The old man walked slowly and softly. Limp hands hung motionless beside the large pockets of his coat. They had no intention now. No need to clutch them in response to stress, no need to jingle keys from anxiety, no need to swing them to a fast paced rhythm. There was a leisurely pulse to his song, interrupted often by an attempt to balance. No urgency now. Stress lines in his crinkled face have been replaced by deep lines of consignment.
He has finally lived long enough to know his wisdom, only no one can see it beyond the wrinkle of his skin, no one hears it between the spaces of his memory, no one feels it beyond the shaking of his hands.
I see him and I know.
But for the grace of God, go we all.
Have a relationship with a rich man
But don’t stay until you get hard
Have a relationship with a poor man
But don’t stay until you are soft
Don’t misunderstand love as weakness
Don’t misunderstand weakness as love
Honor your dreams regardless of
What people say
Don’t crush another’s dreams for
The sake of reality
Never take hope away from another
It may be all they have
Never hope more than you are
Willing to work
Remember the Cheetah that lives in your heart
But know that it is there only to save you
Remember the Dove that lives in your Soul
But know it will not protect you
While shopping for Christmas last year, a sticker on one of the windows caught my attention. It said “Guide Dogs Welcome”. I had noticed a similar sign a few months ago while in Denver on vacation. I don’t know where these business owners even found the signs. Maybe it was before 1990 when ADA was passed, who knows? The law states all service animals are to be allowed in any business serving the public. There is no law stating they must be certified and no one can require the individual to disclose their disability in order to justify the service animal. They are only allowed to ask if the animal is an assistance or service animal. And the misconception that guide dogs are the only service animal certified as an assistance dog is erroneous. As more doors open for people with disabilities the duties of service animals constantly broaden to accommodate new freedom of independence.
Almost everyone is familiar with guide dogs for the blind. They have been around since post WWI when they were developed and trained in Germany for veterans who were blinded during the war. Now, they exist all over the world. They are easy to identify with their harness and handle. For the visually impaired they supply independence, freedom and companionship. Sixty years later we have advanced with training methods to assist many more disabilities. Most, however, are not familiar with the extensive variety of these highly trained and specialized dogs. Some people mistake them as pets and do not realize that years of training have gone into these valuable dogs. I have attempted to list the most common service dogs but training methods advance constantly and I am sure someday there will be a service dog for almost any disability.
With the success of the Seeing Eye programs, trainers began to explore other disabilities that could benefit from the dog’s amazing ability to help people. The next step involved developing a hearing dog. These dogs are trained to basically convert noise into touch. They respond to everyday sounds such as the telephone, the doorbell or even the owners name being called by rubbing, nose nudging or even tugging on its owner. In an emergency such as a fire alarm, the dog will respond by giving more agitated alerts, such as actually jumping on the owner. The hearing dog can also be taught sign language.
Service dogs assist physically disabled people by performing all sorts of assistance tasks such as opening doors, turning on lights, assisting in transferring by bracing, even pulling their owners wheel chairs up steep ramps. You can often recognize them by their backpacks full of useful items for their owners.
Seizure detecting dogs are the newest assistance dogs. These dogs are trained to recognize behaviors associated with an individual’s seizures. The dog can be trained to get help or stay with the person if needed. Alert capability is a natural occurrence where the dog “alerts” the owner that a seizure is about to occur. True alerting behavior is usually the result of the dog and human developing a very close bond. This alert capability enables an individual with seizures to locate a safe place before the seizure actually occurs.
Therapy dogs improve emotional and physical health simply by interacting with a person. Health care professionals have found that petting a dog can reduce stress and lower blood pressure and pulse rates in some individuals. There are many volunteer organizations throughout the country that help train volunteers to take their dogs to nursing homes, hospitals, mental health centers and prisons on therapy missions. These programs allow access to animals for a segment of the population that otherwise may not have access to animals.
There is even a class of service dogs called “combination dogs.” These dogs are trained to assist people with multiple disabilities that include visual impairment. In addition to work as wheelchair support dogs, combination dogs act as hearing dogs and guide dogs. They are trained to identify barriers to mobility like traffic, cracks in the sidewalk, overhanging branches and obstacles in the path of the owner. And, of course the guide training can also help the owner locate many items using the “find” command (find the door, find the elevator, find the comb).
I would like to share a few last words on some do’s and don’ts when you see someone with an assistance dog. While it’s perfectly fine to talk to the person about their dog, refrain from petting or talking directly to the dog. It will distract the dog from its work. The same holds true for feeding treats or attempting to play. Once the dogs are home their owners have built in play and cuddling time for them. Being an assistance dog is a job that these dogs love to do but keep in mind it is a structured training that has taken years to accomplish.
If you have a disability or know someone who does that would like additional information on how to acquire a assistance dog, or a copy of the law pertaining to them, call your local Independent Living Center.
Ever notice how subtle change is sometimes? You know, like a new building appears where you were sure there was a field yesterday? That’s how I felt when I started researching this article about access to people with disabilities in our community. I found many things I had forgotten weren’t always there and now I see more and more access every day. Almost all the large department stores have electric carts. Even five years ago this was very rare. A few stores had one, now the average is four. Accessible bathrooms are being remodeled to include an accessible stall, lower sink and dispensers and larger turn around areas for wheel chairs. Automatic doors are becoming more common as are entrances with no steps. All of our city buses are equipped with lifts. If you don’t live close enough to a bus stop, and you qualify, Access Express will pick you up at your door. OATS provides vans with lifts outside the city limits. Everyone benefits, people with disabilities, people with baby strollers, and seniors with canes or walkers.
The community is finally realizing that the more they respond to the customers need, the more money they make. It has started a mind set in entrepreneurs to offer more and more convenience. For instance, pizza isn’t the only thing you can get delivered to your door. A growing number of grocers will take your order over the phone and deliver it to you. Many pharmacies are doing the same. There are even people who will holiday shop for you or run errands for a fee. Homes can be built already accessible now so it will be ready as you grow older when remodeling is usually too expensive on a fixed income.
There are approximately 54 million people with disabilities in the United States and now communities are watching this sleeping giant wake up and demand equality. Slowly but surely, it is being granted. The Americans With Disability Act is a great liberating piece of legislation but it sits silent until you give it a voice. Success has happened because of people’s perseverance and determination to set things right. Freedom is the responsibility of all people who enjoy it. We must be ever diligent, ever watchful. When you observe no access, grocery carts parked in a disabled parking space, electric carts broken or not even available, bathrooms inaccessible, entrance doors too heavy to open; speak up, write a letter, make your requests be known. You can call Southwest Center for Independent Living (886-1188) and we will assist you in pursuing it. But, your voice is the most important. You are the customer and all of us have a right to all the services our community offers. Do it for yourself, do it for you grandparents, your grandchildren, do it for freedom.
I have worked for a disability organization serving all disabilities for over 26 years. So many success stories through empowerment and knowledge but just as many failures because of the medical fields incessant need to stop the complaining and whining by over medicating. People come in ready to charge ahead and get their life back on track after a sudden disability or progressive illness diagnosis only to succumb to a zombie life after some minor ailment that the doctor prescribed drugs such as morphine or OxyContin. The next month they come in and you can hardly recognize them with their slurred speech and apathy attitude. They show you the additional six or seven pills they now needs treat the side effects. They don’t complain though because it feels so good. They start to look just like the people in nursing homes which is where their destination will be within a year when they can no longer make logical decisions and finally get hot lined by some “do gooder” case worker keeping them safe.
What was needed was intervention and a holistic approach. What you see before you is not always medical but the result of it.