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Blind woman shares concerns, sadness after guide dog denied entry to local church – KBTX

BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) – Many people depend on service animals to lead a safer and more independent life, but what one local woman didn’t expect was to be turned away from worshiping.
Mari Ramos is blind and uses her companion and service dog, Betty.
Betty’s guiding abilities aren’t something Mari says she uses for fun, but to navigate life. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects Mari and Betty to ensure they can go places together and Mari can access life just like anyone else.
However, when Mari attended Church on Sunday, leaders there exercised their right not to comply with ADA rules.
“I had somebody say to me on Sunday, well I’m not denying you. I’m denying your service animal. Well by extension. you are denying me because Betty and I are a cohesive unit,” Mari said.
We’re not naming the Church in this story because the organization did not break any laws.
What Mari found out, and what she now wants others to know is religious institutions are specifically exempt from ADA compliance. She’s sharing her story because she wants to ensure no one is left feeling the way she was feeling on Sunday.
“There was just this feeling of being turned away, this feeling of embarrassment, this feeling of being excluded from something,” Mari said.
She says education is key when handling service animals.
This is exactly what River’s Edge Dog Academy in College Station works to do each time they train a service animal.
Owner, Terry Cadle, says many people don’t know the rules or trust that a service animal is real.
“You don’t want to feel discriminated against, you don’t want to feel different, you already feel different having the dog with you, and so on. Now they’re making a big deal out of it making a show it can be very belittling and very hard on people,” he said, but there needs to be understanding that these service animals are vital in a person’s life. “They become their right-hand man, take them everywhere do everything with them.”
According to ADA compliance, state and local governments, businesses, and non-profits generally must allow service animals. When a location is approached by a service animal, laws prevent asking for certification or proof of task. Service dog certification does not exist. Specific exclusions on allowing service dog entry include some religious entities, some private clubs and certain areas of hospitals.
Mari said leaders of the church wouldn’t allow Betty due to a band and flashing lights not being “appropriate” for a service animal.
Mari feels the handler decides what’s appropriate for her pup.
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