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For Immediate Release

November 26, 2002


For Further Information, Contact:
Debbie C. Grubb
President, Guide Dog Users, Inc.
(941) 749-6178

Sheila Styron
Director, Public Relations
Guide Dog Users, Inc.
(323) 822-9872


Today, Guide Dog Users, Incorporated (GDUI), which is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind and the largest organized group of guide dog users in the world, is filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, against discriminatory practices in various rehabilitation agencies as evidenced in this case by the Iowa Department for the Blind. The department, the complaint states, is violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, by denying rehabilitation training to Stephanie Dohmen, who seeks to attend computer training classes with her guide dog. Several guide dog training schools, including Leader Dogs for the Blind of Rochester, Mich.; Guiding Eyes for the Blind of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.; Southeastern Guide Dogs of Palmetto, Fla., and the Guide Dog Foundation of Smithtown, N.Y., have also joined the complaint.

The blind woman who applied and was accepted by the department in Iowa, arrived at the department on June 5, accompanied by her Leader dog, to attend a computer training course. Ms. Dohmen was turned away by Alan Harris, director of the state's Department for the Blind and told that she could not attend the class if she was accompanied by her Leader dog. Harris said that blind people are only allowed to travel with long mobility canes while attending the center.

"The dog is Ms. Dohmen's mobility aid," explains Sheila Styron of Los Angeles, Calif., Director of Public Relations for GDUI. "The guide dog is just as valid in terms of allowing Ms. Dohmen to move freely through her environment as a long white mobility cane. It is unbelievable that an agency which receives federal and state money to provide rehabilitation training to blind consumers would deny one of those consumers the ability to travel with her mobility aid of choice."

"Supporting documentation, which we are submitting with the complaint, demonstrates that Ms. Dohmen has not only been denied access to training for which she is qualified, but has been unlawfully denied the training as a member of a protected class," said Debbie Grubb of Bradenton, Fla., President of GDUI, which is a support and advocacy organization of and for guide dog handlers, whose membership numbers over 1,100 blind and visually impaired people. "We have received information from our members which indicates that similar policies may be in effect in other states such as Maryland and Texas. Therefore, we are asking that the complaint be investigated rather than referred to mediation given the national implications of allowing such unlawful policies to continue in any state where blind people may be denied their protected civil rights.

"This case is important," said Grubb, "because, when one person's rights are denied, all of us who value equal treatment under the law and freedom of choice have to worry that ours may be the next rights on the chopping block.  We are proud to stand with Ms. Dohmen, who is fighting this battle for equal access for every single blind person who needs access to public facilities and has a right to receive effective rehabilitation training under the laws of our country."

The Iowa Department offered Ms. Dohmen the opportunity to attend computer training classes out of state. "Such an offer is really no choice at all," explained Dohmen.

Since traveling to the Iowa Department at 524 4th Street, Des Moines, is an easy commute for her and her guide dog, there is no valid reason for forcing her to seek training outside her community, the complaint states.

Grubb says, "This is a clear violation of her rights according to any reasonable person's understanding of the meaning of freedom of choice under the definitions included in the Rehabilitation Act."

Reacting to the Iowa Department's allegation that traveling with a guide dog represents a less independent lifestyle than traveling with a long mobility cane, Wells B. Jones, Chief Executive Officer of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc. of Smithtown, N.Y., said, "Guide dogs increase independence and mobility for people who are blind, thereby improving the quality of life for blind handlers. A blind person and his or her guide dog work together as a team. It's a partnership for independence."

Guide Dog Users, Incorporated was founded in 1972 by dog handlers who have advocated, ever since, for equal access under state and federal laws. The organization, with members across the country, is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, a national membership organization of blind people with more than 70 state and special-interest affiliates, which speaks and advocates for the rights of people who are blind and visually impaired.

Learn more about the ACB at its web site, www.acb.org . Visit the site of GDUI at www.gdui.org . Learn about both organizations at the ACB Radio web site, www.acbradio.org .




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