A few words about the diversity of disability

Ada Luna performing a task
We’re fans of diversity.  In people and in general.

Often, people who share membership in a diversity group feel some kinship with other members of the group.  Often.

Not always.

And often not always in the world of disability.  Being disabled is such a broad label, I’m not sure it should be applied nearly as often as it is to disabled people as a group.  Certainly not to disabled people with service dogs, because our disabilities create so many different, and even incompatible, needs.

I’m often disheartened to see a service dog handler with great posts or videos about service dog handling and disability advocacy only for them to make an absolute statement about what service dogs have to be.

Sometimes it’s a certain size.

Sometimes it’s a particular command.

Frequently, it’s about whether a service dog can interact with the world while working. 

The only thing you can guarantee about an absolute statement of opinion is that the statement is probably incorrect.

One more time for the new kids in back: A service dog must 1) work for a handler with a disability 2) in a way that assists with the disability through tasks and work (ideally at least two). Aside from that, the dog needs to be potty trained, under the handler’s control at all times, and not unduly disruptive.

Complaints I’ve read recently which a service dog does not have to be, but in a perfect world would probably be:

  • Able to ignore completely all distractions. (Many service dogs achieve this skill because the handler’s life depends on it.  However, service dogs also do work and tasks to improve quality of life, which can allow for the handler to decide what leeway the dog can have and still perform its work.)
  • Walking next to the handler.  (Again, many service dogs need to do this in order to perform their work.  However, there are other categories of service dogs who are better able to perform work from a bag or carrier due to their size or the tasks they need to perform.  An excellent example: Diabetic Alert dogs.)
  • Familiar with one uniform set of training words and gestures.  (Some train their service dogs deliberately with more obscure commands to prevent others from trying to give the dog a command.)
  • Working for a handler with a disability that primarily affects the body’s ability to perform everyday tasks. (Service dogs are becoming much more common with disabled individuals who have disabilities of the brain and brain chemistry.)
  • Never taking initiative to interact with other people. (Dogs trained to assist with social phobias may be trained to understand when they need to act as a bridge for their handler.) 

The last two seems to be the big sticking point for “that one guy who always knows everything.”  Can you be considered disabled if you have a disability of brain chemistry or wiring, but seem otherwise normal at first meeting?  Or are you just a snowflake who wants to take your dog everywhere?

Let’s consult the ADA definition of disability:  An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

It certainly looks like mental impairments and phobias are covered, doesn’t it? 

When you, however well-meaning, interfere with a dog-handler service team, you risk liability for preventing the disabled individual from enjoying equal access.  It’s not worth it.  Especially since there are so many handlers who have mental disabilities which impair their ability to cope with that interference or the embarrassment it causes.  These are the people who will flash that service dog badge or paper as soon as you ask. 

Not because it’s the law.  

But because you’re being a bully. 🙂

If someone is bullying you and your service dog, and you know your rights, stand up for them.  We’ve got your back.  

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