Not long ago, I was visiting British Columbia, a province with a very well-publicized and shiny new Service Dogs Act. My trip was generally a positive one, until I attempted to enter one particular bar/restaurant that I had previously frequented. I’m not unfamiliar with being asked for ID to verify my age in such places, and even my (thankfully relatively) few access challenges with my guide dog have primarily been handled discretely and/or quickly. What I did not expect was to be demanded, loudly and publicly, for my guide dog’s paperwork… from across the bar. My dog was doing nothing inappropriate, was guiding me into the restaurant, her nails slightly struggling to gain purchase on the slippery floor. So… I was demanded – loudly and publicly – for paperwork that no one else in the restaurant was required to produce. Long story short, I realized that I didn’t have current ID with me (I had mistakenly packed an expired school-issued ID card), and I was asked to leave. When I told the employee she should consider discretion if she had to request paperwork from paying patrons, she acted so surprised that such a thing would be requested of her.
Without getting into the nitty-gritties, I contacted the BC government on this issue. They ended up responding to my complaint with an inaccessible PDF (one that was scanned as a picture, so no readable text for a screen reader), which said – basically – that since I didn’t have a piece of plastic (whether issued by the government or a guide/service dog program), a business was within their rights to refuse service. They did not address the humiliating and embarrassing experience of being demanded publicly for such information and then publicly being told to leave.
Where is the outrage outside of the service dog and/or blind community? Would anyone else be expected to accept this treatment?
Last week, a news story made the rounds about a teenager with a disability who was purposefully excluded from a relative’s wedding because of her disability. The support on sites like Reddit came in fast and furious, which is awesome… but it got me to thinking: Where is the support from the public when people with disabilities are turned down for jobs (whether stated or implied) because of their disability, forced to alter their academic pursuits or undergo additional testing, find it easier to obtain resources to assist in their death than aids to live life, are killed for simply being disabled?
There is open discrimination in the world – being told you won’t get a job because of your disability (yes, this happens). There is invisible discrimination where it’s implied by the subtext of a conversation or interaction that your presence, request, or concern is not wanted or valid (yes, this happens, too). There is violence against the disabled as can be evidenced by interactions with police, the murder in Japan last week, or by cultures who view disability as a curse on a family. While disability can have its own limitations (at this point, I won’t be driving a car anytime soon); but I believe that it’s not disability that holds us back as much as perceptions and demands of others. To some, not eating at that particular restaurant may be a “little thing”, and I suppose it’s true because we had other options. But what if we didn’t? Maybe that young girl loved her aunt and really wanted to be at her wedding for that special day, and she got slapped in the face because of a perception of what she could and couldn’t do. Judging by the amount of tense family gatherings I’ve witnessed and heard of, discrimination – even by a family member – is a pretty big deal. And how big a deal is open or invisible discrimination in the job hunt when it directly impacts one’s ability to make a living and contribute to a local, national or even global economy? And if we can’t access facilities like everyone else, attend family functions, obtain employment if we have the desired qualifications and skills, do we reach a tragic end because we just don’t belong? To quote a friend of mine, I’ve been gifted a double portion of stubborn. Maybe this will help me, maybe it will help others. It’s never “just about a restaurant” when you’re made to feel scrutinized for simply walking or rolling through the door. It’s never “just one day” when you get told that you, specifically, are not welcome at a celebration, but your whole family can come along now. It’s never “just one job” when you get told there’s no way you can do job tasks you’ve honed over years of practice and hard-won experience.
And it’s never “just one life” when you have to fight not only others’ perceptions, bureaucratic red tape, medical concerns, and discrimination… but yourself underneath it all. Sometimes being who we are is a radical act of defiance.