Applying for and Training Service Animals in Texas

The Capsule Group Inc and Sign Shares, Inc. team enjoyed meeting attendees from across Texas at the Abilities Expo Houston in early August 2019. Sign Shares, Inc. provided sign language interpreting to help make the expo more accessible. While there, CEO and Detective Eva Storey, TPLI met with staff from Service Dogs, Inc.

Specialized Service Animals for a Variety of Needs

Seeing eye dog guiding a person on a conveyor belt.
Most people are aware of guide dogs aiding people who are blind, but there are also service dogs for hearing, mobility, and emotional needs. photo credit: EX22218 – ON/OFF This White Dog…. via photopin (license)

The nonprofit Service Dogs out of Dripping Springs provides a variety of service animals that many people may not be aware exist, including hearing, service, courthouse, first responder facility, and PAWS juvenile offender dogs. Whatever the type of dog, Service Dogs provides free trained dogs and lifetime training for them for qualified applicants. They have been providing free assistance dogs since 1988.

Hearing dogs alert partners to sounds from their environment, such as a baby crying, smoke alarm, and other beeps and buzzes around the home or at work. Service dogs provide motor skills support, such as retrieving objects, opening, closing, and pushing things within their partner’s environment, as well assisting with movement or dressing. Courthouse dogs provide emotional support for children in tense courtroom situations.

According to the organization’s website, one of their programs, PAWS, is “the first and only juvenile offender service dog training program in the country.”

First Responder Facility Dogs work with emergency medical professionals, such as EMTs, paramedics, Emergency Room staff, and others in the hospital setting. The dogs help staff “de-escalate from the traumatic things they see every day,” such as fatalities, accidents, and emergency room happenings.

Seeing Eye Dogs in Texas

While Service Dogs, Inc. provides many types of service animals, they do not provide seeing eye dogs, which are provided by Guide Dogs of Texas. If you’re at least 17 and legally blind, you can call the organization to set up an appointment at (210) 366 4081. No matter which organization’s service animal type you need, expect to wait one to two years to secure a service animal that is trained to your specifications.

Additional Services Provided by Service Dogs, Inc.

Picture of a service dog from the Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs.
Service animals are finely trained to devote their attention to work and to have the appropriate temperament for a working animal. The amount of dogs who qualify is limited. photo credit: slambo_42 Friendly service dog via photopin (license)

Service Dogs, Inc. also provides training for professional dog trainers.

Besides assisting people, the organization provides a new start for shelter and rescue dogs, as well as dogs changing careers from other organizations.

If you wish to apply for a Hearing, Mobility or Facility dog, you must be at least 25 years old, have a hearing or mobility disability or represent a facility that provides some of the services listed above, such as at first responder or law and justice programs. The application process may take up to six months, and it may take 10 months to a year before a service animal is placed.

Contact Us to Increase Accessibility and Adaptability

Sign Shares and The Capsule Group is on your side. Contact us regarding interpreting services or advocacy needs.

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Supreme Court: Deaf Texans Claim Agencies Can’t Deny Interpreters for Driver’s Ed.

Five individuals who are Deaf from four Texas cities allege they were denied sign language interpreters for driver’s education courses required by the Texas Education Agency and later by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Person driving a car from a side angle
The Supreme Court prepares to hear a Texas case alleging that the Texas Education Agency is responsible for providing interpreters for driver’s education courses required by the state. photo credit: Late night drive (CA to TX road trip) via photopin (license)

The case has been in court twice.

Once, a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the individuals who were Deaf.

The case was appealed in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the case was dismissed, “saying that driver education is not a service, program, or activity of the TEA,” according to the report.

The U.S. Supreme Court will now determine what is a service, program, or activity” as far as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title II doesn’t allow individuals with disabilities to be excluded from “services, programs, or activities of a public entity.” Public entities serve the public and includes government agencies, according to the report.

According to the report, “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act includes similar language, prohibiting discrimination of the disabled in any ‘program or activity’ receiving federal funding.

Said the second court that dropped the case: “We hold that the mere fact that the driver education schools are heavily regulated and supervised by the TEA does not make these schools a ‘service, program, or activity’ of the TEA,’ the court’s opinion said,” according to the report.

Cars stopped at an intersection.
Are Texas drivers who are Deaf given the same opportunity to get the education required to drive as others? It all depends on how the court determine a few words from the ADA. photo credit: Cars via photopin (license)

According to a report from The Texas Tribune, “This has the potential to be a landmark decision for deaf rights and indeed for all disability rights,” said Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents the five plaintiffs who are Deaf.

A settlement case between the U.S. government and the Orange County Clerk of Courts in Florida had a similar situation. A man who was blind was denied screen reader- accessible documents he requested from court.

This was found to violate Title II of the ADA and though the Clerk of Courts didn’t agree that the discriminated, they agreed to a settlement with the U.S. government to avoid similar situations.

According to the settlement, even if the public entity contracted the services, they are responsible for not excluding people from activities because of their disability: “a public entity may not, directly or through contractual or other arrangements, utilize methods of administration that deny individuals with disabilities access to the public entity’s services, programs, and activities or that perpetuate the discrimination of another public entity, if both public entities are subject to common administrative control or are agencies of the same state.  28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(3).”

The original Texas case regarding denial of interpreters for driver’s education, Ivy v. Morath, took place in 2011 and continued a process through other courts.

This week, the Supreme Court decided to hear it.

Advocacy to Avoid Disability Discrimination Lawsuits

When people with disabilities encounter disability discrimination, they may think the only option is to sue. Or, they may let the issue go, thinking hiring a lawyer may be too expensive or time consuming.

Litigation in court costs money, and matters are resolved over a period of time–sometimes years. That’s too long to wait for a pressing need.

Gavel rests on top of desk with court room participants in distance
The courtroom is a place to solve problems as a last resort. photo credit: CA Supreme Court – 11 via photopin (license)

Other options are available to get access and inclusion.

Many businesses, organizations, and agencies understand that they should respect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and other federal laws that protect Americans with disabilities . One way to raise awareness is to share the law with them.

When agencies, organizations, and businesses know the laws and don’t want to make accommodations or include people with disabilities, there are other remedies.

According to the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ (CTD) Messenger e-Newsletter, a lawsuit should come after other efforts have been made to see if a solution can be reached.

The CTD newsletter suggests three actions before seeking a lawyer:

Wheelchair ramp leads up to steps
Here’s a situation businesses could understand better once someone pulled their wheelchair up to this ramp. photo credit: Ramp to No where via photopin (license)
  • Talk to the business directly CTD recommends asking for the manager or the property manager. A CTD example shows that calling attention to access for one disability can benefit others: “CTD was approached by a group of taxi drivers who were concerned that the drop-off area [for Austin City Limits] was far from the entrance gates and required people with mobility impairments to traverse a ditch. CTD staff met with Festival organizers … By the next year, vehicles transporting people with disabilities were allowed to pull right up to the entrance gate. Plus, the Festival added accommodations such as an accessibility station and free rental wheelchairs, and ASL interpreters became permanent.”
  • Put it in writing An example where this worked: “Austin resident Julie Maloukis sent Maudie’s Tex Mex written notice about their inaccessible parking. Several weeks later, Maudie’s contacted Julie, thanking her for letting them know about the situation and to tell her the parking spaces were fixed.”
  • File a complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, “which might be able to require a business to comply with ADA regulations.” What does the Department of Licensing and Regulation do? According to the agency’s website, they “ensure public safety and customer protection, and provide a fair and efficient licensing and regulatory environment at the lowest possible cost.” The department has influence over businesses, particularly if the business requires a license. Complaints can be filed against businesses that are unlicensed too.

Another way to educate others is to ask to schedule a demonstration of the lack of access or inclusion. When staff at businesses learn how the problem affects others, they are more willing to help.

For example, if a ramp is too steep at the entrance to business, offer to demonstrate for them why. Have someone to spot the wheelchair as you attempt to travel up or down the ramp, and keep safe.

Captions on bottom of TV screen showing news about Oprah and Australia.
Watching TV without sound or captions is a quick way to teach why captions are important to those with hearing loss or deafness. photo credit: NICOLE CHETTLE via photopin (license)

If you need communication access, demonstrate how the experience would be without sound or words. For example, if you need a video captioned, have them watch the video with you without any sound. Have them read a paper with their eyes closed or in the dark if you are requesting Braille and they don’t understand why.

Be creative with teaching others to understand. Misunderstandings lead to discrimination continuing. Once everyone is on the same page, it’s easier to find a reasonable solution.

In many cases, these steps will work with solving  discrimination situations.

If not, another option before filing a lawsuit is to ask a lawyer to draft a letter discussing their obligations under the law, so that they are aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Whether the person chooses to take a matter to court is his or her right. Each person needs to evaluate how severe the situation is, and if a possible solution can be reached without deciding to sue.

Wheelchair Users Address the Dangers of Snow

According to an article on the JJ’s List blog, a woman who uses a wheelchair asks us to spread the word about the need to clear sidewalks of snow for wheelchair users.

Wheelchair symbol on street with snow depicts person being thrown from wheelchair.
One of the most dangerous obstacles for wheelchair users is snow. With the risk of going off course, getting stranded, or being pitched in the snow, winter travel for those using wheelchairs can be life threatening. photo credit: ramp via photopin (license)

Blogger Nura Aly lives in Illinois and uses a wheelchair. Though a city ordinance mandates businesses and residents shovel paths 36 inches wide on their sidewalks and curb cuts, not many people do it.

The situation is complicated when street snow plows move snow off the roads and into curb cuts, which are essential sidewalk entry/exit points for wheelchair users.

After a snowstorm, Aly thought she could get to work two days after the snow, but her mother and a stranger had to assist her when she got stuck in an alley.

“On Friday, six days removed from the last major storm and after dozens of phone calls by me and my loved ones to the office of my alderman, the sidewalks were finally cleared,” Aly said.

A video shows how difficult wheelchair navigation over the snow for someone who uses a wheelchair. With snow a few inches deep, her wheelchair slides to the side and doesn’t follow a straight path, which could cause the wheelchair user to plow into a post, wall, or even off the sidewalk.

Large sofa sits on a sidwalk next to the curb cut
Assuming that a sofa wasn’t blocking sidewalk access for wheelchair users, snow could block access to this curb cut. photo credit: sofafree, lowrider via photopin (license)

The Realities of Wheelchairs and Snow Days

Another blogger, Anita Cameron, said, “Often, folks who use wheelchairs get stuck in the snow and must depend on the kindness of strangers to rescue them. This has happened to me and many of my friends countless times.”

“People sometimes make glib comments – ‘stay at home,’ ‘get a power chair,’ ‘use para-transit.’ Staying at home isn’t a good idea when you work and bills must be paid. Even the most empathetic boss is going to eventually get tired of the ‘snow excuse’ and you’ll find yourself disciplined or terminated. Contrary to popular belief, a power wheelchair won’t get through six inches of snow, ice or slush – the wheels will simply spin uselessly,” Cameron said.

Cameron said that para-transit is for people who can’t otherwise access a public bus. Since many buses are now accessible, para-transit wouldn’t apply unless they weren’t near a bus stop. Sometimes, access to the bus stop is also blocked by snow, forcing wheelchair users to wait in the street. Cameron said this has resulted in police stops to understand why she was in the street.

Snow plow shovels snow near man shoveling snow off sidewalk.
Snow plows can cause build up of snow around sidewalks. photo credit: Mine is Bigger via photopin (license)

Some people are training service animals to pull them out of the snow, according to a Daily Herald report.

Technology and Resources for the Snow

The Karman website has two technology recommendations for enhancing snow safety for wheelchair users.

One is a small set of anti-tipping wheels behind the other wheels. The other is a wheel blade that works like a snow plow. As with many items, for those on fixed budgets, additional wheelchair equipment may be beyond their budget or they may have to wait months for approval from insurance or rehabilitation sources.

According to the website, snow poses a significant risk for those using wheelchairs. “It can be a very dangerous situation if you are propelling your wheelchair on your own with no assistance. One little wheel slip and you lose balance, finding yourself face down in the snow. In some situations, you can start moving about in the snow, but after a while you will find yourself stuck in the snow you’ve been raking in front of the chair.”

The Smart Chair blog recommends snow tires for wheelchairs, a buddy system, backup power sources and planning for medicines and trips.

Creative Solutions

New Mobility Magazine, a publication for active wheelchair users, offers potential snow solutions in the form of specialized wheelchairs, additional equipment, snow chains, and homemade equipment. They provide links to videos showing the equipment.

Let’s not forget that people do what they are able and wish to do, and some people who use wheelchairs love snow and snow sports, such as adaptive skiing, snowboarding, hockey, and more.

Regardless of hobbies or abilities, sidewalks should be universally accessible to everyone, whether they use a wheelchair, are pushing a stroller or walker, are walking with a toddler holding each hand, riding a bicycle to work, or just enjoying the outdoors. At no point should sidewalks present a danger to life, as the bloggers shared.

Advocating for Public Safety

If you’d like to help, make sure that sidewalk areas and curb cuts near your home or place of business have at least 36 inches of access without snow.

If you observe areas of your hometown that have snow covered sidewalks and you live in the United States, let your City Council know. Locate your council through a link at the mayor’s office or directly. Type in the name of your city and City Council for search engine results.

If the problem continues, attend a council meeting and request that the issue be addressed. Meeting dates will be posted on their website, or you can call and ask. Look for or request the times when public comment will be taken, and then plan to share your input in 1-3 minutes.

For this topic, pictures would be useful for the council to review. Printed pictures would work best, as they could be passed to council members while you present your information.

Items brought to the council must be addressed in the future in some way, whether they seek more information, write an ordinance that the city must follow, or determine they can do nothing more.

You could also send an email or call your city’s disability coordinator, or if you can’t find one, then contact the council to address your concerns.

If you believe the issue isn’t being addressed properly, other resources are state and national representatives.

Contact Your Elected Officials

Find links to contact the president, vice president, U.S. senators and representatives, state governors, state senators and representative, and mayors. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

The Need for Star Wars Access for All Abilities, Signing May the Force Be with You

Children dress up as Jedi masters from the Dark Side with red lightsabers.
People of all abilities want to put on a costume and share the Star Wars’ experience. Credit: Christina Goebel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens Dec. 17 premiere at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida

While premieres for the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were last night, the film opens in nationwide theaters today. Almost everyone who wants to can view one of the coolest movies in the galaxy–but not quite. For one blogger who uses a wheelchair, leaving home to view the movie with a damaged wheelchair could endanger his life. Another young man may be attending the film because of director J.J. Abram’s and others’ contributions.

Access to movies for people of all abilities will take a community effort.

Star The Force Awakens Wars lit up on the ground.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens step and repeat on the ground at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida makes it easy for everyone to snap their picture, even if they use a wheelchair. Credit: Christina Goebel

Movies have been a stress point for many people with a disability. For some, they need captions or amplification to hear, others need descriptive voice, and others need physical access to parking, the building, and accessible seating and bathrooms. Many theaters now provide this access and indicate next to the movie listing if it’s accessible.

A lot of work is still needed for ensuring access, as you can tell from viewing this “official” trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has no captions or this one, with 22 million views–but no captions for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind. As for descriptive voice for people who are blind, also not there.

Star The Force Awakens Wars light display on side of a Disney building.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens building wall projection provides another accessible backdrop for people with many abilities. Credit: Christina Goebel, at Disney Springs

Here is how theaters accommodate disability, but visit your theater’s website or call to verify and if necessary, reserve access:

  • Descriptive voice: actions described by voice, supplied for those with low vision or blindness and available over a theater-provided headset
  • Closed-captioning: viewed by theater-provided Sony glasses, a captioning device, or shield (View a captioned video of how captioned glasses work here.)
  • Open captioning: scheduled less frequently, captions are shown on the film itself for all to see
  • Assistive Listening Device: a theater-provided amplification device for those with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Accessible Parking, Seating, and Bathrooms: those spaces with no seats allow someone using a wheelchair to sit–and may run out temporarily during Star Wars’ showings
  • Showings for People with Cognitive Disabilities: usually scheduled later for showings, allow viewers to walk around or talk as they desire, sound may be lower for those with Autism, reduces stress about “proper behavior” for viewing films
  • Showings for with Sign Language for People who are Deaf: usually scheduled later with sign language interpreters

Watching films with sign language is a truer form of communication for those who are culturally Deaf and use sign as their primary method of communication.

To see how different sign language is from captions, learn how Deaf Star signs, “May the Force be With You!”

Seats in a theater with open space next to them to accommodate a wheelchair.
Seats with open spaces next to them are for wheelchairs. Don’t occupy these areas unless you or family members need them. photo credit: Riverview Theater [006/366] via photopin (license)
If you need accommodations, call early for theater access, especially when seats will be full, to know if there will be enough accessible seating, if captions will be available for the 3D version of the movie, if the film will have descriptive voice, if an open captioned film will be shown, or if there will be enough amplification devices on hand.

On crowded days, those using wheelchairs might want to call ahead to arrange for assistance carrying their food and drinks while navigating thick crowds in hallways.

Those needing additional access should show up early to the film to ensure their space or equipment is available. Accessible seating and equipment take extra time to arrange.

While many people with disabilities will experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, some will not.

Darth Vader kneels on ground. He has painted the words Epic Fail on the wall.
Technology exists to improve people’s lives, but many can’t receive access to it. In some cases, when equipment fails, people with disabilities may have to wait years for a replacement. photo credit: Weston Super Mare – Epic Fail via photopin (license)

For actor, blogger, and activist Dominick Evans, Dec. 17 was a reminder of the downside of the lack of access. Evans said in his blog, “Not only can I not go see [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], but I probably won’t be able to see it until it comes to streaming or television. The reason is because I lack access to the things I need to not only get out of my house, but also out of my bed. I have been trapped in bed before, and it sucks, but today it is my reality…not because I’m disabled, but because any type of equipment and services I (and others) need, are 10 times more expensive. ”

Wheelchair foot rest is alone on floor, broken off the wheelchair.
Something as simple as a broken wheelchair foot rest can contribute to broken bones for the user because the wheelchair can roll over his or her foot. photo credit: Broken leg via photopin (license)

Evans has had a broken wheelchair for three years. He said that if insurance comes through, he may have a new wheelchair next spring. In the meantime, Evans’ wheelchair is painful and dangerous to use.

Not having a wheelchair is one of Evans’ access problems. Another is needing a new Hoyer lift, equipment used to move Evans into his wheelchair and out of it.

Evans said, “Due to something called contractures in my legs, which can be very painful, my legs hang around the bar of the kind of lift I use. My feet snag on it, and I have recently experienced multiple sprained feet and broken toes.”

The new lift that won’t break Evans’ bones costs $5,000 and may not be covered by insurance.

For people like Evans, not having appropriate technology is life-threatening and deprives him of choices many of have that we take for granted.

“This is the part of having a disability that stinks the most … knowing you could have your freedom back, but lacking that access to get the things you need, to make it happen. Today I wish I could go to the movies. I have long been a Star Wars fan,” Evans said.

Evans asks us to think of him when we experience the film at theaters. He said, “So today, if you get to go enjoy Star Wars…have some popcorn for me, and think about ways you can help support the disability community, so those of us currently unable to go see this film, or any other film franchise we happen to love, due to lack of access, have a greater chance of not facing these barriers, in the future.”

J.J. Abrams standing a podium next to microphone.
J.J. Abrams, director of the new Star Wars movie, has contributed to the access of those with disabilities. Have you? photo credit: J. J. Abrams via photopin (license)

J.J. Adams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, contributed $50,000 this year to the family of 10-year-old Michael Keating, a young man who has Cerebral Palsy and whose family needed an accessible van to transport him. They needed more equipment too, since his mother had two hernia surgeries related to moving her 70-pound son.

According to a Washington Post report, Abrams said, “Katie and I made the donation. Likely for the same reason others did: we were moved by the Keating family’s grace, strength and commitment to each other.”

Picture of Yoda's head. It reads, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."
Abrams lives Yoda’s mantra by taking action to ensure greater access for others. It’s probable that a young man whose family he helped was able to see his movie because of Abrams’ contribution. photo credit: Yoda wisdom via photopin (license)

Sign Shares staff realizes the need to advocate for access and inclusion so that everyone can live, work, and play in the least restrictive environment. Sign Shares has contributed to disability events across the state and nation to support disability education, awareness, inclusion, and advocacy for people of all abilities.

If you need a sign language interpreter, CART live captioning, or similar resources, you can request services here or call: Local (Houston): 713.869.4373 • Toll Free: 866.787.4154, or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832. 431.4889.

The Sign Shares’ advocacy team can provide resources to those who need technology, access, or advocacy information. Contact us here or by calling the numbers above, at  or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832.431.4889.

May the Force Be with You!