Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Future

I talk a lot about what they are training Owen to do and why those tasks are important, but one thing I don't feel like I've touched upon is how I see my life being different with Owen, which is kind of the whole point of this endeavor.  There would be no point in training these tasks if I didn't anticipate a change in my life.  And there are some big changes I'm anticipating.

First and foremost, I feel that walking with Owen will give me the confidence to go out in public more often, or at least not despise it so much.  I know that this in and of itself isn't a task, but it might be the biggest thing for me.  There is such a stigma attached to living with Tourette Syndrome, that even if people don't know what I have, it doesn't matter.  I'm still the healthy-looking person squawking to myself or hand-flapping or head-banging.  I know how it looks, but that doesn't mean I don't mind the stares and comments.  It would be so amazing to go out in public and have people realize, automatically, that I have a disability and ignore it.  I can't wait for people to stare at me because I have a service dog instead of because of my tics.  Lots of people with service dogs hate this part of life with a dog, but I welcome it.  I'm so tired of being stared at because of my disability, having Owen will announce to everybody that I have a disability.  I'm certain I'll still be stared at and probably more so than now, but at least it will be due to a different reason.

Additionally, I won't be scared of going out in public.  Right now I never know what my body is going to decide to do.  I could be totally fine or I could have a complete tic attack in a store and end up bashing my head into the floor.  I have no way of knowing.  And being constantly afraid of this eventuality is what keeps me from going out a lot of the time unless I'm certain I can keep the tics under control.  But if I have Owen with me I know that even if I had a full-blown tic-attack out in public, I would be okay.  If I end up head-banging on the floor he can help with deep pressure until the tics pass.  If I start toe walking and almost fall over, he's there ready to brace so that I can catch myself.  And if I want to put a hand on something stable while I'm walking, I can touch Owen instead of the walls or other innocuous objects that who-knows-how-many-other-people have touched.  That knowledge will, over time, reduce the fear.

I know that there will be a process of getting used to these tasks.  I don't expect to wake up my second morning with Owen unafraid of grocery stores and large crowds.  It's been over 6 years of learned behavior due to my Tourette's, and it's going to take a long time to break these ingrained habits.  I'm working on lessening my work load and class load next semester so that Owen and I have time to bond and I have time to get used to my new life.  Because that's what it is; when Owen has to retire I fully plan to have another Heeling Allies dog lined up.  For the rest of the foreseeable future.

I hope to not be scared stiff of flying.  I've written a lot about how much I hate flying.  There are so many reasons, it's something I've never liked even before the Tourette's, but now I despise it.  I can't wait to be able to pre-board away from everybody else and to be able to request my seat.  I am so picky about where I sit on an airplane it's unreal; but it's to protect other people as much as it is for my own comfort.  Trust me, you don't want to sit next to me on an airplane if I'm in the wrong seat.  The right seat is one in which my right arm (ha, get it?) is either in the aisle or against the window.  When I start flying with a service dog I am going to request window seats in bulkhead on the right-hand side of the plane.  This way I know there is enough room for Owen (bulkhead), that he won't be stepped on by other passengers (window) and that the chance of me hitting another passenger is greatly diminished (right-hand side).  And I have no qualms about explaining this to a person on the phone or the gate agent if they (heaven-forbid) try and reassign my seat.  And sorry to all of you neurotypical people who like to request bulkhead because you want the extra room or because you have lots of points on an airline.  Bulkhead seats are reassigned to people with disabilities; specifically service dogs and people with a non-bendable prosthetic.  And I have the right to request the exact seat I need in order to fly safely.  And truth-be-told I'm avoiding airplanes like the plague until then.  I was in so much pain this last time I made a weekend trip to California that I was near tears at the thought of having to get on a plane again.  My left arm seized up after the flight so badly that I couldn't move it and it took extreme manipulating of the muscle to loosen it up again.  My back was out prior to the trip (and I pinched my sciatica nerve the week before) and the plane didn't help.  I can't wait for Owen to go on planes with me; I don't think those trips will become enjoyable by any means, but maybe they'll at least become bearable.

And... in addition to the actual plane he can keep my anxiety down during security screening, diminishing the chance of me being flagged as a national security risk.

I also hope that I'll be able to be more attentive in classes.  I'll be the first to admit, that as an undergrad I had to prioritize which classes were worth paying attention to, and which I was only in because the professor took attendance.  Which classes were necessary to my education and which were simply necessary as a graduation requirement.  And the ones that were deemed unecessary I really would just be a warm body.  And it isn't that I wouldn't want to learn; I wasn't capable of learning.  I wasn't capable of keeping my body quiet enough to stay in a desk and take notes and listen to a lecture.  Doesn't happen.  Thankfully now, I'm with professors that understand that when I stand up and pace in class, it's because I don't have a choice.  And standing up helps me stay focused, whereas when I sit and try to suppress tics I don't pay attention at all.  The ironic thing about this is, that when I was student teaching I still ticced (obviously), but it wasn't that bad.  Almost to the point where I was having doubts about taking on a service dog.  Maybe he wouldn't need to be with me all day long...  And then I had day-long seminars for general education student teaching and I started classes this summer.  You'd think I would know my own body by now, know what I can handle and what I can't and know that the severity of my Tourette's isn't going anywhere.  It can be masked by not being in environments that cause stress, but I'm still a severe full-blown Touretter.  And if I ever needed something to remind me all I have to do is go to my 4pm to 8pm class this summer.

I will have no problems asking Owen to "paws up" when I'm in class.  If that's what I need to stay in a seat and take notes, so be it.  If having him lay down next to my legs (or even pushing my feet under his body so that he weights my feet down) is what I need, I'll do it.  And maybe, by using his tasks and by actually applying for disability accommodations, I'll be able to do well in my graduate classes (or should I say: do well without spending more time at home catching up on work then I do in classes).

And in relation to my classes (and a big reason why I'm actually applying for disability resources at school instead of simply my dog) is the fact that next summer I will be taking my Board Certified Behavior Analyst exams.  I barely passed my last teacher certification exam which was the one I should have been able to do with my eyes closed (special education).  It was embarrassing to say the least.  This was the exam I took with a migraine, two pinched nerves, and the one in which I lost my drivers license.  I took it in the normal room with 30 other people and it was horrible.  I was done in 45 minutes, and for a test they allot 4-hours to take, that's not good.  I didn't apply for accommodations because I didn't have any proof that I needed them.  Now I will; I'll have a year's worth of proof that I need a quiet-testing environment, that I should be allowed extra time, and that my service dog has to be with me.

I am so looking forward to meeting Owen and going through team training, and I'm trying to blog about it instead of driving people in my "real" life crazy about it.  Because they really can't get it.  They can't understand what it means to have lived with their body as a prison for 6 years, a very painful and very humiliating prison.  And if you can't understand that, how can you understand the difference I anticipate.  No, my life still won't be "normal".  "Normal" people don't need a dog to perform daily living skills or go out with their friends.  But it will be the most "normal" life I have lived since my diagnosis.  I will feel safe out in public and I will be able to live my life the way I want to, not the way my disability dictates.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Training and Owen Update

Very first on my to-do list this week is to get my reasonable accommodation requests sent off.  I know neither my apartment nor my university will have a problem with it, but it still seems like a cumbersome errand to get done.   I was hoping that the director of Heeling Allies would have a form letter to use, but to no avail.  She said she had plenty of examples of letters to send in case I ever have an accommodations request refused, but we're hoping that doesn't happen.  :)  I reached out to the service dog forum on Dogster tonight in hopes that one of the members will have an example of a letter that has worked that I can adapt to my needs.  This is all brand new territory for me, remember that I've never had accommodations anywhere, so while I believe in learning "on the job" so to speak, this is one thing I really want to get right the first time.

And in order to get that done, I have to apply for disability resources at my university.  I don't know if I've ever told the story here about why I don't have accommodations at school, but here is the short shorter version.

Once upon a time, when I was first diagnosed nobody in my family had any idea of what to ask for in school.  When I was being bullied and struggling in classes, instead of taking it to the school, I transferred to an independent-study school in the district.  Now, this was without a doubt the best choice I could have made in that situation, I loved that school and everything about the freedom it gave me.  But, it didn't exactly set me up for requesting accommodations in school.  Fast-forward through freshman year of college because that was the one year in my life since onset that I had "mild" Tourette's.  Middle of sophomore year however, my advisor finally bullied me into convinced me I should talk to the disability resources office because I was really struggling in classes at that point in time.  I dutifully took the form to my doctor and *poof*, it vanished.  I have no idea what happened after I went to camp to work for the summer, but it didn't get filed.  That year the funding at the disability resource's office changed.  They wanted students to self-advocate (which I already did) and they couldn't offer quiet testing environments (which I needed), so because of that and because I was taking almost all education classes where my professors gave me accommodations as needed, I stopped trying to become a client.

Fast-forward again to October of last year when they made some asinine comments about how a service dog is not "access technology" and how if I needed a special computer it would be different.  They also told me (and then retracted it later when I relayed the conversation to my advisor) that my professors who were giving me accommodations without me filing with the disabilities office were doing so "against the rules".  (Whose rules?  Seriously? gah...)

But now, I'm going to file if only to make my reasonable accommodations request for Owen go a lot smoother.  In addition to that, I barely passed (and I do mean barely) my last certification exam because of my Tourette's and how it affected me that morning, so I know I'm going to need to file for accommodations for my Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification exam next summer, and I'll need documentation for that.

On to bigger and better things though...


It's definitely Owen, and the director of Heeling Allies had all sorts of good things to say about him.  Like, he's totally massive!  He's an English Labrador, they're built more solidly than field Labrador retrievers and tend to get a bit larger.  Owen's healthy weight is 85 pounds, which is the top weight for this breed!  He also eats 5.5 cups of food a day.  Thankfully, the type of food he eats they sell at Costco, or he literally would eat me out of house and home.  Owen is still very young, which is really good - he's just over 1 and a half years old (I forgot to ask his birthday, but I will!).   As per Heeling Allies rules, I will need to retire him at 9 1/2 years of age, which considering the type of work he is going to be doing for me, makes sense.  So I'm really lucky that he's so young because that means we have a lot of good years as a team ahead of us.  It also means though, that he isn't allowed blankets in his crate or stuffed toys. :(  Apparently he shreds and eats them.  I'm sure I'll find other ways to spoil him though. :)

Here's the thing that blows my mind though.  This amazingly wonderful, well-bred dog came from a shelter.  He is AKC registered (his registered name is Levi something or another, but they had to change it because the director of the program has a dog named Levi and she said it was too confusing - and I think he looks like an Owen anyway!) and is a purebred dog.  How does somebody give up this dog?  The shelters are full of great pets, but that they are full of wonderful dogs that are ready and willing to become a service dog?  It's not an easy job and a lot of dogs wash out of programs because they don't have the right temperaments; if they're too possessive or alpha or lazy they'll wash out.  It doesn't mean they aren't great dogs, just that they won't make great service dogs or be happy as a service dog.  It blows my mind that they found Owen at a shelter, that he is totally healthy and young and up for this job.  (And I'm sure it would blow his previous family's mind to know how much we are spending on him!)

We talked a lot about what he's being trained to do and how the tasks will work.  He is apparently learning how to maneuver around with the mobility harness on, because in order to make sure it is a stable harness, it can't have a collapsible handle.  So Owen is having to learn how to get under things with this giant handle on his back, I wish I could see it!  The director was worried about teaching him how to "cover" me, because they were afraid if I got jostled I might fall down.  A "cover" is when the dog stands behind you, either parallel to you or perpendicular (with their head at your hip and their hips out behind you) in order to create a physical barrier between you and other people.  Luckily, because I was really looking forward to utilizing that command, the only tic where I think I would fall is the toe-walking tic, and if I'm doing that I'm going to need the harness which means Owen will be in a heel and not in a position where he could jostle me.  We decided, so that he could be in a heel fast if I thought I was going to fall (and due to his giant size!) that it would be best if he covered standing parallel behind me.  He is also being trained to "switch".  If I say "switch" he will (apparently - and I can't wait to see this because we've always been lucky if our family dogs heel, much less on one side or the other) quickly switch which side he is heeling on and just keep going.  This will be useful when I have one arm or another acting up so that I can swap where he is and keep going without worrying about hitting somebody.

His favorite thing to do is "paws up", where he puts his front paws in your lap.  This is being taught to help with grounding, and they said he loves to nibble you (lovingly) when he does this.  He will also pick up his leash when I drop it, and they said he won't wander off!  I've purchased a hands-free leash so I don't have to worry about what happens when my hands tremor and I'm holding a leash, but it's good to know if I ever weren't "hands-free", Owen would know what to do.  If I fall, they are teaching him to brace to help me up.  Which seems kind of useless, to those of you of the neurotypical persuasion.  After all, I can get up off the ground on my own.  However, if I am ticcing bad enough to end up on the ground, I am typically so disoriented it takes me a long time to try and get up.  They have the dog sit next to you in order to brace and you use them to help get up.

We also talked at length about training him to lay across my chest.  He is 85 pounds after all.  We decided though, that this would be a useful task to train (and I just feel sorry for the trainer who has to pretend to be me!).  When I fall because I'm ticcing I need something *big* to stop it, it isn't something I can self-restrain for.  The tics are so giant that I just have to wait them out.  I think, and I'm just hypothesizing because I don't currently have a giant Labrador at my disposal, that by having him lay on my chest it will help stop the tics.  He will be so big I won't have to worry about my tics dislodging him and hurting him, like I would with a smaller dog, and the crushing weight should help refocus my brain.  Once the tics have stopped, I can release him from that command and wait until I feel stable enough to get up.

We also spoke about him doing something to apply pressure on my legs when I'm standing still.  This is the one task I'm not sure they will figure out and it's because of the extensive nature of his other task training.  They are training him to be stable all the time, in motion and standing still, and asking him to lean or apply pressure while standing could undo some of that training.  He wouldn't be able to sit between my legs with the mobility harness, so they were going to look at training him to lay between my legs.  Which may or may not work. 

And as I'm typing this I've remembered a lot of other questions...  Is he being trained to recognize tics as commands?  Can we teach him to nudge until I pay attention to him when I start ticcing?  Is there something he can do that is less obtrusive than me sitting down with him in my lap when we're out in public?  His head in my lap?  Licking or nudging?  I'm picturing me at a restaurant with a giant Lab in my lap and not thinking that will work out...

So I'm off to email the director of Heeling Allies yet again and see if I can find out more about his training.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Countdown to D-Day!

I have been given a date for Team Training!

D-Day... Dog-Day... get it?

oh well...

I have scheduled team training for September 20th through 30th.  Which means... in almost exactly 3 months I will be meeting my boy!

This is Owen, for those of you not already bombarded by photos on my facebook and he is, baring something big happening, in training to become my service dog.  I'm skyping with the director of the organization tomorrow to talk about my tics and other things and I laugh every time I picture the trainers imitating my tics from the videos I've given them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The "D-Word"

Disability was a four-letter word in my house. So was Tourette Syndrome.  You didn't say them.  You didn't think them.  If we didn't talk about it; it wasn't happening.  It wasn't true.

I can't tell you how many times I heard the phrase "don't say it or you'll make it true" when growing up.  As if it were something I was causing with my thoughts.  That by thinking of my tics, I was making them worse.  That by telling somebody I had a new tic, I was going to cause it to become permanent.  True, my brain doesn't function in the way a neurotypical person's does, but my thoughts don't give rise to new tics.  Misfiring things in my brain do - well... and incorrect levels of dopamine and/or serotonin (I forget).  At least that's the newest theory.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as:
     (a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the
     major life activities of such individual;
     (b) a record of such an impairment; or
     (c) being regarded as having such an impairment.  -ADA definition-

Having a diagnosis does not a disability make.  Just because you know somebody who has Tourette Syndrome, doesn't mean that they are a person with a disability also.  The same goes for any medical diagnosis.  The medical impairment (notice, not "diagnosis") has to limit at least one "major life activity" and you have to either have a record of this impairment or people have to view you as having such an impairment.

My Tourette's impacts what are called "activities of daily living" (ADLs).  A basic ADL is something like feeding yourself, walking by yourself (without adaptive equipment, including a dog!), dressing yourself, etc.  I can do all these things; it just takes me a lot longer than a lot of people.  Some days I can't even attempt to do some of these things.  Try doing up buttons or a zipper with "claw hands" or with tremors so bad you can't hold onto anything long enough to perform the fine motor skill.  Try feeding yourself when you can't hold a utensil, or your head is swinging so much you can't get a utensil with food on it into your mouth (and when you do you are more likely to bite your tongue or cheek, or choke on the food, or drop everything and have to start over again).

I have adapted for skills like this.  I can manage to get myself dressed most mornings without much incidence.  And I have taught myself how to become slightly ambidextrous.  I cannot write with my non-dominant hand; but I can brush my teeth, feed myself, brush my hair, cook, and do a heck of a lot of other things with my left hand.  Things I could never have done before the Tourette's and that I never would have had a reason to learn how to do before.  People who go out to eat with me are witness to the careful choreography that occurs when I try to eat; I start with my right hand (and I will typically use a knife to cut whatever I need right out of the gate before my hands start acting up) and as soon as that hand spasms I grab the utensil with my left hand and wrench it out before I can drop or throw the fork.  I then continue eating with my left hand until that hand spasms, at which point I take the utensil with my right hand again...  I continue in that manner until I'm done or I at least decide that I'm done trying to eat for a while.

An instrumental ADL is not something that is necessary for living, but helps a person to be more independent.  Things like housework or grocery shopping are instrumental ADLs.  (How great is that that I can blame my messy apartment on my disability?  Just kidding…).  But it's true, even though nothing is truly stopping me from cleaning or cooking or going to the grocery store, most days I can't handle the mental effort required to interact with people I don't know while trying to maintain a level of decorum.  I am so mentally and physically exhausted when I finally get home from work that it's all I can do to stay awake to do schoolwork.  Forget cleaning and cooking, there's always another day for that.  My cute little kitty cat (was it ever necessary) would qualify as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA).  There are a lot of weeks where the only reason I go to the grocery store is because he is out of food and I'm not going to let him go hungry.  Me?  It doesn't matter if there's no food in the apartment, I'll figure something out.

The whole purpose of me getting the service dog is to assist with these ADLs; to make it so I can live independently without sacrificing parts of my life.

I'm not afraid of the "D-word".  Being offended by a word gives it power; if I don't care that I am a "Person With a Disability", then neither should anybody else.  Disability is a label sure, but it's a label that says I can't be discriminated against.  A label that says I can't be passed over for a job.  A label that says its illegal to kick me out of a public place or to deny me service.  It's a label that says I'm entitled to have a service dog and to go out into public with them.  Why would I be offended by that?

Other people think that I should.  That if you say I have a disability you are somehow offending me or saying something that isn't true.  I can't speak for every person with a disability; but I know saying I'm disabled doesn't offend me.  I can and will do whatever I want to.  I won't let my disability get in my way.  I can't however ever serve in a branch of the military or become a surgeon (can you imagine?) and I would never subject innocent patrons to me and my ticcy-self as a waitress - those are by the way, the three jobs I have decided I should never try to hold.  But that's it.  My disability doesn't stop me from doing things; it just makes them harder.  Which is my burden to bear, not anybody else's.

It always amazes me when neurotypical people have a problem with a person with a disability.  One of my ex-roommates had a friend over once who apparently said something along the lines of, "Can't she just stop that?" in regards to my squeaking tic.  Yes, that tic is loud and obnoxious.  And yes, I too wish it would stop.  But do you really think I would be doing this on purpose?  Do you really think that if given the choice between being obnoxious and embarrassing to my roommates and myself and being quiet, I would choose the obnoxious ticcy route?  Who would?  This is what kills me about "normal" people.  I didn't choose to be this way.  I can't help it.  So why would you think I could?  Why would anybody think that given the choice, I would choose a disability?

People have asked me if I am embarrassed by my tics.  People have also argued with me when I tell them no.  They assume that because it is something they would be embarrassed about, that the feeling transfers.   Not so.  I refuse to be embarrassed by my disability.  And I stopped apologizing for things I do a long time ago.  Why should I?  I’m not sorry when I’m disruptive in a movie theater or when I make a lot of noise at home and I have people there.  I’m not apologetic when I throw silverware on the floor at a restaurant and I have to ask for a new fork.  I’m not sorry if you come up to close to me out in public and I hit you.  I make certain to remain arms-distance away from people I don’t know.  If somebody is insistent on standing closer to me, too bad.  It isn’t my problem.  I would apologize if I made a mess that somebody else had to clean up (like if I knocked over a drink at a restaurant), but not for the obvious reason.  I would be sorry that somebody had to clean it up, but I would not be sorry that I did it in the first place.  I would not be humiliated or embarrassed that I had done it.  Because my tics do not embarrass me.  I cannot control them.  The same way you cannot control a cough or a sneeze (which I know people apologize for and my question is why?).  Why would I waste my time apologizing for something I cannot control?

A lot of people assume this attitude is a front.  That it’s a defense mechanism I’ve created over the last handful of years and that really, deep down, I am humiliated and embarrassed by these things.  And they’re all wrong.  At first, yeah, it was a farce.  It hurt when people made fun of me or imitated me and I was embarrassed when I made a scene out in public.  Over time though, it has turned into how I truly feel.  Eventually I realized that instead of merely pretending those things didn’t embarrass me, they actually didn’t embarrass me.  Instead of pretending that what somebody said or did didn’t hurt my feelings, those things actually didn’t hurt my feelings.  I am proud of the fact that I can walk into a crowded room full of people I don’t know and truly not care one whit what any of them think or say about me.  And that’s rare, a lot of people act that way, but they don’t mean it.  I do.  I refuse to be intimidated by people who know nothing about me.  Neurotypical people don’t get to intimidate me into not doing things I want to do or make me feel bad about doing something I have to (like the poor sap who got stuck next to me on this itty bitty airplane – who is thankfully, asleep).  I’m the one with the broken brain unbalanced brain chemicals.  I’m the one who has to deal with this disability.  

The “D-word” is not a four-letter word in my vocabulary.  I have plenty of other ones to use when I’m having a bad day, trust me.  I don’t need any more.  I view the phrase “person with a disability” as a tool at my disposal.   It means I am protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  If I waltzed around and refused to use the word disability when I needed to or even worse, refused to admit I had a disability, I would not be able to use the ADA.  I wouldn’t know I was entitled to it and I wouldn’t have the vocabulary necessary to get accommodations I needed.  I won’t give unnecessary power to a mere word, things like “person with a disability” are just a tool.  Things like the “R-word” do get under my skin.  They have no place in our society and in our youth’s vocabulary (and yes, I have heard this out in the schools and in my jobs and trust me, my kids always get an earful about using the “R-word”.  And they always act shocked, like no other adult has told them how inappropriate it is.  Which is the real problem… but I digress).  The only place it belongs is in a medical diagnosis or on an IEP.  But, the youth of this generation has decided to twist the word into something icky.  Something wrong.  The “R-word” does have a “four-letter word” quality about it.  Because of the way it is utilized.  Not because of what it actually means.  So we adapt our language to create new diagnoses and ways to talk about the same thing without having to use the “R-word”.  And if one day some, a new generation of youth looking to create shock value from a word with nothing better to do and no understanding of the actual definition and use of a word (sorry – this is a soap box inducing issue of mine) decide that “disabled” should be a slur, then sure, I’ll take issue with it.  Until then I’ll be happy with my ADA card in my wallet about my Tourette’s and my new ADA card come September about my service dog.  And I will relax in the knowledge that saying I’m a person with a disability protects me from people with no couth and no empathy or understanding.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Tomorrow I am meeting with the education directors at my religious school to go over and sign my contract for next year.  I already know (1) that I have a job and (2) what that job is next year, but tomorrow is going to be the first time I broach the topic of a service dog in a professional capacity.

My university knows (at least the people who matter).  No, I have not talked to the disability resource office about it, but I have ...history with them.  I have never walked away from their office confident about what they can do for me or trusting the people who work there.  I fully intend to let them know about my service dog. 

With a note. 

That I put in the mail.

Kidding... maybe.  I know they can't refuse the dog because there is a senior with a guide dog and telling me I couldn't have my dog when he has one would be clear bias, but it's still not a conversation I want to get into.  Especially because every time I talk to them they try to convince me to become a "client" and I have to deny.

(Long story short; the only reason they want me to become a client is because their funding is based on their case load.  They cannot give me anything I can't ask for myself.  Once upon a time when I looked into it, they could have given me services like a quiet testing environment, but with a funding change those options are gone.  I have no problems self-advocating when I need to.  And the last meeting I had with them - about service dog funding options, ha! - ended poorly when they told me in no uncertain terms that professors who give me accommodations - no matter how small - were breaking the "rules".  Of course they denied it and said I misunderstood when my advisor spoke to them about it...)

I talked at length with my mock interviewers about my experiences as a person with a disability and my service dog, and they both seemed totally on board with the idea (and were offering me semi-fictional jobs.  I'm pretty sure the offer in Anchorage could have materialized, but Alaska?  This Texas girl?  No thank you).  This was a really good experience for me because neither man I interviewed with I had ever met before; both were retired from administrative positions within school districts and had extensive experience hiring and dealing with employees.  And, I had been told in no uncertain terms by my supervisor that sharing details of a disability on an interview was a bad idea.  I am not shy at all about how my experiences as a person with a disability have affected me as a person and as a teacher.  And I plan to fight for my future students' rights as individuals with disabilities as hard as I would fight for mine.  Because I get it; and as many people as I can influence the better.  I want to be a force in my future school community; I want teachers to know that my students and I should be welcomed in any endeavor.  Be that a reading group, lunch or recess time, or students who spend most of the day in a general education classroom.  And I'll do whatever it takes as a teacher to make sure my students are successful both in academics and social areas.  I know interviewing with a service dog will be difficult.  I'm not being stupid; I will most likely be passed over for jobs simply because people do not know me and there's another candidate who doesn't come with the baggage of a disability and a service dog (and a refuse-to-be-pushed-over attitude).  But the job I get will be exactly the right one.  With a principal and a team that recognize that my "baggage" makes me a more effective teacher; with a team that feels confident in my abilities and in their ability to accept a new team member with a disability.  I'm not worried about that; I'm a good teacher and I trust the right person to see past the perceived problems with my disability to hire me.  And legally, once I get hired and am "in the system" it will be very difficult to remove me or my service dog.  So there is some solace in that.

But at my religious school, things are a little less set in stone.  A future employer has to provide alternate accommodations if they want to refuse my service dog (though that would be a big red flag for me if it were my first year at a job) and I have the right to say - with my doctor - that those accommodations won't work.  And we can go back and forth as many times as necessary until they decide that I didn't enter into the decision to get a service dog lightly and there aren't any alternate accommodations (or until I get a lawyer involved).  I really only anticipate having this conflict if I am working in a school that has a change in administration.  It is so much easier for a future employer to refuse me a job and come up with a reasonable excuse (not relating to my disability) than to offer me a job and immediately fight the dog.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (which I'm still working on  post talking about and explaining), an employer has to accommodate the service dog, along with all other public spaces.  My job at the religious school does not fall under the ADA however, no place of worship does.  They are well within their right to refuse the dog and cite whatever reason they want to, or none at all.  And I'd still do my job; I can't fault them for refusing the dog if that is their choice because legally, it is their choice.  But having the dog would make that work life a little bit easier, which would be nice.

It's when thinking about things like this, that I find myself wishing I had a more socially acceptable disability.  Before you go get your panties in a bunch, I don't think living as a paraplegic or as somebody who was blind or deaf would be "easier".  At least from the stand point of the disabled person living in a vacuum.  As a disabled person interacting with the community, you bet it would be easier.  Nobody would try to remove a vision impaired person's seeing-eye dog or tell somebody in a wheelchair that in order to eat at a restaurant they had to leave their wheelchair in the front.  But things like this happen to people with invisible disabilities.  It's just the way society works.  You wouldn't laugh at the person with a prosthetic or a cane who was limping or walking funny and you wouldn't try to have somebody with a visible disability kicked out of a movie theater.

This year, while student teaching, I was taken aback by a conversation I overheard at lunch one day.  One of the other teachers had gone to a performance of some sort and their was an obviously disabled child sitting near them; close enough they could hear whatever the child was doing and saying during the performance.  At lunch that next week the teachers were discussing the validity of that child being there and how they didn't feel it was appropriate.  And I'm sorry, that's the risk you run going into public places.  They're public.  As long as I pay the same dues as you to be there, I'm allowed to be there.  But people like me are seen as inferior to somebody who is neurotypical; if a neurotypical person paid for a movie ticket, how dare I ruin their movie-going experience?  But I have the same right to be there.  It is my right as a person with a disability.  I don't want special consideration as a person with a disability, I want accommodations that allow me access to the same things as the non-disabled population.

There is this great thing we say in special education.

Fair isn't everybody getting the same thing.  Fair is everybody getting what they need.