It was mentioned in “Let’s Build Access” that we have to first recognize our tendency to consider accessibility to be an issue for persons with disabilities and it is not something that concerns able – bodies. This is completely untrue.
Me, for example. While I am not a perfect example of someone who is a renowned advocate for accessibility, I always had a great respect and compassion for persons with disabilities. And above all else, I’ve always had a respect for people. In fact, I remember my first time meeting my friend Sarah, a person with visual impairment. I was walking through the cafeteria at my university and I remember seeing a guide dog in a harness being fed French fries unbeknownst to my now-friend, Sarah. I did not know Sarah but I knew she was blind. I marched right up to the person feeding the guide dog and educated them that the dog is working, pointing to its harness. Sarah was very appreciative even though I knew it was only a matter of seconds before she advocated for herself. From my friendship with Sarah, I began to develop awareness of accessibility in technology and infrastructure. I also really learned how insensitive we human beings can tend to be.
Accessibility concerns all of us. We must educate ourselves to understand how our behaviours can really impact someone’s life. For instance, Sarah had the same guide dog when she was in high school. She mentioned to me that no one understood or respected that the guide dog is a service animal not a pet. Sarah mentioned that her guide dog became accustomed to eating French fries off the floor or taking food from people’s hands because teenagers in high school taught her guide dog that is acceptable behaviour. Something as easy as feeding a beautiful black lab a French fry can completely destroy a persons accessibility.
While speaking about guide dogs, I want to mention something that I learned recently. Service dogs are not regulated and it is actually a difficult non profit industry to navigate. And I say industry, because there are non profit organizations out there who train and sell service dogs. However, the quality of training is not regulated. You risk purchasing a dog (at a value of something like $10,000-$20,000) and it may not even be properly trained or even trained for your specific needs. If you look at this dog on the right, you would think it is a service dog because it is a Yellow Lab and it is wearing a harness. It is a picture I found online: how are we to know this is actually a service dog? The purpose of a service dog is to provide independence and to participate in an inclusive society. Fortunately, there has been a development between National Service Dogs, Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the Canadian General Standards Board to assist in the development of national service dog standards. See more here.
This is exciting stuff as the Sevice dog organizations have been advocating for standardization and regulation of service dogs for over 20 years, to ensure that persons with disabilities are receiving adequately trained service animals and to mitigate the occurrence of fraudulent service animals. In other words, people going around claiming their pet is a service dog when it is not, because they want to take their dog into places they are not legally allowed. You can imagine the implications of taking an inappropriately trained animal into a public space under the pretense of professionally trained. It makes you realize how immoral and repulsive people can be.
If you would like to read more, see this blog