This is a guest post by Kateryna Fury.
Kateryna Fury is a 24 year old writer of Science Fiction Fantasy and has recently begun to write informative nonfiction. She is an advocate for equality for all, with a personalized focus on Disability and Women, due to the necessity that her own disabilities and personal history cause. If you like what you read be sure to check her out at Textual Fury.
I have felt the urge to blog repeatedly, but until now I have not given in. Blogging can be as personal as writing. I have spent the last week in preparation mode skimming the internet reading other blogs, seeing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and the power behind the words. Some of these bloggers brought me to tears, and that is no small feat. Others made me laugh, some caused me to feel sorrow, and a few gave me the chance to feel angry.
I wasn’t sure how to start my first post, but, since I am an advocate for all disabled, all women, all men, all people in need I will start there. The topic nearest and dearest to my heart is Service Animal Law. Some of you who read this might think you know about service animals, and you might be right. Others will presume that a service animal is only for a blind person. You are not correct. A service animal, by the federal definition, is any animal trained to assist a disabled person with a task. This does mean that if you have a seizure alert dog, it has to do more than that. The law even gives behavioral guidelines.
I have a service cat. She is trained to do things including retrieval, seeking assistance from specific humans in the case of an emergency, medication reminders, object retrieval, and she has also been trained to help me balance. A lot of these tactics came out of her instinctual responses, but those needed to be honed. She also had to be trained to handle a crowded mall. Now she handles it better than I do. People often ask me why a cat, and my response is simple. I am not allergic to cats, most of the time but I am allergic to dogs. I also trust cats, and I haven’t trusted many dogs in my life. I have to trust my service animal partner.
I have faced some serious discrimination because of being disabled. When I was still walking most of the time, it was harder because I was in extra agony since forcing myself to walk through a store took all of my energy. The more tired I am, the more pain I feel. There have been times when I have had shopping carts jerked out of my hands, causing me to either fall or nearly fall. I have been denied the right to buy groceries, and recently I have been illegally denied medical care.
I am perusing legal action but I am well aware that other people might not know how. Today, one of the blogs I read, reminded me that not every person is trained in how to handle discrimination. When you are disabled, you might feel more vulnerable to attack, and when people threaten to take away your service animal or refuse access, it can be terrifying. I feel often as if I am going to be hit if I push forward. I was an abuse victim for most of my life, but, adulthood came and I found a way to break free. Not everyone is that lucky.
So, here it is, my guide for other disabled people with any LEGAL service animal on how to advocate their rights. A side not before I begin, if you do not need a service animal, do not lie. We will catch you eventually, and the crime has a punishment. Depriving people of their rights through your shallow behavior is the worst thing you could possibly do, and, whether you believe in Karma, Hell, or just recriminations in this life from other people, you will pay for it. The law will get you, Advocates will get you, and if Karma gets you, it will be worse than anything I could dream up.
The Guide- Dedicated to Renne, Helen, Aimi and Snow, but especially Bree. (All Links will open in a new window/tab.)
Step 1. Stay Calm. This is for me the hardest part of advocating for your rights. Sometimes I want to run, other times I want to scream and cuss. Neither tactic is helpful. As hard as it is, you have to be the bigger person, and stay nice. You can have anger in your voice, do not deny the emotion but do not let the emotions over ride your goal.
Step 2. Calmly as you can, state that they are breaking the Federal Law. This is what I have practiced saying in the Mirror daily for the last two years. “You are violating the Federal Law. The Americans With Disabilities act provides protection for my use of my service animal.” When I say this I hand them a copy of the law. You can get a copy of the service animal laws from the ADA. I have the business brief printed with my state law on the reverse side. You can obtain access to your local service animal laws at http://www.animallaw.info/ I carry my print out in aUSB case on my scooter keys. You can also buy laminated cards from various businesses with the law on it that explain your rights. For some people this is easier. Those cards are usually kept on your animal’s harness.
Step 3. Explain the law in simple terms and how they are violating it. This does mean you need to know the law. Not only does knowing the law protect you from discrimination, but, it lets you educate people. The biggest cause of discrimination in my experience is a lack of knowledge. If someone isn’t willing to learn, or admits they know, then you have a larger problem. One of the main causes of confusion with service animal awareness is that few businesses train their employees. It is illegal to require a service animal to wear a vest or show an ID tag. When someone asks me for this for my cat, I show them the law and educate them. Often, they will try and state she cannot enter because she is not a dog. My local laws state only dogs can be service animals. The laws are written so that the stronger law prevails. This means that if the Federal law says I can have any animal, that is trainable and meets the standards and the local law does not, we refer to the federal law. However if you live in a state like California that requires ID tags for all service animals, then, the law requires you have an ID tag. This is another source of confusion, but, it is an attempt at increasing the rights of many.
Usually by this point I am either in the building or they are just going to break the law anyway. If you have reached this point, it is time for Step 4.
Step 4. Take a very deep breath, and remember Step 1. Then ask to speak to their supervisor. If they refuse or are the supervisor you can try explaining the laws again, or calling another advocate to try and help. I keep the number handy to the local advocacy organization, and they have helped me countless times. Even knowing I can call day or night, is helpful because I do not feel alone. At this time I have no national links, but if you are in New Mexico, contact Service Animals and the Law. (Link forthcoming). If you have links nationally to websites that can help, post them in a comment. I want this page to be a resource for any person in need.
At this point you should be through the trying time, most managerial staff listen well and correct their employees. Recently I had to fight my way into an apartment complex using this tactic for three months. Even when I had food poisoning I had to try and follow my rules, but, eventually I prevailed. Advocating for yourself is the hardest part of having a service animal.
Not every person responds to this and if you still cannot get through to them, you need to contact the ADA. You can email them a detailed complaint, include names, addresses, contact information for both parties, and send it to email@example.com . If you would rather call you can contact the ADA via their hotline using these numbers: 800-514-0301 (TTY-800-0363).
Remember, you are strong, you are beautiful inside and out, and you are not alone.
Other posts in this series: What is a Service Animal?
Additional Resources will be added as I find them:
Service Dog Vests and Supplies: