Several sites that deal with college life have been reporting that Yale University–which forbids pets on campus–has been allowing students who need animal companionship for medical reasons—and have a doctor’s letters to prove it–to have “comfort animals” on campus. But this is old news, as it turns out: the Yale Daily News reported that story on April 26, along with the prediction that this year’s total of comfort animals at Yale (14, including one hedgehog) will be much higher in the fall. Yale said it has no choice in the matter, since the Fair Housing Act, requires accommodation.
The act states that “persons with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation for any service animal, including an emotional support animal. And the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Larger and more exotic animals may be on the way. One student at Washington State University brought to campus a 95-pound “comfort pig’ that severely damaged a dorm room.
The Daily News article drew 411 comments from Yale, most of them derisive. One said: “We are allowing a new generation of emotional cripples to come slithering out of the university gates.” Another: “How in creation are they going to handle it when they start being told what to do by a boss — and then bawled out if they screw up? Run home to mummy with an urgent need to hug everyone and fondle a dog?” One more: “What if, on Halloween, someone dresses as a comfort animal?” Ooh, no!
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The problem is one of money — who has it and who doesn’t…
A student (more often the parents of such a student) with enough money can find a doctor (and a lawyer) to say damn near anything — and often do. I’ve seen some jaw-dropping “You Have Got To Be Kidding” accommodations granted, I think we all have.
In response to this extreme, universities respond by making other students with disabilities jump through as many hoops as humanly possible. Using UMass Amherst as an example, it is incredible the effort they will expend to deny simple (“human decency”) accommodations that would be easier (and far cheaper) for the institution to simply provide.
One example involved a blind student — she was totally blind and documented as such, documention on file with everyone including the university itself. There had been some past incident that ranged somewhere between verbal abuse and a minor physical assault and she asked to be moved to a dorm on the other end of campus (where her classes were) so that she didn’t have to walk through there anymore.
Disability Services refused on the grounds that fear of being attacked had nothing to do with her being blind, but they would agree to occasionally have a police detective following her (without her knowledge).
The decent thing to do would be to see if there were any vacancies on the other end of campus (which there almost certainly were) and let her move — but UMass couldn’t do that…
In fact, a non-disabled student with a personal relationship with the right mid-level administrator almost certainly would have been able to do this — I saw such things happen with routine frequency. But because she was disabled and making an ADA request, she was denied.
Another example involved handicapped parking — always controversial. But UMass once was refusing to recognize state-issued credentials (i.e HP Plates/Placards, and Disabled Veteran plates), demanding that people instead apply through Disability Services for a UMass-issued HP sticker. Remember that this is a state university, legally defined as a “town” by Massachusetts law, with events to which the public is routinely invited.
Well it seems that someone in a wheelchair and with a Massachusetts-issued plate or placard attended an event on campus (memory is he had purchased a ticket) and parked in a HP space — like he would anywhere else. He wasn’t happy to get the $100 ticket (can’t remember if he was also towed or not) — nor was the state regulatory commission which then essentially asked UMass what part of Massachusetts law it couldn’t understand.
That’s how far these things often go in the other direction…
The problem is that there is no objective standard of “reasonableness” and that almost no one is being “reasonable.” Hence whoever has more money — the student or the school — is the one who wins. And hence welcome the Yale Petting Zoo, coming soon to a school near you…