Milo-bear and I have been partners eighteen months now. I would have to say most of the wrinkles have been ironed out. I suppose anyone who has had a service dog long enough to be on #2, will experience some adjustment as you learn that dogs really are DIFFERENT. Milo is a different breed, sex, size, and personality. He has a different skill set than Chloe did. Poor guy was told “good girl” for at least a year, so I think being a different sex was one of the hardest verbal changes I had to make! I think that part of the reason things have been synced so well just recently, is that Milo trusts me now. For such a big guy, he’s pretty timid. He bonded to me quickly, but it took him quite awhile to understand that I was going to take care of him as much as he was going to take care of me. Milo respects me now (though he has loved me for a really long time).
If you know anything about dog training, you know that a dog doesn’t have to fear you to respect you. As a matter of fact if your dog fears you, then you haven’t taught it anything about respect and trust. Milo and I respect each other and are a great team.
I’m part of a committee on my campus called the “Civility and Respect Campaign”. Part of the Social Justice Collaboration, the committee meets to discuss ways to foster civility and respect for all persons on campus. The hope is that this campaign will strengthen a spirit of community. You don’t do that be fearing one another. Having been a part of the disability community for 25 years now, I have learned that differently-abled people are often feared. That isn’t a good thing. Below are some reasons I have come up with from my own life’s experience. You may relate to some of these.
- We are feared because our diagnosis is not 100% understood.
I have learned that most people want to do the right thing. I would have to hazard a guess that most of the misunderstandings between some with special challenges and folks without, is that communication breaks down. If we want to be treated in a civil way and with respect, we have to learn to communicate our needs with civility and respect.
Isn’t it easy to get riled? My fuse isn’t as short as it was when I was 2 decades younger, but certain attitudes can really get me bent out of shape. When people approach you with an ugly demeanor and sportin’ a ‘tude, I have to work at not responding in the same manner. I literally take 5-6 seconds to respond when someone gets up in my face about why I’ve parked in handicap parking or why I’ve brought a (vested and clearly marked) dog into their store. These few seconds allow me to calm down and resp0nd appropriately. Good communication is not responding in like kind. If someone has a rotten attitude, the conversation can be turned around if you respond in the right way. Only one time has a person continued to “go off the deep end” when I was talking to them. I finally said, “I need to talk to someone that can stay calm”. The person evidently had enough sense to know they couldn’t, so they actually DID go retrieve someone else for me to talk to instead. It took less than 5 minutes to clear up the misunderstanding.
I’ve had conversations go the other way too. A well-meaning Giant grocery store employee came up and asked me if they could get my service dog some water while I was busy trying to retrieve a cart. The person was kind, but almost ingratiating. After I thanked them and said that my dog was fine “but thank you… could you help get this cart unpinned?” They then asked if they could help me get a motorized cart set up. (This after I asked them nicely to help me unpin a cart to use). Honestly? I’m sure my face spoke VOLUMES. I was thinking, ‘I’m standin’ here with a cane and a calm service dog. (After struggling and jerking on it on my own) I now have a cart to lean against as well. I have a list in my hand and would like to start shopping, only YOU are in my way and delaying all of that!’ The look on my face must have been scary. The employee held up their hands and said, “Oh now calm down I’m just trying to help”! (Really? Is that why you helped me unpin a cart?) Enough seconds had rolled by I finally trusted myself to speak. “Thank you so much for wanting to help. I’ve had special needs for a very long time and if I need additional help I am quick to ask for it. My service dog makes me a very independent shopper and I would really like for you to stop embarrassing me and making a scene”. The employee looked horrified and stomped away to go belly-ache to a fellow employee (likely about the unreasonable disabled person).
Was that the right thing to say? Hmmm. Maybe not. I know I kept my voice down and stayed calm (a herculean effort), but I’m sure my expression was dangerous. When I got to check out, a cashier I often see at the store said, “I apologize about earlier. They are new and don’t know you at all. They handled that all wrong and I took some time to explain how things should be done for shoppers with special needs”. I thanked them and finished checking out, mentally reviewing the whole thing in my head again and just amazed I didn’t deck the person with my pocket book. (Hey. It’s heavy and huge and would have done some damage)
It was a poorly communicated problem and solution.
2. We are feared because a previous encounter conditioned the person to believe we were going to be a problem.
Always… ALWAYS remember that what you do and say will affect the next differently-abled person who comes into that store, restaurant, doctor’s office, or other public venue. It’s amazing to me how a “knee jerk” response is conditioned. Do you know I’ve been wrong about this idiom for my entire adult life? I thought a “knee jerk response” meant the person said something they knew they shouldn’t have and so jerk their knee up to protect their (ahem) private parts to keep from getting kicked. As much as I like (even prefer) MY definition, apparently a “knee jerk response” is an automatic and reflexive response done without examining causes or facts. The origin of the word: From the tendency of the knee to jerk involuntarily when hit sharply, properly called the patellar reflex.
If you have ever had a “bad encounter” with a fearful person, they may have had a really bad interaction with someone before you. I was involved with a training at the police academy in our county and explained issues people with a cane and service dog may run into. I said, “Don’t take the person’s cane away. It’s a piece of adaptive equipment geared to keep them upright”. A commanding officer spoke up, “I’ve been hit by one of those. We have to take away something that can be a weapon!” I know my mouth dropped open. I had never thought of that! Together we worked out a way that the person could be asked to sit and the cane taken away safely. This officer’s experience created a predisposed suspicion of anyone wielding a cane.
As the differently-abled person, we have to remember two things. 1) The idiot person we are dealing with may have been conditioned to respond this way. 2) How we reply will affect the idiocy in the future. Sometimes I chant in my head, ‘BE NICE, BE NICE, BE NICE’ which means: “Denise! YOU be the bigger person and turn this conversation around!”
3. We are feared because… they are an idiot.
Sigh. No nice way to even put this. Sometimes? Sometimes you just need to find a different cashier in your favorite grocery store. Doctor’s office intake people being demeaning? Find a new doctor. Limited options? Place a formal complaint. (See: 1) https://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm and 2) http://www.abilitycenter.org/blog/how-to-file-a-claim-against-a-business-for-violations-of-the-americans-with-disabilities-act/).
Civility and respect go a long way. If you cannot resolve a situation, file a complaint by any means at your disposal. Good luck out there and – erm – keep that knee up! Because I still like my meaning better!
©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal