International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
P.O. Box 638 * Sterling Heights, MI 48311 * USA
(586) 826-3938 * firstname.lastname@example.org * www.iaadp.org
March 17, 2007
Lee Scott, President & CEO
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716-8611
Dear Mr. Scott:
I am writing on behalf of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, a cross disability advocacy organization, promoting the rights of disabled people partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs. These well trained dogs enhance the independence, mobility, safety and improve the quality of life for more than 20,000 Americans with disabilities. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled people are permitted to bring their assistance dogs into all places of public accommodation, including retail establishments.
In most cases, Wal-Mart stores have welcomed assistance dog partners as valued customers. Unfortunately, a number of calls to our national help line in the fall of 2006 about access problems at several Wal-Mart stores led us to survey assistance dog teams by e-mail. I would like to share the results of that Survey with you.
More than half the respondents reported they had positive experiences shopping at Wal-Mart. In fact, some individuals had high praise for the stores they patronized. However, out of the 134 surveys returned by assistance dog partners, we documented a substantial number of complaints about negative experiences at Wal-Mart. A few respondents went into detail about these distressing incidents. IAADP learned it was not just a local or regional issue, since negative incidents were reported from every region of the United States.
The discovery of such widespread problems with Wal-Mart led us to contact the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Disability Rights section to discuss our findings. IAADP learned that individual efforts to contact district managers or corporate headquarters were ineffective in bringing about a systemic change in how Wal-Mart educates store managers and other employees about the state and federal laws granting access rights to disabled Americans accompanied by assistance dogs. At the request of the DOJ representative, I contacted each respondent and I secured the consent to forward a copy of their survey report to the DOJ Disability Rights section.
In one reported case, the store manager requires the disabled person to report to the front desk every single time he enters the store so an announcement can be made over the public address system to inform everyone that a disabled person will be shopping in the store accompanied by a service animal. This, as you can imagine, is humiliating. In a second case, a young woman with multiple disabilities has been repeatedly told she does not look disabled enough to have a service dog and therefore she was asked to leave the store. When she tried to show them the IAADP Access & Education brochure, employees refused to look at it. They also ignored the fact her dog wore a harness with highly visible Service Dog logo patches. These are only two examples of discriminatory actions on the part of Wal-Mart staff.
IAADP recommends establishing an educational program to avoid such incidents in the future. IAADP would be pleased to work with you on this effort. It is our hope that Access Education will become a higher priority for Wal-Mart. While it is admirable that many store managers have educated their staff about the right of disabled customers to be accompanied by assistance dogs, it is deplorable that a number of them have not done so. IAADP members in the United States hope to learn that Wal-Mart will take the lead in making their stores an "assistance dog friendly" venue for shoppers with disabilities.
I look forward to hearing from you and working on an educational effort that will avoid future problems.