Happy Disability Pride Month! July is a very exciting month for myself and many other disabled people. We have this month that’s dedicated to advocacy, celebrations, and the anniversary of the ADA – this year is 30! This month I have challenged myself to be more present on social media in terms of my advocacy. I want to share more of my experiences in living with a spinal cord injury, and not just highlight the “good” or “easy” parts of my life. One aspect I really wanted to highlight is my service dog, Oxford. Service dogs are an amazing tool that people with disabilities can utilize to have more independence. I got Oxford through an organization called Canine Companions for Independence (CCI.org). He was trained for the first two years of his life, first from his puppy raiser, and then he went to advanced training at their facility in New York. I was on a waiting list for two years before I was matched with him. This organization provides service dogs free of charge, they are normally around $40,000 so waiting for him was definitely worth it. The process to get him included medical information, tasks I would use him for, as well as questions about my activity level and personality. CCI does an amazing job at matching their dogs with people who make a perfect team together.
Oxford is by my side 24/7, literally. He goes to college with me, work, shopping, to doctors’ appointments, and physical therapy. I always get questions such as “What does he do for you?” or “How does he help?” In my personal journey with my injury, I have often felt ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help because I try very hard to create a facade of independence. It was difficult for me to admit that my spinal cord injury left me in a place of heightened vulnerability. Having a service dog, I feel more empowered to ask for help, especially from him. Oxford was born to work, it makes him genuinely so excited to help me with tasks, he craves that stimulation. I have never felt judgement by asking him for help. Via Instagram, Oxford has his own page where I am posting videos that highlight the tasks I use most. These include picking items up, pulling my manual wheelchair, and opening/closing doors. My favorite command is “pull.” Because I use a manual chair, and am able to be very active, I tore my rotator cuff less than 2 years after my injury. By Oxford pulling my chair and eliminating unnecessary pushes, I am able to access my university independently without worry of an injury that would force me to drop out.
Since this year is the 30th anniversary of the ADA, I also want to highlight some of the protection they enforce in terms of service animals.
- Service animals are allowed to accompany their person in any public space.
- They are allowed in your place of employment, sometimes they require a reasonable accommodation, but they are protected.
- Service animals are allowed in housing, free of a “pet” charge.
- They are allowed in hospitals, doctors offices, and any other medical office
- They can accompany you on public transportation, including air travel.
- Businesses and employees cannot ask intrusive medical questions, they can only ask you to provide 3 tasks that the animal assists you with – Because of Oxfords excellent training, plus having a visible disability, I have personally never been asked any questions regarding his legitimacy; However, I cannot speak for everyone with a service animal
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The protection of service animals under ADA legislation has made them a tool we can use to gain more accessibility.
By sharing on social media more about my spinal cord injury and tools I use to help with my independence, I am hoping that I can reach more able-bodied individuals to help advocate with us. This is only the 30th anniversary of the ADA, and while I am incredibly grateful for those who have continuously fought for us, there is still a long way to go. Sharing how are lives are affected by spinal cord injuries/disorders gives us a larger platform to address accessibility and discrimination issues we face on a daily basis. It is my hope that we can all feel prideful this July, and that we can remember all we have achieved as we continue to advocate for each other and our rights.
My name is Madisyn Hess and I am 20 years old. I am currently a junior at Christopher Newport University. I am completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and I hope to pursue a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. I am a T-10 paraplegic, and I have an adorable service dog named Oxford. In my limited free time, I love to watch movies or TV shows, occasionally “bingeing” them (whoops), and I enjoy trying new restaurants as well as new types of food. You can find me dancing, singing, or trying any adaptive sport I can!