I saw a story on the news the other night about a woman who went to McDonald’s with her two autistic sons and their service dog. The store manager was there (though not working at the time) and told the woman that the dog was not allowed because they weren’t blind. The mother offered to provide documentation, but the manager insisted that they leave.
There’s more to this story, but I want to focus on the common misconception that only people who are visibly disabled would need a service dog. Invisible disabilities can make life easier in some ways, because you can “pass” for healthy. On the other hand, invisible disabilities mean that people often don’t believe you have a problem. And visible disabilities that are misunderstood? You’re out of luck there too. We need more education. We need people to understand that service dogs are for people who are blind, and also for those who are autistic or suffering from PTSD or who have epilepsy. There are many many more reasons why someone would have a service dog. People need ways to learn this.
When I was in elementary school, maybe around 4th grade, we had a program on disabilities. Someone came in and spoke to us. They taught us how to sign the alphabet, and we had to communicate with each other that way. We were blindfolded and led through the hallways by a classmate, trusting them to guide us safely. We had our dominant hand tied behind our back, then were told to write with the other hand. We learned what to do if someone has an epileptic seizure in front of us and what to do if a diabetic needs insulin. This was long before I had any health problems of my own, and as far as I knew, none of my friends or family had any problems either (I was wrong, but hey, I was a kid – what did I know?) Still, I paid attention. Obviously this program had a real affect on me, because I remember it all these years later. Imagine what would happen if we offered programs like these in each grade, adjusting the material for each age group. Imagine how much more understanding the next generation would be!
People make a lot of incorrect assumptions. Sometimes the person is at fault, but very often they just lack the knowledge needed to make informed decisions. Let’s help them by giving them the knowledge they need. Let’s educate them!
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