Tate stated “that’s the power of what being in the National Federation of the Blind means … we stand up for our members.”

The National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest organization of the Blind in the United States. The NFB knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day the NFB raises the expectations of blind people because low expectations are the obstacles between blind people and individuals dreams. You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back. The Federation provides scholarships to blind students; support for those who are blind or losing their eyesight; advocacy for the blind facing discrimination; and educational programs for the general public on topics of blindness. The NFB is not an organization that speaks on behalf of the blind; we are the Blind speaking for ourselves.

Needless to say, representatives from the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee will once again converge on Murfreesboro on September 20, 2016 to seek justice on behalf of James Boehm and Shep, as well as all other guide dog users.  This case is important because it will send a message to all Uber, Lyft, and Taxi drivers that it is a criminal act to deny service to people who use service animals in Tennessee.

_______________________________________
Text of the law in Tennessee *** Current through the 2016 Session *** 

TENNESSEE CODE ANNOTATED (Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-7-112)
© 2016 by The State of Tennessee
All rights reserved.

Title 62  Professions, Businesses and Trades
Chapter 7  Hotels and Places of Public Accommodation

Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-7-112  (2016)

62-7-112.  Dog guide to be admitted -- Penalties.

  (a)  (1) No proprietor, employee or other person in charge of any place of public accommodation, amusement or recreation, including, but not limited to, any inn, hotel, restaurant, eating house, barber shop, billiard parlor, store, public conveyance on land or water, theater, motion picture house, public educational institution or elevator, shall refuse to permit a blind, physically disabled or deaf or hard of hearing person to enter the place or to make use of the accommodations provided when the accommodations are available, for the reason that the blind, physically disabled or deaf or hard of hearing person is being led or accompanied by a dog guide. A dog guide shall be under the control of its handler. A place of public accommodation shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a dog guide.

   (2)  (A) No proprietor, employee or other person in charge of any place of public accommodation, amusement or recreation, including, but not limited to, any inn, hotel, restaurant, eating house, barber shop, billiard parlor, store, public conveyance on land or water, theater, motion picture house, public educational institution or elevator, shall refuse to permit a dog guide trainer to enter such place or to make use of the accommodations provided in those places, when the accommodations are available, for the reason that the dog guide trainer is being led or accompanied by a dog guide in training; provided, that the dog guide in training, when led or accompanied by a dog guide trainer, is wearing a harness and is held on a leash by the dog guide trainer or, when led or accompanied by a dog guide trainer, is held on a leash by the dog guide trainer; and provided, further, that the dog guide trainer shall first have presented for inspection credentials issued by an accredited school for training dog guides.

      (B)  (i) For purposes of this section, "dog guide in training" includes dogs being raised for an accredited school for training dog guides; provided, however, that a dog being raised for that purpose is:

            (a) Being held on a leash and is under the control of its raiser or trainer, who shall have available for inspection credentials from the accredited school for which the dog is being raised; and

            (b) Wearing a collar, leash or other appropriate apparel or device that identifies the dog with the accredited school for which it is being raised.

         (ii) "Dog guide in training" also includes the socialization process that occurs with the dog's trainer or raiser prior to the dog's advanced training; provided, that the socialization process is under the authorization of an accredited school.

   (3) A place of public accommodation may ask a person to remove a dog guide or dog guide in training from the premises if:

      (A) The dog guide or dog guide in training is out of control and its handler does not take effective action to control it; or

      (B) The dog guide or dog guide in training is not housebroken.

(b) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

VOTE!

Don't miss the date. Check your voter registration at MCIL.

Tim Wheat at the Memphis polls
The Tennessee State Primary Election is tomorrow, August 4, 2016. MCIL encourages you to vote. The General Election is coming up, make sure you are registered and can vote in that Election.

Upcoming Dates for the General Election:

Election Day: November 8, 2016    

Last day to register to vote: October 11, 2016    

Request an Absentee Ballot by: November 1, 2016  (return the ballot Election Day)    

Early voting begins: October 19, 2016  

Early voting ends: November 3, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How far we still have to go.

By Allison Donald

Allison Donald
July 26, 1990, I was nine years old.  Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love was number one on the charts, A Different World made me want to attend college, and George Herbert Walker Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I didn’t know it at the time, but each one of these things some more than others would impact who I thought I would become and what I believed I could accomplish.  I loved Mariah, but becoming a star seemed like a lot of work.  I wanted to attend Hillman College I didn’t care if it was a fictitious place where learning and partying seemed endless.  It was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that gave me the keys to the doors that were not accessible to me.

As a person with a disability, I have felt disconnected from the ADA at times.  Before college, I attended one of the only schools that was accessible for children and teens with disabilities.  I got the accommodations I needed to achieve my goals educationally. 

Still Waiting for Equality



By Christina Clift

Christina Clift

On July 26, 1990 in the White House Rose Garden President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, into law.  This sweeping piece of legislation provided civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities.