Friday, March 21, 2008

Federal Thugs Hassle Disabled Woman Who Entered Ogden, Utah Federal Building With A Service Dog Because The Dog Wasn't "Federally-Certified"

A woman with a disability says she had trouble getting into the Federal Building in Ogden, Utah because of her service dog that helps her get around. Full story aired by KSL Channel 5.

Laurie Westover was trying to get to the Social Security office inside the James V. Hansen Federal Building at 324 25th Street in Ogden earlier this month accompanied by her service dog, like she had a dozen times before, when she says security gave her a hard time. Westover depends on her service dog, Chloe, for her independence. "Without her I could not be independent. Without her I would probably end up in a home, somebody taking care of me 24/7," she said.

Part of the problem may have been that her disability isn't immediately obvious. "I have neuropathy in my hands and feet. I stumble and fall. It's embarrassing enough as it is to not try to have to prove to somebody that I deserve to have the civil rights like everybody else," Westover said.

Westover says guards at the building were confrontational. "I said I'd ‘been in here before with my service dog,' and they said, ‘Well, they weren't following what we were taught. They let you in by the goodness of their heart,'" she explained.

Westover was eventually able to enter the building, but she was escorted by security guards. She says they wanted to see certification that her dog was indeed a service dog, which she didn't have and isn't required to have by Utah law.

"It makes sense to ask for some kind of certification, but under state and federal law you're not required to carry any particular type of certification around. The basic standard for a service animal is that it have some degree of training to help people with disabilities get around with whatever their disability is," explained Scott Berry, attorney at the Disability Law Center. But Berry says from what he understands of the situation, and given the security standards in federal buildings these days, it sounds like guards handled the situation reasonably.

The government representative for the building told KSL a formal complaint was not filed and that the rules for conduct on federal property are clear: "A disabled person may bring a seeing-eye dog, a guide dog, or other animal assisting or being trained to assist that individual." The representative also said that if people aren't treated appropriately, they should file a complaint.

Commentary: If she has problems now, just wait until Real ID is instituted. The website documents the deficiencies of the program and the trials and travails of those trying to get compliant IDs. Without a compliant ID, one will eventually not be able to board an aircraft or enter a Federal building unless one has a passport. Read about the chaos which ensued when Alabama tried to institute Real ID. Thousands of law-abiding senior citizens received heavy-handed letters implying that they wouldn't be able to get Social Security checks or renew drivers' licenses without upgrading their IDs.

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