Fighting Back Is OK! It’s International Assistance Dog Week

In a post dated November 11, 2009 William Peace (aka Bad Cripple) wrote, “In the Body Silent Robert Murphy wrote about two types of anger. The first, existential anger, involves a pervasive bitterness at one’s fate. Existential anger fuels self hate and is tied to shame and guilt. I do not know any people with a disability that feel this sort of existential anger that is directed inward and is inherently self destructive. In contrast, I know many people without a disability that think all people with a disability are angry because of their physical disability. More than once I have been accused of having a “chip on my shoulder” or that it “always has to be about me”. What these statements assume is that the problems I have, and obvious anger, is of my own making. But this is simply not the case. My anger does not stem from my inability to walk but the skewed social interaction, stigma, and fear placed on top of an existing physical deficit. This is a point most people in my experience don’t grasp and gets me to the second type of anger, situational anger. I have lots of situational anger. Situational anger is why I consider myself a bad cripple. Simply put, situational anger is a personal reaction to a perceived injustice and a violation of one’s civil rights. I am not angry because I cannot walk up the steps. I am angry because the law mandated a ramp be constructed and that law has been ignored for a decade. I am angry at the situation and needless physical barrier. I am equally angry when my civil rights are violated as when I try to vote or attend a sporting event without being harassed by strangers who object to my presence. Situational anger is very common because people with a disability are not valued and access is not a priority in this country. If people with a disability were truly valued the unemployment rate would not be near 70% nor would 67% of polling places be inaccessible to me.

To me, situational anger is good. Situational anger rejects commonly held stereotypes and involves asserting one’s civil rights. I am all for this. And this is the best thing the disability rights movement has going for it.”

I fully agree with Dr. Peace.  There have been too many times when, while out with friends, I have remarked on a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its effect not just on me but on others.  Too many times my friends have told me to stop being angry all the time, that it isn’t a personal affront when an entrance or a bathroom is not fully accessible.

For the record, I am not an angry person.  There was a time following my entry into the world of disability I was angry more than I wanted to be.  Like William Peace, I was not angry at my disabilities, I was angry at a world that was physically inaccessible too often and unaccepting all the time.

I got tired of being told it wasn’t all about me and that “You people always want it your way!”  That’s right.  I do want it my way which is the legal way.  I want the Americans with Disabilities Act adhered to and adequately enforced because the ADA isn’t a new law, it is now 24 years old.  I want people with disabilities to be considered valued members of society.  And when what I want does not happen I want redress.  I have a right to be angry and a right to fight for all my civil rights.

In June 2014 I wrote about being denied entry to a restaurant because of my service dog.  It wasn’t the first time it happened, but it was the first time I did not fight back long enough to win (it was my husband’s birthday and I chose not to spoil it for him by mounting a fight).  After stewing over the event I called the Sheriff’s office to request a deputy so I could file a complaint.  “That’s a civil issue,” I was told.  “It isn’t criminal and a deputy cannot come out.”

I was pretty sure it was a misdemeanor violation of state law, but the response threw me a little and I let the matter go for over a month.

When my life calmed down I called again, this time with a citation of state statute in hand.  I was transferred to the district attorney’s office and, after doing some quick research, someone there confirmed that the matter had indeed been a misdemeanor crime.  More phone calls and more insisting and citing the statute number and a deputy arrived.

I provided the deputy with a crash course in all things assistance dogs and he went to speak to the owner/manager of the restaurant but requested I follow him to identify the man.

The owner appeared and verified my account of the evening, but then insisted it was all my fault.  I did not have to leave his restaurant; he never forced me to leave.  I could have come back another time and he would have let me in.  He just needed time to call his lawyer, something he did the next day to find out if what I had told him about assistance dogs was true.  On and on he went.

The deputy asked him if he finally understood the rights of assistance dogs.  He said he did, but when questioned in greater detail it was clear to both me and the deputy the man was still clueless.  Again he insisted it was my fault for leaving.

The deputy took the man outside to talk.  After a few minutes I was brought outside, too.  The restaurant owner’s eyes were red rimmed. He looked at me beseechingly.  “Please,” he said, “this is a small business.  Do not have me ticketed.  Do not make me go to court.  It could hurt my business.”

The deputy turned toward me and asked, “Do you still want to do this?”

I looked the owner in the eyes, then looked at the deputy and answered, “Yes.”

In the end it wasn’t anger that fueled me.  It was simply doing what I believed was right.  Anger led me in that direction, but it did not cause me to see things through.  Now I wait to receive notification of a court date.  I am fighting for my civil rights under a law this one man refuses to acknowledge. This man refuses to acknowledge my rights as a person with a disability and a person working with an assistance dog.  Now I hope for justice not just for me but for the next person who enters that restaurant’s doors.

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