Delta: Leave the Blind Alone

As a blind traveler who uses a guide dog I’ve flown a lot of places. My professionally trained dog lies under my feet and never stirs, no matter how long the flight. I’ve had four such dogs and all of them were trained by a top notch school in New York called Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Although going places with a disability isn’t always easy its generally achievable because protective laws are in place that guarantee the disabled rights of passage. In the United States both state laws—known as “white cane laws”—and federal laws, including the ADA and the Air Carriers Transportation Act have made it possible for blind people and their exemplary dogs to go anywhere the public goes.

In the world of service animals guide dogs are the gold standard. Trained to guide the blind through heavy traffic, watch for low hanging branches, take evasive measures when cars or bicycles run red lights, watch for stairs—even prevent their partners from stepping off subway platforms, everyone can agree that they’re the “few, the proud” just like the Marines. Yes, and they’re also trained to stay quiet and unobtrusive in restaurants and when using public transportation.

This canine professionalism is possible because guide dog schools spend tens of thousands of dollars breeding, raising, and training each and every dog. In turn guide dog teams have earned the respect and admiration of the public here in the United States and around the world.

Recently Delta Airlines, in an effort to curtail the appearance of fake service dogs on airplanes has issued a new requirement that actually hurts the blind. Delta is demanding that service dog users upload veterinary health certificates to their website 48 hours prior to flying. This is essentially a stumbling block—an obstacle designed to impede the blind while doing very little to halt illegitimate or phony service dogs from boarding flights. As a blind person who uses a tasing computer I can tell you that navigating websites and uploading documents isn’t easy. In fact its often ridiculously hard.

The blind and their amazing dogs are not the problem for Delta or other airlines. Fraudulent service dogs are a problem for sure, but really, do they think dishonest people who are already passing off their pets as professionally trained dogs will be unable to attach rabies certificates on a website? For sighted people this is a snap.

All guide dog users carry ID cards issued by the guide dog schools, certifying that the dog team pictured is legitimate and has graduated from a real service dog training program.

I don’t know what to do about the sharp increase in fake service animals on airlines, but I do know Delta and other carriers should leave the blind alone. We’ve earned our passage.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a professorship in the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

4 thoughts on “Delta: Leave the Blind Alone

  1. Sorry Steve, while you are correct in most respects, there are some things that need correcting. First, it’s te Air Carrier Access Act, not the Air Carrier Transportation Act. Second, not all service dogs, indeed not all guide dogs, have an ID, nor is one required. An ID doesn’t prove anything, really; how does it prove a dog’s behavior or fitness for travel? Yep, even guide dogs can, through handlers not maintaining training or through a dog,just turning out not to be temperamentally suitable, be very inappropriate and should be removed. No, certification isn’t the answer and would cause a whole host of other problems, more than it solves. The tools and laws already exist to take care of this problem, if only people would exercise their rights to exclude inappropriate animals. Until that happens, I’m frankly not interested in taking on more of the burden of proving my and my guide’s legitimacy. Gg

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  2. What is clearly needed is the establishment of a system to certify service properly trained service animals and issue IDs that airlines can rely on. In the meantime, there should be some kind of documentation (relating to need and how/at what organization dog was trained) that sighted disabled persons should be able to upload to the airline when they buy a ticket, and blind travelers should be allowed to use their guide dog ID as proof. A veterinary certificate says nothing about a dog’s training or behavior.

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  3. I will agree with your general statements. This new policy will create more discriminatory problems than it solves.
    However, there are many people who choose or need to train their own service dogs, and they should be afforded equal protections under the ADA and the ACAA. Not all guide dog programs provide dogs for people with multiple disabilities. Some people have vision that is “too good” for a guide dg program, but having an owner-trained guide dog allows them to travel and participate in their community. The need for PTSD service dogs is so great that some people are forced to make a choice between training their own dogs or waiting five years to receive a dog that’s a match (if, indeed, there’s a program that provides PTSD service dogs for civilians).
    In addition, even though a dog is trained at a reputable program, that doesn’t guarantee the handler keeps up the training. This policy also doesn’t address THAT reality.
    Honestly, a dog misbehaves, the flight crew can request it be removed. THE END.
    All of this to say, I hate this proposed policy from Delta, but I also don’t like the attitude I’m seeing frequently that WE are the primary ones affected because WE are fortunate to receive our dogs from well-recognized training programs.

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  4. The Brain Injury community have the same objections. We have service dogs to help with seizures, to deal with being unable to navigate, and for assistance.

    I know of a person with a fake service dog – she says they (two of them) are for emotional support for PTSD. She got her certification on line with the leashes. They are simply pets. I called her on it since actual service dogs do not go to the bathroom willy-nilly in stores.

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