Disabled still fighting for their rights in Arkansas

PINE BLUFF, Ark. (KTHV)-- More than 70,000 Arkansans live with disabilities, and some are still fighting for their rights.

The Disability Rights Center says they have received fifty calls from disabled people claiming that businesses aren't accommodating their needs- though they're legally required to do so.

"It's becoming rampant in [Arkansas]," said DRC executive director Tom Masseau about the issue. "To still be taking some of these calls is quite frustrating, and some of them are quite outrageous when you really get down to the meat of the issue."

Jeri Mark is one of the people dealing with the problem. At 68 he has two bulging vertebrae, a rebuilt neck, two knee braces, two torn rotator cuffs, and heart disease, all to go along with post-traumatic stress disorder he developed after returning from the Vietnam War.

"It's frightening," said Mark. "Your chest starts tightening your stomach gets tight. You just start shaking all over."

To cope with the panic attacks and flashbacks Jeri uses a therapy dog, Diesel. But lately, he says multiple places around Pine Bluff have turned him away because of his companion-something that is illegal according to the Americans with Disabilities Act,which was passed 24 years ago.

According to the act "organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where the public is allowed to go." If they don't they could get summoned to appear in court. But Jeri, along with the DRC, say they don't want that. They just want people to understand the disabled's needs.

"I could really make a fuss, and I don't want to do that," said Mark. "I've had enough conflict but it's getting to the point where something has got to give."

Mark says he doesn't plan on taking legal action against the places that have denied him in Pine Bluff,but says he's not afraid to if the problem persists.


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