Blind aide and guide dog refused entry to Senate chamber
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Only a select few people are allowed within the sanctity of the Senate chamber, but Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked his colleagues Monday to admit a dog _ and he was quickly rebuffed.
Wyden wanted senators to allow Moira Shea, a blind congressional fellow working in his office, to bring her guide dog, Beau, into the chamber during a debate on nuclear waste.
When his request was rejected, Wyden said ``a guide dog is a person’s vision″ and accused the Senate of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by discriminating against blind people.
A Democratic senator telephoned the Senate cloak room and voiced his objection, blocking the request. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that while he personally had no objection to bringing in the dog, he was raising a formal protest on behalf of the other senator, whom no one would identify.
That led Wyden to extol the benefits of guide dogs as ``working dogs″ that should be given some leeway. ``The Senate should change its rules,″ he declared. ``To tell someone like Ms. Shea she cannot come to the floor is demeaning.″
``Ms. Shea is being treated differently simply because she is visually impaired,″ said Wyden, adding that Ms. Shea, an economist who has worked in the government for 20 years, has brought her dog into government offices, Senate hearings and even to nuclear weapons facilities.″
Ms. Shea, 41, who has worked for Wyden since January and before that in the office of Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Ky., as well as the Energy and Commerce departments, waited in a nearby room after being barred entry to the chamber.
The Senate has no formal rule prohibiting guide dogs onto the Senate floor, but outside of senators, former senators, current House members and the four Senate officers, anyone coming into the chamber must received formal permission. Any senator can block someone not automatically allowed entry from coming in.
Although selected Senate staffers have prior approval to get onto the Senate floor, Ms. Shea, as a congressional fellow, had to received unanimous consent from all senators to gain admittance. Such consent normally is routine, said a spokesman for Wyden.
The Senate sergeant at arms had offered to escort Ms. Shea into the chamber without her dog, but that was unacceptable, Wyden said. The Senate also prohibits anyone from carrying a cane into the chamber.
Wyden said the inability of Ms. Shea to bring in her dog was an affront to disabled Americans. He introduce a resolution that would require that disabled people be allowed to bring with them to the Senate floor the ``supporting services including service dogs″ they deem necessary.
The four other senators in the chamber at the time _ Sens. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, Richard Bryan, D-Nev., and Reid _ quickly asked to become co-sponsors. The resolution goes to the Rules Committee, which deals with the operations of the Senate.