Disturbing Trends That Jeapordize the Rights of Disabled People
As a writer who covers disability issues, I have been dismayed by the attitude of some towards special treatment for people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, some non-disabled people feel they are entitled to the best of everything. They are driven by selfish desires to be first in line or not to have to walk far across a parking lot. They don’t see and often don't care how their actions may be hurting others - including people with disabilities.
Pet owners are smuggling their beloved Poopsies into stores, claiming the little, yapping dogs that are nipping at everyone's heels are service dogs. Some people pretend to be disabled so that they can get the best seats in the house, be first in a line, or board a plane before anyone else.
These people resent the disabled when they get to meet a celebrity or sit upfront at a concert. While some people dislike special treatment, others seem to feel a sense of entitlement to the same accommodations that are given to people with disabilities.
Special Treatment or Reasonable Accommodation?
It is true that many venues such as theatres and concert halls offer special seating for people with disabilities. Sometimes, venues will reserve the front rows of seats for the deaf. Airlines will seat people with mobility issues first.
There are good reasons why people with disabilities get what seems like preferential treatment:
- Some disabled people with mobility issues aren’t able to stand, so they need good seating to get a clear view of the stage or platform. They also need a wide, accessible aisle to travel in with ramps, if needed.
- Airlines seat people with mobility challenges first for a number of reasons such as getting them safely settled in first without impatient people pushing at them to get to their seats.
- People with service dogs depend on their animals for a variety of things such as guidance and warning about dangers. That is why they are allowed in places that pets are not allowed to go.
- People with physical disabilities need handicapped parking because it is difficult for them to walk or travel long distances. Also, it is dangerous for someone in a wheelchair to have to navigate a busy parking lot.
- Deaf people sit up front in reserved seating so that they can see both the speaker and a sign language interpreter.
What some people see as preferential treatment is actually reasonable accommodation, which in some countries is required by law. People who break the law by refusing to provide accommodations can be sued, and in some cases, forced to compensate people with disabiilities.
In the United States, all public facilities that receive government funding must accommodate people with disabilities under the Americans With Disabilties Act. The ADA federal government website provides more information and an online complaint filing process.
Disturbing Trends That Jepordize the Rights of Disabled People
People masquerading as disabled people in wheelchairs
There have been reports in the media that some non-disabled people masquerade as people in wheelchairs so they can take advantage of these accommodations. Unfortunately, this makes the owners of venues question whether people are actually disabled. This also means that access to one of a few spots available in certain venues is denied to a genuinely disabled person.
The media reports that some wealthy people would hire a person in a wheelchair who will fake being a family member so that their prescious darlings do not have to wait in long lines at theme parks like Disney World. This days, you can actually order a person who will impersonate someone in a wheelchair for a few hundred dollars online.
The Sun reports that some passengers in the United Kingdom are faking disability by using wheelchairs so they can whiz to the front of lines and through security lineups.This type of fraud hurts people with disabilities because owners of venues may start to be suspicious and question if disabled people are the real thing.
Fake Service Dogs
There are several types of specially trained service dogs:
- Dogs trained to help blind and low vision people navigate the world and warn of danger
- Dogs for people with severe hearing loss who can alert them when a doorbell or phone rings, or an emergency like a fire alarm
- Dogs who assist people with physical disabilities with day-to-day tasks
The problem is that these furry family members may become stressed and obnoxious in strange places. Store and restaurant owners are already reluctant to allow service animals in for fear that customers will complain or have an allergic reaction. Business owners won't think much of owners of noisy, uncontrollable dogs who pee on their carpet. The poor dogs themselves will probably be distressed as well.
Disability advocates such as Marcie Davis, the founder of International Dog Awareness Week, are concerned that this practice could jeopardize the acceptance of service dogs in public places. According to USA Today, several states in the US are cracking down on fake service animals through laws against fakes in public places, but legislators admit that these laws would be difficult to enforce. The regulations would mostly be symbolic in order to educate the public.
People get handicapped permits that allow them to park in handicapped spaces because they have mobility issues that make it difficult to travel long distances across parking lots. When physically disabled people get out of their vehicles, they are safer being near the mall doors than if they were navigating a busy parking lot. Also, handicapped parking spots are larger with lined space on one side so that a person with mobility issues or using wheelchairs can get out of a vehicle safely.
Many violators get away with loaning out permits to someone else or parking illegally because handicapped parking laws are not usually enforced. People ignore offenders.
In my town, there is a number on handicapped parking signs that people can call to report illegal parking. The problem is that callers are asked to give out a lot of personal information before a complaint can be filed. This policy is sure to discourage most people from calling in and reporting offenders.
Pretending to be disabled in order to enjoy the few perks that exist for people with disabilities is not OK. When someone exploit them it means:
- One less seat of the few seats reserved for people with disabilities in certain venues is available. In some cases, people in wheelchairs may be forced to go a less accessible route down narrow aisles or have to submit to the indignity of being carried
- A shop or restaurant owner who would normally allow a service animal in will deny a blind man access because they had a bad experience with a fake so-called service dog
- People with mobility issues are forced to park far from the mall entrance because all the handicapped parking spaces are full of cars without permits. This means that they either try to walk a long distance on a cane or crutches, or in some cases, manually propel a wheelchair and hope that a car will not hit them.
Many disability advocates fought long and hard for the right to have reasonable accommodation to access public places and bring their service dogs with them as guides. Let’s hope that some fakes don’t ruin things for everyone.
ADA.gov, U.S. Dept. of Justice
Why Fake Service and Emotional Support Animals Create Barriers for People Who Actually Need Them, Rooted in Rights
Abuse of service animal laws a growing concern for local guide dog owners, Lacrosse Tribune, Emily Pyrek
Lazy passengers are faking disability to get a wheelchair at airports and speed through security queues, The Sun, Caroline McGuire
Several states crack down 'fake' service animals, USA Today, Michael Ollove
National Epidemic of Horrible People Pretending to Be Disabled, Time, Brad Tuttle
© 2013 Carola Finch