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Making the World More Accessible for Guide Dogs and Their Handlers

A German shepherd in harness beside a pink cherry blossom tree. Text: If rideshare drivers open their cars up to the public by driving for a rideshare company, they are covered by the ADA in the U.S. and federal and provincial human rights laws in Canada. These law protect people with disabilities from discrimination, including those who work with service animals.

The Seeing Eye is committed to educating the public and business owners about the ongoing challenges faced by guide dog handlers worldwide, particularly in accessing public spaces. Other guide dog organizations around the world share our concerns as this was a key issue highlighted at the 2023 International Guide Dog Federation Conference in Vancouver.

The Seeing Eye Board of Trustees recently renewed and elevated our commitment to advocating for the rights of guide dog handlers by creating a new department of Accessibility, Advocacy & Government Relations. Long-time Director of Instruction and Training Dave Johnson will lead the department with a focus on increasing efforts to make the world a more accessible and friendly place for guide dog handlers.

In 2023, Johnson and Melissa Allman, the Sr. Specialist of Advocacy & Government Relations, implemented initiatives aimed at educating law enforcement, guide dog handlers, and the public.

A significant initiative is an online training course for police officers and first responders in New Jersey. This course focuses on federal and state laws regarding guide dog handlers' access rights, including Dusty’s Law, which criminalizes interfering with or harming a service animal. We are tracking the effectiveness of this training with the aim to expand similar efforts to other states.

Another major step is the launch of the Seeing Eye Advocacy App, available for Apple/iOS and soon for Android. This app provides crucial information on U.S. and Canadian laws related to guide dog access rights, along with resources for self-advocacy. It's designed for guide dog handlers, instructors, business owners, pet dog owners, and others seeking knowledge about these laws.

We are also leveraging social media to spread awareness about service animal-related issues. This includes topics like the definition of a service animal, what questions businesses can ask, issues with ride-sharing services, access to national parks and air travel, and grassroots legislative efforts by our graduates.

Recognizing the importance of staying informed about relevant laws and developments, The Seeing Eye offers an "Access Lecture" to each class of students. Additionally, we have launched topical advocacy webinars, with the first focusing on current air travel challenges for guide dog handlers.

We look forward to sharing the development of new programs and advocacy-centered resources as we advance into 2024 and beyond.