High School Student’s Service Dog Inspires Legislation Against Discrimination
It’s sad to see people denied service in places because their service dogs are not welcome, but new legislation in New Jersey may make that discrimination against the law.
In January, a young man in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, joined his local legislators to push for a bill that will impose fines on institutions that discriminate against people with service animals, and now the governor of New Jersey has Charlie’s Bill in front of him to make it official.
Ben Shore, who is 16-years-old and on the autism spectrum, worked with his local officials to lobby for the bill’s passage and it has now passed both houses of the New Jersey state legislature. The bill stemmed from an incident at a Florida airport where Ben and his service Goldendoodle were discriminated against when airport staff refused to accept Charlie as Ben’s service dog. Charlie helps alert Ben to the possibility of a panic attack and helps him calm down in the event of one. Officials at the airport eventually allowed Charlie to accompany Ben, but only after Ben’s threats to call the police convinced them.
Ben and Charlie also face discrimination at Ben’s school. Cherry Hill High School East’s policy toward service dogs went against both federal and state laws regarding Americans with disabilities, and though he fought to get permission to bring Charlie to school, he did so for only one day. His school refuses to put accommodations that pertain to Charlie in Ben’s federally protected Individual Education Plan (IEP), so he and his family are fighting the school district to make that happen. Until then, he leaves Charlie at home. Still, Ben says that he is glad his efforts have paved the way for other students, and hopes that awareness has led to other districts bringing their policies into compliance with federal and state laws.
There are currently no laws in New Jersey that would give police authority to resolve situations where there is discrimination against an individual’s service dog, and the bill in front of Governor Chris Christie would impose a fine between $250 and $1000 to any person or institution denying a service dog to accompany an individual with disabilities.
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Current federal law says that the only reason an institution could deny entrance once the appropriate questions about a service dog have been answered is if the dog is unsafe or disturbs others in a menacing way. New Jersey Senator Diane Allen says that the law will help citizens not to have to endure what Ben did at the airport, and give them expedient and appropriate options for recourse under the law.
For his part, Ben says he’s glad he and Charlie could make a difference, and is looking forward to the opportunity to go to the governor’s office and thank him in person for bringing such a good piece of legislation to actualization.