Last year Tennessee law changed to make travel with service dogs easier for their owners; however, many are still burdened by individuals who have not been properly educated.
For years, the wording of Tennessee law implied that business owners could require proof of disability before entering with a service animal. A Tennessee attorney general’s opinion in 2001 added to that thinking by supporting the state law despite its difference from the federal Disabilities Act, which gives equal standing in public accommodations to disabled people. The new, wording firmly established in law, states that such questions are inappropriate. The new law also gives business owners the ability to ask that service animals be removed when out of control.
Despite the new wording, some Tennesseans with disabilities continue to be asked for proof, forcing them to argue that the law is on their side. Attorneys at the Disability Law and Advocacy Center are concerned that not much has changed. Among the complaints they receive include a man with a service dog asked by staff to leave a funeral home and a woman with epilepsy told not to bring her dog to medical appointments.
“The complaints seem to be coming in at about the same rate regardless of the change,” said Martha M. Lafferty, advocacy center legal director is quoted in a recent USAToday article. “It may be that businesses are not yet aware.”
The advocacy center and the Tennessee Disability Coalition hope to inspire changes that will make the new law stick. The key is education. The groups plan to host classes about protections within state and federal laws for people with disabilities. The state chapter of the National Federation of the Blind is hosting a training session in Nashville, with local police and emergency response officials scheduled to attend.
Once businesses are properly educated, the hope is that people with disabilities who use a service dog can go about their business freely, without disruption from business owners questioning the presence of the dog. After all, nobody questions a wheelchair for mobility.