04 December 2006

Service dog's ouster violates civil rights

The following is my response to these letters. This issue angers me more than the frivolous lawsuits against the city in regards to beach access. Balance is needed. And sadly, Myrtle Beach does not seem to care about that balance.

In regards to Doris Nelsen’s letter (Nov. 25) about the store manager forcing a handicapped woman to leave the store…it is not shocking that the woman received this treatment. Stores in the Myrtle Beach area do not care about handicapped people in my experience. I’m occasionally in a wheelchair due to fatigue and pain issues from multiple diseases. Because of this, I cannot walk for long periods of time. Aside from grocery stores such as Food Lion and Bi-Lo, my shopping experiences in Myrtle Beach have been horrible. Stores, for the most part, do not maintain the required clearance for wheelchairs and staff members are rude to those in wheelchairs. I was in a store and speaking to a store employee about blocked aisles and a blocked fire exit. The employee ignored that I was the speaker, not my husband pushing the wheelchair, and directed his comments to my husband. The store’s excuse was that aisles were blocked because it “is the Christmas season” and we’re directed to keep displays out was ludicrous to me. By blocking the way of a person in a wheelchair, the store is making buying much harder for the disabled. The attitude of many, but not all, big box store employees in this area is atrocious. I’ve had numerous stores in both Coastal Grand Mall and Broadway at the Beach that I have been completely unable to enter or move around in. I’ve been poked by racks, scratched by store fixtures and given dirty looks by staff members when my husband has had to move a stack of merchandise to allow me to pass something. He of course returns things he’s had to move to their original spot.

I was grateful to see Mr. McLaughlin’s letter in the Dec 3 newspaper. It contained quite a bit of useful information. As our population ages, the number of disabled people will rise. Unless we stand up for ourselves and ensure businesses follow the law, we are only allowing the discrimination to continue. I would also encourage anyone who has been treated this way to contact the national headquarters of the store to advise them how their stores treat people. Unfortunately, many of the big box stores do not care. But, it is my hope that if enough people speak up and are willing to say they are not going to be treated this way, a change will come.

A few facts on the purchasing power of the disabled from the ADA:

  • More than 50 million Americans with disabilities - 18% of our population - are potential customers for businesses of all types across the United States.
  • This group has $175 billion in discretionary spending power, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That figure is more than twice the spending power of American teenagers and almost 18 times the spending power of the American "tweens" market.
  • Accessibility attracts not only peope with disabilities but also their families and friends. Like others, these customers often visit stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses accompanied by family or friends. This expands the potential market exponentially!
  • This market is growing fast. By the year 2030, 71.5 million Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65 and demanding products, services, and environments that address their age-related physical changes.

Source: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/reachingout/intro1.htm “Reaching Out to Customers with Disabilities” accessed 12/04/06

I would further encourage all business owners and managers to read a few publications available from the ADA.

Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals is “[a] 3-page publication explaining the requirements of the ADA regarding animals that accompany and provide services for a person with a disability.” as described by the ADA.

ADA Questions and Answers. is “[a] 31-page booklet giving an overview of the ADA's requirements for ensuring equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation, and requiring the establishment of TDD/telephone relay services”.

Reaching Out to Customers with Disabilities, an online course for businesses which covers such topics as: policies and procedures; communicating with customers; removing barriers; and others.

In addition to the above mentioned resources, there are many other publications on the ADA’s website. The U.S. Department of Justice provides free ADA materials. Printed materials may be ordered by calling the ADA Information Line (1-800-514-0301 (Voice) or 1-800-514-0383 (TDD)). Automated service is available 24-hours a day for recorded information and to order publications.

I do hope that Ms Nelsen’s friend does file a complaint as Mr. McLaughlin suggested. Even taking federal law out of the equation, SC law also states in SECTION 43-33-20. Right of use of public facilities and accommodations of blind, other special need persons, and guide dog trainers. [SC ST SEC 43-33-20] that:

(a) The blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled have the same right as the able-bodied to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, public facilities, and other public places;

(b) The blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all common carriers, airplanes, motor vehicles, railroad trains, motor buses, street cars, boats or any other public conveyances or modes of transportation, hotels, lodging places, places of public accommodation, amusement or resort, and other places to which the general public is invited, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all persons;

(c) Every handicapped person has the right to be accompanied by an assistance dog, especially trained for the purpose, in any of the places listed in item (b) of this section without being required to pay an extra charge for the assistance dog. Each handicapped person is liable for any damage done to the premises or facilities by the dog.

State law further lays out the penalties of unlawfully interfering with the rights of a blind or disabled person in SECTION 43-33-40. It is a misdemeanor to do this.

Source: “Code of Laws of South Carolinahttp://www.scstatehouse.net/code/t43c033.htm accessed 12/05/06

The South Carolina Protection and Advocacy System for the Handicapped is set up to advocate for people in cases like this. Their phone number is (866) 275-7273. They provide “[p]rotection and advocacy services for individuals with handicaps - physical disabilities, mental illness, mental retardation, etc. Ensures individual rights and appropriate treatment. Attorneys on staff to represent individuals who are victims of abuse, neglect, discrimination.” Their website is: http://www.protectionandadvocacy-sc.org/

I encourage anyone who has been discriminated against to contact the various agencies that help.

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