Without AKos, this trip to the zoo would not have happened for Kender.
“Hey, did you know that [insert disability here] people get to [insert special access here]? We could do that, too, because the government says that businesses aren’t allowed to ask questions. Here, you pretend to have [insert disability here] and I’ll [get fake certification/baldly lie/pretend nothing’s wrong], and then we’ll get [insert special access here], too!”
Handicapped parking. Special access to rides without waiting in line. Special test-taking accommodations. Front row seating. Service dog access. Whatever the accommodation, I’ve seen folks lie and cheat their way into gaining access. I’ve seen little pet chihuahuas in their service dog vests purchased online. I’ve seen the looks when we jump a line or take our reserved seating. I’ve even had friends brag to my face, in front of my blind husband, about how they were parking with grandma’s handicapped plate.
Only a poor simulation of what you might see
Stop and think for a moment about the difference between your life and what your life would be like disabled. What if you were visually impaired? Put some broken sunglasses on, and put some tape around the sides so you can’t see around them. Just for good measure, splatter some paint across them, and maybe give them a prescription that’s wildly inaccurate for your eyes. You can’t take them off or fix them, not ever. Walking down the sidewalk, you can’t see that bench sticking out just far enough to hit your shins. You also don’t notice the chairs in the restaurant, the shipping pallets in the store, the little kids running in front of you, the holes the gophers dug in your lawn. Every step you take comes with the possibility of pain and embarrassment, and because you have some vision you might try to forgo the mobility cane, forgo the obvious label and free up a hand because, after all, you can see a little. Going to the movies, a live show, comedy or a concert, attractions at Disney? You’re only going to be able to see bits and pieces, a flash of light here and a moving shadow there, unless you’re lucky enough to talk your way into the front row where you can see more detail, maybe somewhat approach the experience of everybody else who paid $5/10/50/100 to be there. Waiting in line for a ride? You can’t see the cute movies on the TVs overhead, you can’t see the decorations in the bushes, you can’t watch the ride and the faces of the riders as you approach your turn. All you are doing is standing there, nothing to look at, for an hour or more. How about that parking lot? Imagine parking at someplace like a Ren Faire and walking a half-mile or more across a rough field when you can’t see the rocks, the tree roots, the way the ground goes up and down every couple of feet. Can you make it without a sprained ankle or bloody shin, even with a mobility cane?
Still think it’s pretty cool that you used somebody else’s parking space? Still thinking about lying to get a disabled wristband at the park? Still grumbling when you see us get seating up front, while you watch the show from behind us with your perfect vision?
a small piece of the form we send to our police department every year
How about autism, that condition you think your kid can mimic for as long as it takes to get that special access card? If you only have neurotypical children, it is so difficult to convey the reality of raising a child with autism. Think about trying to potty-train a child when you can’t reason with them, can’t talk to them, can’t explain anything (in our case, you couldn’t even show him), can’t read it in a book, can’t watch it in a movie or TV show, can’t play a computer game about it, can’t use stickers and charts and earn delayed rewards, can’t talk about the difference between big kids and babies, none of that, you can’t do any of it because your child can’t talk, can’t understand rewards, can’t understand future and past, none of it. Think about having to make sure your child has a diagnosis and is registered with your local police department just to protect yourself (or your child!) from going to jail and your child from the foster care system. Think about trying to go to the store, go to McDonald’s, go to a park, do any of the normal things you don’t really even think about with a toddler in a 6-year-old body. Think about trying to figure out if your child has an ear infection, a stubbed toe, or gods forbid something like appendicitis, when your child’s only way of expressing pain looks exactly like the way he expresses frustration, impatience, fatigue, and confusion, via a total meltdown that involves hitting, biting, screaming, and destruction of property. Try, just try, waiting in line for an hour with this child who doesn’t understand what’s at the end of the line.
Right now, federal law protects you when you lie and cheat your way into the accommodations that help make life just a little more bearable for those of us with disabilities. Businesses aren’t allowed to ask you if you really need that alleged service dog, they aren’t allowed to ask for proof that your child is autistic before granting access. It’s not going to stay this way, though. The more these accommodations get abused, the more businesses are going to fight back. Already, we’ve seen our access to accommodations get taken away completely as parks like Disney take away the ability to skip lines at the rides (because waiting for an hour outside of the line is no better for an autistic child than waiting for an hour inside the line, and skipping the lines for many was the difference between riding one ride and leaving, and maybe riding as many rides as everybody else before going home to have their meltdown). Handicapped spots are getting moved farther down the parking lot, only requiring a ramp to qualify, nevermind the actual distance involved.
If businesses had their way, many would probably already be denying access to service dogs. Incidents that happen across the country with untrained dogs make it dangerous for businesses to allow access. You may still be protected by the terms of the law for now, allowing you to declare your own service dog and make your own identification, but that’s not going to last. All it takes is enough people to be upset about this to change the law. What will happen then is the question. Will the law be changed to simply require us to provide proof of disability, certification of our dogs with numbers a business can call to verify training? Or will dogs and other service animals be suddenly outlawed, all access protections taken away, leaving those of us who need these animals to go out into the world at the mercy of businesses jaded by their experience with fake service dogs? As it is, children who deal with the government school systems do not have the protections you would think, and I have yet to hear of a school that did not put up some kind of resistance to having a service dog come to school with their child.
“But you’re a libertarian! What would you do without any government protection?”
Kender with AKos, calm and not screaming
I’ve never had a problem explaining myself to people with questions. Want to know exactly what Kender’s service dog does for him and why he’s with us? Ask away! Better yet, just watch. Every minute they are walking together, you can see how A’Kos keeps Kender going. You can watch them curl up on the floor instead of Kender having a meltdown. You can watch A’Kos make Kender smile. I’d rather it didn’t happen, but you might even see Kender get away from me and A’Kos track him down. A’Kos is working whenever we are away from home.
Other service dogs’ skills may not be as patently visible. In a free and voluntary system, we would still have our dog from 4 Paws for Ability with our certification and identification cards, as we do now. We would still provide phone numbers for businesses to contact 4 Paws for Ability if they had questions. Many libertarians foresee the kinds of ratings systems used on Amazon and eBay expanding to cover more and more kinds of businesses and services, so that you could hop online and see what kind of ratings 4 Paws has, whether they are legitimate or have been labeled as an ID factory. You could train your own dog, certainly, but your self-issued certification would need to have some backing by a third-party with a reputation for valid certifications in order for anybody to truly respect it.
And I think I would be more okay with that system than the one currently in place.