Disclaimer: the photos have nothing to do with this story, its just to lighten things up. Also this is a long two part post.
any way! For the longest time I have been working on this piece. It’s about discrimination against people with disabilities. I have struggled with writing this piece because there are so many aspects of discrimination I couldn’t narrow it down. But after the last few months I’ve had? I figured it out.
But first I want to say this, I know that when people talk about bad things in their life, a natural response is, well it could be worse so stop complaining, or stop complaining and do something about it. If that is your response please note, I am not writing this for sympathy (I never write my blog posts for sympathy) I am writing this for educational purposes.
In today’s world discrimination is a word thrown around a lot. It is a huge issue. Many people associate it with gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. Obviously many people can be discriminated against for many things. One thing that isn’t a huge association with discrimination is disabilities. Especially invisible illnesses like mental illness. What’s funny is deep down we all know it happens but no one wants to talk about it. Why? Because we have so many laws and rights associated with treating disabled people the same as anyone else. And honestly, who ever wants to believe that someone can be discriminated against because of a cane, or a wheel chair or even medicine but then again no discrimination makes sense and you never want to believe it happens. But, like I said, we all know it does.
I face discrimination a lot; I have for a few years now. Most people would think it started when I got Bella, but in reality it started one of the first times I had a panic attack in public on my own. I was asked to please leave the area because I was scaring people. But I will admit, since becoming open about my illness and having Bella, I have noticed it more blatantly.
With mental illness it is really common to be honest. When someone finds out you have an MI, with out realizing it they tend to think crazy. They’ve normalized terms like crazy, and schitzo, bipolar, psycho or OCD and use them to describe when someone is being dramatic. They have described them as attention seeking, or over reactors, or hypochondriacs. They make light of a serious illness and imply that it can be controlled. The truth is, it can’t be.
Many of you are probably wondering where this is coming from, as I don’t like to talk about this side of having a disability, but I feel the need to speak out because I am tired of feeling like I am not a real person. Over the years I have been asked to leave places because of Bella, or have been told I can not enter, I’ve been told to leave her home or take her home even though the Americans with disabilities act says this is illegal. I have been kicked out of places, or seated in the back of a restaurant where no one will see me. Bella isn’t the only way or reason I have felt discrimination, another is just through admitting I have an invisible illness. I’ve learned to let this slide and educate. I think they don’t know better so I just have to share my rights. These past few months though, I’ve changed my tune because a lot of these people DO know better. I mean we talk about all of the other people that are discriminated against so why can’t I says something?
One quick thing, I want to point out some sad facts. While there are laws against discriminating for a disability there is very little that can be done if it actually happens. Like did you know when it comes to service dogs and discrimination, if a police officer is called, there is actually very little that can be done. Most places reserve the right to refuse service. As long as they don’t say why, you can’t prove its because of your dog. Also, the reason police rarely can do anything during access issues is because the ADA law is a civil thing and must be resolved in the court, not by a police officer. That’s hard to face, because even though you think you are protected, really you aren’t. Keep in mind, most situations are handled outside of court with education but it does happen.
That is why, reading this and facing this problem head on with education is the key to success. Sometimes knowing it is happening can help situations in the future.
It probably started when I was frustrated for not getting jobs after people met Bella, Now I understand that she is not the reason for every rejection I have gotten, I mean sometimes people are just better then you which about 75% of time that’s what it is and I am okay with that. It forces me to work harder. But I have had to admit to myself that for some jobs I (about 15%) she has been the reason even without it being said. Actually, I have had people admit that they “just aren’t sure” about having a dog around. No matter how much I stress she wont be an issue they still are concerned. I went to my Service Dog chat rooms and people talked about similar issues and that it is best to wait to disclose your service dog or illnesses until after you get the job. Even if that means going to an interview with out them. Someone then brought up a recent study that was done in NY where fake cover letters exposed discrimination against disabled. (You can read the full story here http://nyti.ms/1N7hFeC ). I do want to re iterate, I am not saying Bella is why I have trouble finding jobs, I know that is not the only or even main reason, I just need to state that it is one of the reasons.
I am going to save the main reason for the next post, so look out for it and plan to read about medical care.