By now you’ve likely heard the story about the blind college student denied service by a Cleveland-area bakery because she was accompanied by her seeing-eye dog. Rather than vilify this establishment (which, god knows, has been done enough on Facebook, and Yelp, and just about everywhere else on the Internet), we should instead use this mistake as a teachable moment for all employers everywhere.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is not just an employment statute. It also applies, for example, to places of public accommodation. Title III of ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations—businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA (such as restaurants or other food service establishments).
A place of public accommodation must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. Specifically, Title III recognizes dogs as service animals, provided that the dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
All of this means that this Cleveland-area bakery royally messed up when it ejected its customer that presented with a service dog. So, what is the teachable moment? If your business is a place of public accommodation, you should be training your employees on their obligations to accommodate the disabled. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse, and, in this day of instant Internet bashing creating PR nightmares, this type of mistake could prove fatal to your business. Besides, permitting service dogs and removing other barriers is simply the right thing to do.
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