Posted by: Jessica | June 18, 2010

A Disability

This was originally a response to a post on By My Side but it got long, and it’s kind of relevant to Reed’s blog πŸ™‚

When I talk about training Reed to be my Service Dog or one of the many things “wrong” with me, I always say “I have”. Not “I am”. Honestly, I think the biggest reason is that “I am” doesn’t even work for at the big one. “I have fibromyalgia”. There is no person descriptor like with some conditions. I could say “I am bipolar”, but the thing is… I’m not! Yes, I have bipolar disorder. But It’s not WHO or WHAT I am. I also have ADD. It doesn’t make sense to say it any other way. I’m open about my mental illnesses. I don’t go telling everyone, but I don’t hide it. My mom was honest about her bipolar disorder and if she hadn’t been, it probably would have been harder for me to be diagnosed. If I’d known I had ADD earlier in life, I think things could have been different. I think it’s important to bring mental illness out of the stigma it has and help people see it’s just like diabetes or short-sightedness, or anything else. It requires attention, and it’s not your fault.

But the big thing is, I don’t usually talk about myself that way no matter the subject. I will occasionally say I am a programmer, but usually I say “I develop applications/websites” or depending on the audience “I train dogs”. If someone asks me about my job, it’s what I do, not who I am.

The other day I was arguing with an animal rights nut who insisted on saying I was “differently abled”.

Uhm, fuck off. Seriously.

First of all, the law protects people with disabilities, not “different abilities”. Shove your political correctness up your ass. If someone with a disability says that about themselves, fine. But if I’ve just said “I have a disability”, you can take your PC and stuff it. Everyone on earth has different abilities. Not everyone has a hard time pushing a shopping cart, or picking up something they’ve dropped, or dressing. It’s not different, it honestly is a bad hand. There’s no sane person who would describe having shooting pain randomly strike you no matter what you’re doing as “different”. It’s shit. It’s crap. It’s a PROBLEM. It makes my life harder than it was before. Every day is harder than the one before it.

Reed makes it better. Being able to go out and know that he’ll help me keep my balance, that he’ll pick up my stuff, and I think one of the most important things, knowing that when people look at us, they’re not looking at me anymore. It’s embarrassing when you’re shopping and you suddenly develop a limp, or suddenly can’t move. People look. At least with Reed, they’re looking at him. He’s a handsome devil, how could they not? I know some people don’t like the attention they get when they have an SD, and I don’t like when people try to pet him, but I do like the comfort he gives me of knowing that for one, people aren’t looking at me, and that if something does happen, people are more likely to understand.

I have absolutely no problem saying “I have a disability”. I say it often. I certainly don’t like it, but it’s the way it is. But I have it, it doesn’t have me.

I will however say I am a geek πŸ˜‰

And this little guy has my heart.



  1. Great post! It’s funny now that you mention all of those other instances I am more likely to say that what I am or have is part of me. Usually I say “I am disabled” not “I have a disability.” Usually I say “I am a dog trainer” not “I train dogs.” But you’re right about the fibromyalgia, it is always “I have fibromyalgia.” And I don’t normally say “I am a migreanure.” I say “I have migraines.” Interesting to think about how each person defines themselves differently.

    Again great post!

    • Thanks Katrin! I always enjoy reading your blog – It’s so great to have found another person who understands. I have one IRL friend who has SDs and it’s thanks to her I even know about what they can do, but it’s always great to meet more people who get it.

  2. One thing I also wanted to say was you saying how people ask you what is “wrong” with you made me realize it’s been probabaly close to years since I’ve been asked that. I remember when James was in training I got asked that a lot more frequently. And when I lived in another town I remember getting asked that nearly everwhere we went. But I can’t even remember the last time someone asked me what was “wrong” with me because they saw my dog with me. Maybe people around here have just gotten used to seeing us and they don’t even think twice. Plus I think my current community is way more disability and SD friendly than the old one I lived in, off hand I can think of 4 different SD users in a 3 mile radius. Just something else I was thinking about. I just remember how invasive it was when people were always asking that an expecting a detailed answer. I hope that gets better for you!

    • Actually I don’t think anyone has ever asked me what is wrong with me, besides my mother πŸ˜‰

      Usually when I have Reed out people ask “What does he do?”, a question for which I still haven’t decided on an answer I like. I tend to say “He helps me out.” because I don’t want to get in a lengthy discussion. If I feel like talking, I tell them I have Fibromyalgia and list a few of the things he does (minus the part about people in public lol)

      (Of course I’m talking about curious people, not store owners. If someone official asks then I tend to answer he offers mobility assistance, because it’s the best way to describe it for me, but I’d love ideas.)

  3. You get “What does he do?” I get “What is he?” To that I usually reply with a straight face “A dog.” and continue on my business. πŸ™‚

    For John Q Public though with the what does he do question I usually reply “guide work” since that is one of his main functions in public and most people at least have a vague idea of what a guide dog does. If it’s a child I usually say “He helps me, he’s a special dog.”

    For most people in your case I would probably say “he picks things up that I drop” or something easily understood like that. I find saying to most adults “he helps me” just leaves the door open to more probing questions. My experience is that if I give them one blunt true easily understood fact they will then mull that over and leave me alone.

    I remember one time recently when I was making flight reservations and trying to get seating I wanted the agent on the phone after I said I will be traveling with my service dog got all flustered and kept hinting around a question without actually saying “What is your disability?” I knew she wasn’t allowed to say that but I couldn’t figure out what she really wanted to know instead, since she obviously knew she wasn’t supposed to ask that either and just couldn’t remember the legal question she could ask me. Finally I realized she just wanted to know what tasks James had and make sure he just didn’t do emotional support and we were able to get that sorted out when I told her what he did.

    • I’ve gotten “What is he” so many times, and I know people think I’m an ass, but I can’t help but reply “A dog.” – but it’s usually at the PetSmart when people mean to ask what BREED is he.

      Thanks for the advice, I really appreciate it. I’ve been lucky so far in that no kids asked me and also none have tried to pet him without asking. I always hate to say no, but he loves kids so much that right now it’s out of the question. He needs to learn he can’t be loved on by everyone. He’s great as long as they don’t try to pet him. But usually I hear the kids cooing and most parents will tell them they can’t pet him or to ask. (I do get annoyed when I hear parents point him out to the kids, I always worry the kids will run over.)

      One guy I talked to for a while because he had a student who had a seizure alert dog and he thought Reed was since that was his only exposure to SDs.

      Out of curiosity, did you read the post about our trip to CA?

  4. Kids will ask all manner of things and I’m generally pretty leniant. They’re not allowed to pet James when he’s working but they can stand from afar and ask basic questions. If they don’t act politely I will get rather terse wtih their parents and if they’re parent’s aren’t to be found I have a bad habit of telling them to go find their parents because they are being rude. I find BJ’s or CostCo is the worst place for inappropriate kids. I have had to PRY children off of my dog more than once in those places while the parents looked the other way. It drives me NUTS!

    I’ve had kids ask everything from “Why does he have a harness on?” to the usual “Dog’s aren’t allowed in stores!” to the “Can I pet him?” Mostly I try to keep things simple and sweet for the kids. My general line is “No sorry you can’t pet him but thank you so much for asking that was very grown up of you! He’s a special working dog, he has a job just like your job is to go to school. His job is to help keep me safe. So if you pet him that would make him not do his job and I could get hurt.” Something along those lines. Most kids are very good about maintaining distance after that since they don’t want to distract the “special working dog” And it’s amazing how many will go and teach their parents when they’re parents go to act stupid and pet the working dog.

    Hmm I’m not sure I read that post, I will go look for it now…

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