[Nfbnet-members-list] The Intersection of Guide Dog Use & Mental Health
Marion Gwizdala, President
president at nagdu.org
Thu Jul 2 00:08:12 UTC 2020
Please circulate the following message as widely as appropriate.
July 1, 2020
The National Federation of the Blind is committed to
securing the rights of all blind individuals, including those at the
intersection of blindness and mental health. As a division of the
National Federation of the Blind, the National Association of Guide
Dog Users represents the interests of those who choose to use a guide
dog as one of their tools of independent mobility. When a blind
person is denied training by a guide dog program due to a previous
diagnosis of a mental illness, we feel obligated to Act!
The National Association of Guide Dog Users has been
contacted by two individuals screened out from training by
Southeastern Guide Dogs due to their publicly published policy
automatically disqualifying individuals from application due to a
list of mental health conditions. One of these individuals is a
licensed attorney who disclosed a previous diagnosis of bipolar
disorder when applying to the state bar, was vetted by the bar, and
deemed fit to practice law in the state. This person was preparing to
retire a 12-year-old owner-trained guide dog and thought Southeastern
Guide Dogs Would be a good fit because their parents live in
Bradenton. The second is an office manager of a very busy
three-office ophthalmology practice. After being denied training by
Southeastern Guide Dogs due to a previous diagnosis of bipolar
disorder, this person received a guide dog from Freedom Guide Dogs
and has been working as a successful team for nearly three years.
Just as I believe a guide dog may not be the best
choice for every blind person, I also believe that there are mental
health conditions that might preclude someone from being a good guide
dog user. However, there are many factors to be considered when
making that decision, a process known as an individualized
assessment. (Please see the excerpt from federal law concerning this
cited below.) This is very different than what Southeastern Guide
Dogs calls automatic disqualification. This will likely be a topic
for a future Braille Monitor article. You can view the entire list of
disqualifying conditions on Southeastern's official page
Southeastern Guide Dogs is fully aware of our
objection to this policy and our belief that this policy violates
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. On June 15, I sent
an email message to Titus Herman, Southeastern Guide Dogs' chief
executive officer, citing specific sections of the Act. This message
closed with the following statement:
"The National Association of Guide Dog Users strongly urges
Southeastern Guide Dogs to modify their policies, practices, and
procedures automatically disqualifying blind individuals with mental
health disorders from applying for and receiving a guide dog from
your organization. Within our membership, we have experts on mental
illness and the law who can help Southeastern Guide Dogs craft sound,
effective policies that respect the dignity of the individual while
complying with state and federal law should you need such expertise.
I am open to discussing this issue further with you or your
representative(s). We would appreciate a response to our concerns by
June 30, 2020."
As recently as June 22, we brought this up to Susan
Wilburn, Southeastern Guide Dogs' Director of Admissions and Graduate
Services. Ms. Wilburn stated the disorders listed on their website
had been reviewed by a psychiatrist. I mentioned our concern again
and advised I had written to Mr. Herman and John Compton,
Southeastern's board secretary and an attorney. As of this writing, I
have had no response.
Guide dog training programs are places of public
accommodation as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA). Mental illness can be considered a disability under the Act.
Discrimination is defined, in part, as "the imposition or application
of eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an
individual with a disability or any class of individuals with
disabilities from fully and equally enjoying any goods, services,
facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations, unless such
criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the goods,
services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations being
offered". 42 USC 12182(b)(1)(i).
If you or someone you know has been denied training
by Southeastern Guide Dogs or any other guide dog training program
due to a previous diagnosis of a mental health condition, we would
like to hear from you. The information we receive will be kept
strictly confidential in compliance with state law and codes of
ethics. , so you will remain anonymous. Please contact us in whatever
format you feel most comfortable
Advocacy Help Line: (202) 573-8582
Confidential Email: advocacy at nagdu.org
National Association of Guide Dog Users Inc. (NAGDU)
National Federation of the Blind
Advocacy at NAGDU.ORG
<http://nagdu.org/>Visit our website
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The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the
characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise
expectations because low expectations create barriers between
blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want!
Blindness is not what holds you back.
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