[Vabs] Jury finds IA Dept. for Blind's guide dog policy does not discriminate

Wilson, Joanne JWilson at nfb.org
Thu Feb 19 22:24:43 UTC 2009

From: Brammer, Robert [AG] [mailto:rbrammer at ag.state.ia.us]
Sent: Thursday, February 19, 2009 1:53 PM
To: Brammer, Robert [AG]
Subject: Atty. Gen. release: Jury finds IA Dept. 
for Blind's guide dog policy does not discriminate

To News Editors.   From Bob Brammer (Iowa 
Attorney General’s Office – 515-281-6699.)
Please find a release pasted below.  This will be 
posted soon at 
.  A jury entered a verdict Wednesday in this 
case in Polk County District Court.
Best regards,  Bram

For immediate release – Thursday, February 19, 2009.
Contact Bob Brammer – 515-281-6699

Jury finds Iowa Department for the Blind’s
Guide Dog Policy Does Not Discriminate

             Des Moines.  A Polk County jury has 
rejected a Des Moines woman’s claim that the 
State of Iowa Department for the Blind 
discriminated against her by refusing her request 
to use a guide dog while she attended the 
Department’s orientation and adjustment training program.

             The Department for the Blind 
orientation and training program is a 
comprehensive program that utilizes a totally 
non-visual approach to teaching blindness 
skills.  Students with partial vision are 
required to wear eyeshades to prevent reliance 
upon any visual cues during training.  Department 
policies prohibit the use of any visual aids 
within the orientation and training program, 
including guide dogs.  The Department has no 
objection to guide dogs in other situations.

             Stephanie Dohmen, who is legally 
blind, attended the program for several months 
beginning in September 2000 and sought to 
re-enter the program in June 2002 accompanied by her guide dog.

             Dohmen claimed in her lawsuit that 
the Department’s policy violated her rights under 
the Iowa Civil Rights Act and under federal laws 
that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.

             After a six-day trial, the 
eight-person jury rejected Dohmen’s claims in a verdict entered Wednesday.

             The Department for the Blind, which 
was represented in the trial by the Iowa Attorney 
General’s Office, argued that a totally 
non-visual approach – and training without 
assistance of a guide-dog or other visual aids – 
is the most effective approach for 
visually-impaired persons who are learning skills 
and techniques for dealing with blindness.

             The Department places no limitations 
upon the use of guide dogs in other settings, 
including in the Department for the Blind 
building in downtown Des Moines.   For example, 
Karen Keninger, the Director of the Department, 
uses a guide dog, and the dog accompanied 
Keninger during her testimony at the trial.

             The orientation program typically 
includes about six months of full-time training 
in various problem-solving skills, such as 
cane-travel on public streets, using Braille, 
using computers, and dealing with many other situations.

             The Department for the Blind’s 
orientation and adjustment program was 
established in 1959 and is considered by many to 
be one of the most effective in the country.

             During the trial, the State 
Department for the Blind presented testimony from 
Joanne Wilson and Frederic K. Schroeder, each a 
former Commissioner of the U.S. Rehabilitation 
Services Administration, which oversees programs 
for the blind around the country.

             “Iowa’s orientation program 
profoundly changes lives,” said Wilson, who also 
is Executive Director of the National Federation 
of the Blind.  “It works.  It’s a cutting-edge 
program and a model for other states.”  Wilson is 
a Webster City native and ISU graduate who went 
through the Iowa Department for the Blind’s orientation program herself.

             Schroeder said:  “To me the central 
point is that individuals have a choice in the 
type of training they take.  While programs must 
and should make reasonable accommodations, they 
cannot be required to alter the fundamentals of the program.”

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