PSDP is staying in touch with DOT and other advocates in Washington, DC

Seven disability advocates pose for a picture in an expansive central indoor area at the US Department of Transportation building in Washington, DC on November 25, 2019.

Advocates at DOT, from left to right—Ken Shiotani (NDRN), Claire Stanley with a yellow Lab service dog (ACB), Jenine Stanley with a Golden Retriever service dog (Aira), Veronica Morris with a Japanese Chin service dog (PSDP), Jenna Riemenschneider (AAFA), Brad Morris in a power wheelchair (PSDP), and Sheri Soltes (Service Dogs Inc. and ADI). (Not all advocates at the meeting are pictured.)

December 2, 2019—There’s little dispute that USDOT’s service animal flying regulations are in serious need of improvement. This is because our community did not have regular contact with DOT when the regulations were last updated. Thanks to ongoing community donations, PSDP has been a part of turning this around.

PSDP is staying in touch with DOT and other advocates in Washington, DC and, along with a coalition of those advocates, is staying in the lead with the latest developments. Last week, leaders met to give input from the disability community and to get updates from DOT. PSDP was responsible for all the agenda points requested by advocates. Here are some of the meeting’s highlights.

• DOT’s new ACAA Advisory Committee will have a public meeting in early 2020, but is unlikely to consider service animals. Taking the lead in a coalition of service dog user groups, we’ve contacted each member of the committee to ensure they will consult us if a relevant issue comes up.

• After DOT told airlines breed bans were not acceptable for service animals, Delta and Allegiant have brazenly persisted with their Pit Bull bans. We asked DOT whether they had the will and power to stand up to this kind of scofflaw approach from airlines.

DOT encouraged individuals to continue to file complaints if they are affected—or even opinions, if you’re indirectly affected. DOT also indicated they are working on this and there are many possible paths forward.

Our 2018 info on Delta’s ban:

DOT info on filing a complaint (there is a link on the right side of the page for filing):

• A new service animal regulation proposal is expected any day (it has been under review at the new OIRA office for a few months). This proposal be in the form of an NPRM (notice of proposed rulemaking) and will likely have at least a 60-day public comment period.

It will be very important for community members to write in with clear arguments and personal examples to support parts that are good and fight parts that are bad. DOT is not allowed to reveal the NPRM content early, but we expect we will have to push hard for disability rights.

• Service animals are such a popular topic that DOT may hold a public meeting to take questions/comments and have a conversation during the NPRM comment period. If DOT does this, we want to be sure to be there because we are at the most sensitive point in US service dog law in a decade. We have worked so hard to earn our influence with DOT and can *not* let corporate interests drown out our community’s voice at the last minute.

• When we asked for community input ahead of our November meeting, as usual, most comments were about getting parity for psychiatric service dog users. (This means treating psychiatric service dog users the same as any other type of service dog user, and is relatively independent of ESA users.) While we have repeatedly told DOT this is our community’s top demand, we did not spare them this time as we emphasized it as strongly as ever.

This was the easiest issue for all stakeholders to agree to at the 2016 Negotiated Rulemaking (“Reg Neg”) meeting, but we can never assume we know DOT’s thoughts on any issue with a pending rule. We will have to wait on the NPRM to see what DOT thinks would be good, but we know DOT is definitely aware of the history and our view.

• Airlines’ increased use of their own forms in recent years has caused major problems. These problems include airlines improperly forcing passengers with service animals to use their forms when the passengers either have their own medical documentation that follows the regulations, or have documentation that otherwise contains the same requested (non-medical) information but is not on the airline’s forms.

The costs and time-sinks associated with using each airline’s forms are not only an undue burden that stops disabled people from flying, but they make it very difficult for service dog users to simply comparison shop for flights when there are so many hidden or unexpected costs along the way. DOT’s advice to our community: File a complaint if an airline forces their own forms when regulations don’t require it.

We also encourage you to similarly let DOT know how airlines’ maze of forms impacts your ability to fly, being specific about what these extra burdens mean to you. If you’re not sure what you have to say qualifies as a formal complaint or an opinion, please know it’s okay to say what you need to say and let DOT sort out how to classify it.

Jenine Stanley, a disability advocate and guide dog user who works closely with PSDP, brought up airports’ service animal relief areas (SARAs). She and PSDP relayed that while some SARAs are okay, many are not working well in practice, suggesting it might be time to revisit how to implement the idea.

DOT actually conducts airport inspections, including SARAs. We conveyed that visiting the site without seeing how or whether it works for real service dog users doesn’t really show whether it’s a successful implementation. For example, some SARAs use chemicals that completely turn off some dogs from wanting to eliminate there.

DOT wants to hear from the community about specific airports’ SARAs if anything stands out like this. DOT may consider revising the SARA part of their airport inspections as we go forward. This means that it would be good for community members to let PSDP or other user groups (like GDUI and IAADP) know if you have any feedback on SARAs in general or otherwise.

• As we announced on social media, HUD recently asked FTC to investigate assistance animal documentation websites. Since HUD regulates housing, we wanted to be sure this investigation might also have the input of the agency that regulates flying (DOT), as DOT’s current regulations create a particular need for some of these sites (see the article linked below). We also asked our DOT contacts to put us in touch with HUD and FTC so the investigation has input from the stakeholder community most affected by any crackdown on these sites.

DOT has an inter-agency meeting soon and will be inquiring about this investigation and how we can get involved. After our November DOT meeting, Brad followed up by sharing his article and our interest with the proper DOT official and with the other advocates in attendance.

Brad Morris’s recent article, “Should we hate online service dog certification?”:

• Complaints under the service animal heading have risen from the #4 to the #3 spot, with 20% of disability complaints.

• Claire Stanley of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) (no relation to Jenine Stanley) helped DOT officials realize they should consider service animal issues when it comes to regulations for accessible lavatories (restrooms).

We were surprised at DOT’s lack of awareness (or simple forgetfulness) about this, since we know this came up during the 2016 Reg Neg. This is another example of why it’s necessary for us to stay in touch with government officials and to keep letting them know how their rules and enforcement affect our community.

A woman with a small white and black service dog in her lap sits at a long conference table with other people and smiles at the camera.

We count on your help to get us to the table and your input to make it meaningful.