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.

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