Friday, July 29, 2016

Disability Access is about CHOICE: Navigating the World with a Service Dog

I have not done a blog in a very long time. I can only say “life happens” and I didn’t feel like my blog was important. Several times I have started to get thoughts down and then the matter became less urgent.
This week with an accumulation of things, I finally decided, it’s time for the BLOG.

Goodee the Service Dog & myself have not been on a trip in six years or so. Looking at places to go, the Service Dog noted her preferences: flying (certainly, we like getting there quickly), limo, (dog and human both like the creature comforts), cruise (YES! That’s on our bucket list), old historic home near beach (another bucket list item).

Little did I know how much trouble some things can be. I have mitigated a disability my entire life. Prior to having a Service Dog, my lack of balance and poor peripheral vision caused frequent falls. I had no success with a cane, it was just something else to fall over and actually made things worse. Having a Service Dog ahead of me, increases my balance and allows me to be aware of curbs, holes and other obstacles.  I am the same person but, the way I mitigate my disability is different. Having a Service Dog has opened so many doors for me. Ramps and stares that were too steep for me are now no problem at all. The Service Dog is a positive thing and there’s no way I could, or would do without her. However, having a Service Dog can create a whole new set of unnecessary barriers.

Flying with the Service Dog is no problem thanks to the Air Carrier Access Act(ACAA), the limo, or hired car are certainly no problem the American’s with Disabilities Act(ADA) requires transportation to be accessible to the Service Dog handler. The Service Dog is recognized as a medical device; the disabled individual has a Federal right to mitigate their disability. The Service Dog is specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. –This elevates the Service Dog to a working animal and not a pet.

Goodee the Service Dog allows me to navigate uneven jet-ways. In the past I would have to wait for a gate agent or skycap, maybe even order up a wheelchair but now with the Service Dog, I can board the plane quickly, with no assistance. This gives me a feeling of “normal” that is indescribable.

Would we be able to do a cruise to Mexico? Well there’s no ADA there but, happily the details of a cruise have been no problem. Thanks to Royal Caribbean disability department, Goodee the Service Dog has her own “potty patch” close to our cabin.  We have a Consular agent to make sure all our paperwork is in order to enter Mexico. As a medical device, Goodee the Service Dog will disembark with me, instead of having to enter Mexico in cargo. There’s a private transport company that will get us from dock to beach and back. It seems even without government regulation; merchants want the American tourist dollar.

     “What about the historic bed & breakfast?”

     "Oh hello Goodee the Service Dog, thanks for the reminder."

     “What would you do without me?”

     "Well that’s what this blog is about."

I decided to look at Bed & Breakfast establishments in Galveston, Texas. The first inquiry I made was a  complete disaster.

     “Well the lady who replied to your email was a complete B@@@@”

     “Okay Goodee, let’s keep it rated E for everyone.”

Goodee the Service Dog is correct the reply I got was less than welcoming:

          “I would request that you rent one of the cottages out back in case your dog barks it will not disturb other guests.”

I sent a polite but direct reply stating that I am a Service Dog handler of many years and certainly if we are a disturbance to other guests, we remove ourselves.  I do not expect to be isolated because someone thinks my dog may bark. When I visit establishments, I expect to be treated just like other customers and given the same selection, not just the one someone else thinks is best.

The innkeeper and I came to a mutual understanding that ours is an unworkable situation. She indicated that I am “over the top” about needing my dog. She went on to say “because you sent an inquiry with no dates of travel “I suspect you are just trying to get someone to deny you.”

     “Mom that’s when you said: W@@”

     “Yes right Goodee”

     “It’s only three letters  mom.”

     “Yes, I’m sure they get the picture Goodee.”

I was more than a little upset by someone accusing me of “trying to get someone to deny me.”

At first I was offended by her saying I was “over the top.” –Then I realized, Yes I am in fact “over the top” about ADA rights and Service Dog access. – For that I have no apologies. “Over the top” gets things done, and removes barriers.

Access is about  CHOICE. What bothers me?  It's not that someone wants to put me and the dog away from everyone else---In a lot of cases I would like that.  However,  I want to have the CHOICE, just like other people. I want to decide what is best for me and do it.  Prior to the ADA disabled people faced a life of "can't", "don't," "won't" I want the CHOICE for myself. After years of having to look for ramps (and sometimes finding none), I enjoy taking stairs. Does it take me longer than a “normal” person?” Yes, but I LOVE it because now I have the FREEDOM to do it!

I am happy to report I also received an email from some lovely innkeepers  in the same neighborhood who have opened their entire home to us.

I know accessibility is expensive but lots of people in society benefit from it. At some point all of us benefit from a ramp or railing. There are loans and grants for retrofitting. There are 20 million disabled Americans (that’s a lot of buying power).

We look forward to blogging our further adventures. In closing (taking on something that should be a whole other blog) we would like to say:

THINK BEFORE YOU FAKE! If you don’t have a disability, you do not qualify for a Service Dog. If the dog is not trained to do work or a task specifically for you, it is not a Service Dog.
So often I hear people say “I wish I could take my dog everywhere.”—to which I say “I wish I didn’t have to!”

Now faking a Service Dog can include fines. I have heard of  people getting fined $5,000 for trying to get their pet into the aircraft cabin.

I never gave much thought to the fake until I endured UBER drivers yelling at me: “You can’t take the dog!” It made me wonder, was this an effective approach with the faker before me? Is it possible the innkeeper above had offered the cottages “out back” to a faker and they thought this was cool? When kids rush up and surround us, nearly causing me to fall to the floor, is it because the faker allowed a whole restaurant full of people to pet the dog?

Faking a Service Dog is not cool. Any problems your untrained pet causes in an establishment reflects upon the Service Dog community. —The next legitimate Service Dog handler faces extra strife and downright hostility from business owners all because you didn’t want to be without your pet, or you were too cheap to buy an airline ticket for pet cargo.

Remember when you see us out and about, we must say:
“Not Now, We Are Working.!”

--DD & Service Dog Goodee

Helpful Links and contact info
ADA Service Animals
For questions about the ADA
800-514-0301 (Voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY)
24 hours a day to order publications by mail.
M-W, F 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Th 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time)
to speak with an ADA Specialist. All calls are confidential.


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