Apr 232009

By Ryan Lengerich, Fort Myers (Florida) News-Press  4/21/09

A deaf Sarasota man filed a complaint with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office against a man he said would not let him into an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting last week in North Fort Myers, because his hearing dog was with him.

Greg Lawrence filed the complaint Sunday saying he was discriminated against April 15 when he tried to attend a “Clear the Air” group meeting at the Dry Palms Club, 2151 Lamar Road in North Fort Myers. Representatives of the Dry Palms Club could not be reached for comment today.

Lawrence called 911 about the man. A sheriff’s deputy who arrived minutes later would initially not escort Lawrence and his dog Genny into the meeting as Lawrence requested, according to the complaint. Lawrence said after a discussion about the hearing dog’s purpose, the deputy escorted him to the door.

Cpt. Brad Gossman, the Sheriff’s Office North District Commander, apologized to Lawrence through e-mail Monday, and said deputies will receive necessary training to make sure the situation does not happen again.

Hearing dogs are trained to alert people who are deaf to household sounds that are necessary for everyday safety and independence, according to Dogs for the Deaf, a nonprofit dog rescue foundation that trains homeless dogs to be hearing dogs.

Hearing dogs must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go, much like a seeing eye dog. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

– Thanks to NVRC, Fairfax