Turned Away Because of a Service Animal
Recently, a local business near where I live in slower lower Delaware, turned away a man because he had a support dog with him. They later claimed to be unaware that they were required to allow him to shop there with his service dog. The incident, of course, got them into trouble with the usual pitchfork gang on Facebook, those crusaders willing to shame anyone for such an act. They came forth with a public apology that seemed to be written by their lawyer, and most of the social media blowhards moved onto their next outrage. The entire incident really impacted me though, for some reasons I’d like to talk about here.
I saw myself
When I first read about this incident, it immediately brought me back to numerous moments in my life where I was misjudged either based on my appearance or because there wasn’t enough understanding about my condition. Moments that led to extreme embarrassment and even led to me leaving places of business.
Disability is a spectrum
As of this writing, I am a 42-year-old man with a big beard, and I look nothing like what someone who is disabled should look like. The general public does not seem to understand, I have said before, that disability is really a wide spectrum, that it is not only people confined to wheelchairs. So, if I’m using a cane, or need to sit down in a crowded area, or need to use a handicap space, I become enemy number one. I know exactly how this gentleman and his service dog must have felt, to be denied access to a business because of their medical needs, because it has happened to me many times.
“Well, so many people have emotional support animals these days”
In a discussion with friends, this sentence (or one like it) came up as a defense for the business in question. Many people agreed with this statement. From my perspective, I was a bit horrified. Yeah, I get it, some people sort of "game the system" by bringing “support” animals which are not really “service” animals. That absolutely happens. What upsets me is both the judgment and assumptions made in that sentence. That line of thinking is exactly that wall that the disabled are always up against.
This thinking pits the world against the disabled
A small number of people game the system and because of that, everyone not only thinks they are an expert but that it’s their job to police these matters. It’s a line of thinking that pits the world against the disabled. It’s the type of thinking that leads to nasty notes on the car windows of people who use a handicapped space and “don’t look disabled enough”.
There are already checks and balances in place
It’s the kind of thinking that makes life hell for the disabled. The truth of the matter is, few people game the system because there are already checks and balances in place to catch these people. If someone needs an accommodation, please put a little trust in your fellow human being and allow it. It’s already embarrassing and extremely hard to ask for and use accommodations, whether it be a parking space, or service animal, or these days, even a plastic straw.
Incidents like this matter
This incident with the local business and the service dog didn’t end with one disappointing discussion for me. I lost a friend over this, a friend that accepted the legalese apology and still went to shop there because it was convenient and they apologized. I tried explaining what the incident meant to me and how it upset me. I get it, they apologized, and I do believe everyone should get second chances, but in 2019, can a business really claim to not understand disability laws?
Taking people at their word
Businesses shouldn’t need to be pressured into compliance. If they need to be, do they care at all about the disabled? Do they even consider us humans? When the owner of that business was told it was a service dog, he probably thought as many of my friends do, “Oh, it’s probably just an emotional support animal, he doesn’t really need it.” Just like people say I don’t need a closer parking space. Instead of taking people at their word, so many people out there want to believe in the worst of others, they want to believe that everyone is evil and out to cheat.
Some things deserve outrage
I know we live in a world where everyone is outraged at everything, I get that. However, there are things that are worth being outraged about. As someone who’s experienced discrimination because of my disabilities and appearance and someone who spends a lot of time talking with others in the same boat, this was a reason to be outraged. It was a reason to drive five minutes further to a different business. These things matter. When people drive by and see that business still crowded, what does that say to them, even subconsciously? That we (the disabled) aren’t important. That it was another fake outrage incident. That maybe it was an emotional support animal.
There are accommodating businesses out there
While I believe in apologies and second chances, that’s not how the disabilities act is meant to work. It’s every business owner’s duty to know the law (and that’s setting aside the idea of, you know, caring about every human being and wanting to accommodate people on your own). Having to complain and get public outrage to get you allowed in with your service animal or to get a ramp built isn’t how this is supposed to work. There are so many small and local businesses that are accommodating that should be given a chance than to give a place that pleads ignorance to a law (that is their duty to know). As I hope I’ve made clear here, ignorance to the law aside, do you want to shop where they wouldn’t give another fellow human being the benefit of the doubt? That’s why this really matters - that’s why the outrage is justified.
Thanks for listening
I appreciate anyone who’s read through this, I’m sure many will disagree with me, which is fine. If anything, I hope that you will at least think about giving your fellow human beings the benefit of the doubt if they say need an accommodation. I hope that others can start to believe in each other just a little more.
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