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Archive for October, 2010

You know you’re an assistance dog user when…

…you know what your dog’s poop looks like every day (or for blind dog users, they probably notice the consistency as they pick it up).  I know it sounds sick, but it’s one of the easy ways to tell how your dog is doing, physically and emotionally.

…you expect to be licked in the face multiple times a day.  As far as I know, few of us try to train our dogs not to do this, because it’s part of how they show affection within their pack.  And we want them to think of us as their pack.

…you worry more over their gear than your own.

…you take long getting them ‘dressed’ than getting yourself dressed.  (Yes, really.  Especially if I have to put boots on him.  We both hate putting boots on him.)

…you pay more than twice what most dog owners pay for dog food.

…you’re more careful about their mealtimes and pottytimes than you are about your own.

…you tolerate being sat on, stepped on, and run into without comment all the time. (hell, you expect it.  Especially losing my footspace while sitting.)

…you get dog hair on everything and in everything, and not for lack of vacuuming.

…your most frequently used phrases are things like ‘He won’t bother you’ and ‘Don’t step on my dog’

…you’re used to children running around you and people skittering away from you.

…you give them more haircuts than you get for yourself.

…their nails are better kept than yours.

…you have more nicknames for them than for your significant other.

…you have more kinds of snacks for them than you do for yourself.

…you have had your dog compared to one ‘just like him!’ that is then described to look nothing like him.

And for those of us with long-haired service dogs –

…you have to give your dog a ‘special’ haircut.  Routinely.

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I have had words with the director of the legal department I work in about using the word ‘crazy’.  It was a pretty fruitless discussion, to be honest.  I didn’t self-identify myself as crazy to her; I’m probably more in the closet about that than I am about the fact that I am attracted to more than just men*, and even THAT I almost never discuss with anyone I’ll see face to face.  It’s all information I’ve had people use in ways that made me profoundly uncomfortable.

Well, this week it suddenly got worse.  We were looking at custody cases, and in multiple cases my professor referred to people doing ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ things.  In none of the cases were there actual references to mental health issues – it was all things where the professor could have subsituted ‘absurd’ or ‘ridiculous’ and managed to express an almost identical concept.

Look, when you speak of crazy, you speak of people like me.  People who live with mental illness.  People who do occasionally do irrational things, or lose touch with reality.

That doesn’t make us people who try to cut off our child’s relationship with our former partner, who is their second mother.  Nor does it make us people who donate our sperm and stay in the picture with time, gifts, money, etc, and then get shocked when they end up on the hook for child support.  It doesn’t make us women who lie, cheat, get artificially inseminated with the sperm of the person they were having an affair with even though the affair ended two years before the insemination, lie to the doctor involved, and try to nail the sperm donor 5 years later for child support even though they’d had no contact since the child’s birth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some or all of these people may have mental illness.  But if you don’t have a reason like a psychologist’s testimony, don’t go attributing people doing rotten and absurd things to each other to crazy.

I’m crazy.  I have bipolar disorder and PTSD.  I live with swings through depression and mania, occasional episodes of paranoia, and trouble with people getting too close to me physically.  I have, on a few rare occasions, hit someone because I was triggered by something they did, and I was so afraid that I needed them to get away from me IMMEDIATELY.

That doesn’t make me into someone who hurts others because they can.  It doesn’t make me someone who is willing to inflict emotional harm on a child because I don’t like someone they care about.  I am not them.

But I am crazy.

* I say ‘more than just men’ here because bisexual is a really, really problematic word.  It’s cissexist and binarist, and doesn’t recognize that there are a lot more varieties of gender than ‘male’ and ‘female’.  I personally know people who ID as queer, agendered, and bigendered, who would be made invisible by the term bisexual.  I prefer heteroflexible, but even that is problematic because it still has that binarist issue.

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This post is part of the first Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.  This month is hosted by After Gadget.  Her topic was ‘The first’

I think one of the hallmarks of an important relationship in our lives is remembering ‘our first…’  The first time we met, our first date, our first kiss, our first holiday, his first step, her first word… we remember many firsts during our lives.

Needless to say, I remember many firsts with Hudson.  Some of them are sappy-sweet, some of them are funny, some were frustrating, and a few were even a little sad.

I remember when we first met.  Hudson wasn’t terribly impressed with me and was much more interested in being close to his trainer.  That set the tone for the next couple of days, and it was disappointing…

…but on the other hand, I remember the first time he was happy to see me, running to the end of his leash to greet me on the 5th day of training.  It was the first time Hudson showed any real emotion towards me, the first hint that he might like me rather than think of me as an inconvenience he had to obey.

I remember the first time he got upset that I forgot him.  I got up and went to the bathroom, which was connected to the bedroom, while I left him tied down at his bed.  According to the boyfriend, he stared at the bathroom door the whole time I was gone.

I remember the first time I tried to fit us both into normal sized bathroom.  It was a porta potty at my service dog organization.  Yeah…that was…interesting.  Hudson had his gear on, and his harness is a big bulky thing, and well, porta potties aren’t exactly big things.  It was…squishy.  Neither of us cared much for the situation, but Hudson still displayed his first weird behavior: he did his best to get his snout between my knees so he could watch me pee.  (We have since managed tighter spaces, but I’ll get to that later)

I remember realizing that with Hudson, I didn’t need my crutches – in fact, that I walked better with Hudson than I did with my crutches.  It was a strange and liberating feeling.

I remember our first flight.  It was stressful for both of us, but especially for him.  He didn’t like the small space, he didn’t like the noise, he didn’t like getting on the plane at all, and I can’t say I blame him.  I don’t like any of that stuff, and I know why I’m going through it!  (We did, by the by, manage to squeeze both of us into the bathroom on the plane.  Yes, an average sized airplane bathroom.  He had his harness off and sat between my legs, and we barely managed to close the door.

I remember the first time I had to defend Hudson.  Introducing Hudson to my parents’ dogs was a pain.  One of my parents’ dogs is a bully, and Hudson…well, I think Hudson is NOW learning to be a bit more assertive, but at the time, Hudson had been through 2 years of training to be a good puppy who makes nice with others.  Even though my parents’ dogs are very dear to me, dogs that I’d thought of as being ‘my’ dogs, seeing Hudson being bullied made me angry.  He was my poor little pooch who didn’t know how to defend himself.  I couldn’t explain, on that trip, why I couldn’t allow Cody to bully Hudson.  But I knew he couldn’t, and I pinned Cody over and over during that week and argued with my parents when they wouldn’t help.

On that same visit Hudson met my nephew for the first time.  My nephew was about a year old at the time, and like most kids that age, he was grabby.  The first thing he did on meeting Hudson was to grab Hudson’s nose.  Hudson was…not so happy with that.  Poor dog spent the whole vacation trying to hide from my nephew and my parents’ dog.

I remember the first time I tried to take Hudson swimming.  Hudson decided it was fun, in a shallow lake on a warm sunny day.  It was also the first time I lost when trying to defend my right to access with my dog, so it’s kind of a mixed memory.  (On my way off the swimming beach, I complained about being turned away, and the supervisor was willing to listen and in the end agreed with me, so it wasn’t even a total loss – she said she’d educate all of their lifeguards, so they’d know)

I remember the first time someone kicked Hudson.  It’s something that as a service dog partner, you unfortunately have to expect will happen sometimes.  We were on a trolley, and went to get off at our stop, and someone wasn’t paying enough attention and kicked Hudson’s hind leg out from under him.  Like most service dogs, Hudson’s reaction wasn’t defensive – he just tried to cringe under/behind me so I’d protect him.

I remember the first time I saw Hudson really having fun with a dog who wasn’t a service dog.    It was when we were visiting the boyfriend’s family for Christmas.  We joked that he’d met his doggy girlfriend, because my boyfriend’s brother’s dog got along beautifully with Hudson.  They tore around the big back yard, pausing to sniff for a while, and then took off again.  It was the most running around I’d seen him do – my boy isn’t an athlete.  It was also just about the happiest I’d seen him be, up to that point.

I remember the first time I felt like I really hurt Hudson.  I slipped with the trimming shears and cut him.  I felt all the worse because I didn’t realize what had happened and was trying to continue trimming him, while he was trying to sit down so I’d stop.

I remember the first time he barked…in his sleep.  Hudson’s not a barker, it’s been completely trained out of him, so it startled me to hear him making funny barking noises in his sleep.  He still barks in his sleep once or twice a week.  He has paw-twitching dreams far more often.

Finally, I’ll add a recent first – our first trip to a dog park.  It’s embarassing to me that it took us so long to get to a dog park, but it’s a combination of my health issues and only recently discovering that the little corner just a few blocks from us is properly fenced and marked as a dog park.  Over our 3 visits there, I’ve watched Hudson starting to learn some entertaining things – that he likes other dogs, that things smaller than the 50-60 lb range are also dogs, and perhaps I’ve even seen the beginnings of Hudson learning to be assertive with other dogs.

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This is something that has bothered me for a long time, and actually led to one of the very few spats between the boyfriend and I (quickly mended, once we both cooled off a bit).  I really hate the use of disability-based metaphors.  Hate them, hate them, hate them.  I believe that they’re part of what makes disability such a fearful, distorted, tragic cloud to people who are able-bodied.

It’s all well and good to say they’re bad, but I think it makes more sense if I actually go through some of the more common disability metaphors so you can see what I mean

Crippled – this one gets used ALL THE TIME.  The city was crippled by an unexpected snowstorm.  The political entity is crippled by corruption.  So-and-so was crippled by a powerful emotion.  The poor are crippled by their lack of savings.  I’ve even heard references to people being crippled by scruples.  Here’s the thing – crippled has a pretty specific physical meaning – it’s a physical disability, usually related to walking.  What being a crip really means is that you have to get creative about how you do things and how you get around.  It doesn’t mean that you’re unable to do things!  I think these metaphors that tell us an entity or person is incapable of doing ANYTHING (or at least, anything useful) really emphasize that being crippled is being useless.  And as someone who identifies as a crip, I can tell you I’m damnwell not useless!  I do a great many things, including my work at a legal center for people of limited means and my disability advocacy, that I think have a great impact on the world.

Blind – I bet you can’t count the number of times you’ve heard this one –  blinded by viewpoints, blind to miss facts, blind to misunderstand intentions, blind to misread things, so on.  It’s definitely a favorite metaphor.  I count short-sighted in the same category, as short-sighted originally means nearsighted (as in, someone who can only see the shorter distances, not the longer ones).  Similarly, long-sighted originally means farsighted (as in, someone who can see things at greater distances, but not up close – someone who needs reading glasses).  We use sight metaphors to a ridiculous extent in our lexicon.  And through all of these, we imply that people who are blind or nearsighted are incapable of planning, unable to comprehend the information available, so naive as to misunderstand the motives of others, and similar issues that have NOTHING to do with sight!

Retard/retarded – (I am using the whole word only for clarity; I’ve written other social justice related pieces about how awful and hurtful this word is.)  Just mentioning this one makes my blood boil, in part because we generally don’t use this one as much of a metaphor.  When we say someone is a retard, we mean that they have so low an IQ as to fall into the category that used to be labled ‘mental retardation’.  We mean they’re stupid, they’re foolish, they’re naive, they’re incapable…but mostly that they’re stupid.  Plenty of people will argue that the way we use the word today doesn’t tie back to those roots, but think critically about the last time you heard someone use that word – I bet it was to belittle someone’s intelligence.

Lame – I’ll admit, part of my hatred for this one stems from its use in my own family, and finding it over and over again in my own language.  Lame means having an altered gait, typically a limp.  If you don’t believe me, ask someone who deals with horses what it means for a horse to be lame.  Now we use it for all kinds of different meanings – stupid, foolish, clumsy, easily injured, ridiculous, unfair, etc.  A lame call in a sports game, a lame excuse, a lame-o who just doesn’t get it, etc.  Notice how having an altered gait – like me – suddenly gets turned into all these nasty negatives?  Listen for people using the word lame around you.  I bet they aren’t using it to literally mean a limp, and that what they’re using it for is more negative.

Mad/crazy – Here’s one we use to a ridiculous extent in our language.  I’m crazy-busy.  Work was crazy today.  …and then she just went crazy!  I am just crazy about this designer.  You’re driving me crazy!  The way they treated her was just crazy.  That idea is just crazy.  Political opponants are crazy.  (most of which you can substitute mad for crazy and get the same meaning)  Yeah, that’s not exactly the same as mad or crazy meaning someone who is experiencing psychosis (a break with reality) or neurosis (not a full break with reality, but having an altered relationship with reality).  These words originally mean someone who has some kind of mental illness, and are being reclaimed as such.  Most uses of crazy are dismissive, ways to marginalize people and ideas.  Using them for negatives has obvious problems, but what about positives like ‘crazy about this designer’?  Well, it still means ‘overly’ or ‘too much’ – when we say things like that, we mean ‘I’m excited about this designer beyond reason.’  See how even that seemingly positive thing slides around to a negative?

Look, using disability as a metaphor tends to come from one basic problem: linguistic laziness.  There are SO many other words that can be used!  Foolish, ridiculous, thoughtless, senseless, hampered, troubled, restrained, naive.  Just to name a few.  When you use disability metaphors, you hurt those of us who actually have disabilities.  I am NOT your metaphor.  Find a new one.

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I think I’ve mentioned in the past the way Hudson gets down and goofy when he gets unharnessed and when he gets excited.

He started doing this when I’d had him for a couple of months.  We visited my parents on the other side of the country.  One of my parents’ dogs does this funny thing we call ‘fighting carpet monsters’.  He throws himself on his side, and uses his back legs to propel himself along, snarling and growling as he goes.  It’s a very silly process….but Hudson has managed to find an even goofier way to do it.

We call it breakdancing, and now all of you out there in cyberland have a chance to see it.

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I feel like after my last post about the struggle to get a class moved to a different room, I needed to talk about how my law school has handled my disability as a whole.

Now, one of the interesting things I have to point out here when talking about how my law school handles my disability is that my law school is semi-autonomous from the greater university.  It creates an…interesting…situation for disability accomodations.  Not bad entirely; it’s had pros and cons for me.  The way getting accomodations works for me is like this: I bring my doctor’s letter to the law school’s disability coordinator, who we’ll call W.  The disability coordinator faxes the letter over to the university’s disability resources center. ( I officially have a file there and a counselor, but I’ve only really interacted with her over one issue.)  The disability resources center sends back its evaluation of what accomodations I’m to be accorded.  W and the law school student resources secretary then arrange for the accomodations.

Now, it’s definitely had upsides for me.  When I first came to law school, I was sick with a mystery illness that was causing me extreme fatigue and pain.  I didn’t get any answers on ANYTHING until January of my first year, so that first semester, I was operating completely on my own.  I had no accomodation letter, no documentation to suggest I needed assistance, nothing.  Despite the fact that the Disability Resource Center could do nothing without documentation, because it’s a semi-autonomous entity, the law school was able to give me a couple of accomodations: they gave me a keycard to the accessible door, they retroactively reset my status to part time so I didn’t have to accept ‘Withdrawal’ or Fs on my transcrips, and they arranged for me to have extra test time and a little room to myself.  These may sound like small things, but especially that retoractive part-time status really helped me that first impossible semester of law school and fibromyalgia.

On the whole, the set-up has been convenient to me.  The law school is in 2 buildings, one short block apart.  I know exactly where W’s office is.  I don’t have to try to make it over to the Disability Resources Center, which is halfway across campus.  W is in general a very nice, very helpful person, as is the secretary for that office.  The dean of students has been willing to get involved, which has mostly been a very good thing for me – it was her influence that got me changed to part-time retroactively my first year, and her influence that got me a mentor when I struggled academically.

It’s not perfect.  In my first year, I had an incident with a professor.  She said something that I read to be making fun of the way I walk because of my disability, because I was late returning to class after a break.  She never did that to anyone else who was late returning.  I went to W and to the dean of students, and crying I told them about what had happened.  What she had said.  The way she had stood there in silence, with the whole class’s attention drawn to me, as I hobbled with my pained little half-steps to my seat, before she resumed her lecture.  The another student in the class who was a person with a disability completely agreed with my reading of the situation – that she had made fun of my disability and deliberately subjected me to the staring of my classmates, who were already viciously unfriendly to me because of the way my disability made me different and because I knew too much.  My counselor/case manager at the disability resource center was appalled by what happened, and said that she would love to write a letter to the professor detailing the problems with what she had done…except that the relative autonomy of the law school and the existance of a disability coordinator there meant she’d be doing some serious stepping on people’s toes.  People whose cooperation I needed for my accomodations, for assistence with professors, so on.  So I had to let go the possibility of a strongly worded letter that took my side, because offending the people whose help you need is never a wise idea.  The dean of students eventually told the professor how I’d taken things, and the professor told me she hadn’t intended things that way.  I still don’t believe that and now, nearly three years later, I still avoid her – step out of hallways she’s coming down, avoid meeting her eyes and opening the potential for a conversation, moving away from her at Women’s Law Caucus events that we both attend.  It’s hard to forget people who have held you out for social opprobrium and shame.  People who mock the way you move because of your disability.

Anyhow, I’m sorry for that…sidetrack.  It’s hard to explain how badly I felt that I’d been failed by W and the dean of students at my law school without going into the details about what happened.

That January, I finally got an accomodation letter and we started playing with ways to help me with one of the issues I had an accomodation for.  To their credit, they were willing to try several different approaches I suggested before I decided that the one they’d suggested to begin with was going to be the best.

Since then, I’ve gotten a handful of new accomodations, and things have been gracefully managed on everything but this latest snafu with the classroom change.  They haven’t been able to do anything for me about professors’ attendence requirements as long as those requirements don’t exceed the 80% required by the American Bar Association (which has withstood challenges under the Americans with Disabilities Act), and I’ve yet to see a professor who required more.

To be honest, on the whole they’ve been thoroughly helpful and friendly, and a good place to go for advice.  I hate to think that you all have this image of a difficult and uncaring office because of this latest exchange.  To be honest, this latest exchange seemed quite out of character for them, which is part of why it upset me so.  They’ve done a good many things that were inconvenient for them on my behalf, and to have them suddenly react as if what I wanted was a nuisance and an inconvenience…well.  It was quite an unpleasant surprise.

Edited to add:  I just realized that I had forgotten one of the BIG things that the disability liason and the dean of students had worked out for me.  Right before the fall exam period for my second year, I fell and sprained my back.  Because of that, I couldn’t sit up for more than an hour or so at a time, and then needed a significant amount of time lying down flat.  Even that hour or so was only on my extremely comfortable couch – anything less than that, and I’d get half that time.  I couldn’t get set up in a position where I could have my laptop on the bed with me without causing at least as much pain as sitting up with it.  So they allowed me to take exams without time limits, and from my own home.  It was an enormous break in protocol, and it was all that allowed me to take my exams that semester.  They had no obligation to do such a thing, since it wasn’t a permanent state of affairs, but they did anyhow and I am very grateful for that.

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I mentioned a couple of months ago that I’d been diagnosed with POTS and that it made me extremely sensitive to heat.  And when I say sensitive to heat, I mean prone to dizziness, nausea and vomiting, collapsing, and fainting.  It’s really annoying, because it’s something that comes up at times when you wouldn’t expect trouble.

Like in one of my classes.

The main building of my law school is 8 stories tall.  On the upper 3 stories, there are 2 little boxy classrooms per floor.  They have a wall of windows that face into the atrium that goes up the center of the building from the third floor to the ceiling.  For the number of people they seat, they’re very small classrooms.  They seat about 35 people plus the professor, with 2 rows on the left and right of the classroom and two rows across the back of the room.

Unfortunately, they have a terrible tendancy of getting hot.  The higher in the building you go, the hotter these little rooms seem to get.  It’s a combination of poor air circulation, density of people, and heat rising through the atrium and passing through the wall of windows at the back of the room.

I missed the first two weeks of class.  The first week, it was incredibly hot and my boyfriend was out of town at a funeral, and Hudson had an accident on the sidewalk, prompting me to decide he shouldn’t be out in public for a couple days until things cleared up.  I honestly can’t tell you why I missed the second week.  I just don’t remember.

The third week, I went to class and was ROASTED.  It was hot enough that I felt ill and dizzy, despite drinking about a litre of liquids during the class, between my gatorade and my water.  The only reason I made it through was because I was wearing summery clothes – relatively skimpy.  Incidentally, that week, the professor stopped me and recommended that I switch from taking his class officially to taking the class as a guided research class.  He’s one of the professors who is very strict about attendence rules, and unfortunately law school attendence requirements have been held to be reasonable under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so there’s nothing I can do about it.  By taking it as guided research, I’d be able to miss more classes without failing.

I fired off an email to the disability coordinator explaining the problem with the temperature in the classroom and pointing out that it’s only likely to get worse as we swing into fall and they start turning on the heat in the building (not to mention the fact that I’ll need to dress in warmer clothing).  I got an email back from him stating that as I was taking it as guided research, I should have enough flexibility to deal with the problem.

That meant another week in the same classroom, which meant choosing a spaghetti strap, low cut dress even though the weather outside was a bit too cool for that.  I was still too warm, and that time actually felt like I might fall over when it was time to get up and go.  I had to sit for a while after people were leaving.  Fortunately, the doors being opened lets out most of the excess heat, so I was okay pretty soon after.

Of course I emailed him back and explained that because of the unpredictable nature of POTS, I’d have to not go to any classes in order to avoid the risk of a collapse or faint.  Perhaps the most frustrating part of the whole thing is that the first thing I lose is my ability to tell how my body is doing and what I need to do to prevent problems.  I was a bit annoyed that my original email explaining why I couldn’t be in that classroom wasn’t good enough for him.  It felt a little bit like they were trying to shunt me off to the side and make ‘accomodations’ that were the least inconvenient for them – put her in a guided research instead of a class, and then it’s all on her if she can’t get there!

In the end, they moved the classroom.  It’s not a huge improvement – we’re still in one of the same boxy little classrooms, just moved from the 8th (top) floor to the 6th floor.  The temperature is somewhat lower, though I do not know if it will be enough once the building switches from air conditioning to heating.

I hate things like this, where it feels like I’m treated as an inconvenience.  It’s not like I get some kind of power trip asking for accomodations.  I don’t push people around because it’s fun.  When I ask for something, it’s because I NEED it, and my health, safety, and ability to continue going to school are jeopardized.

Look, I’m sorry I’m so inconvenient.  But if you had to deal with the sheer number of inconveniences I deal with every day because of my disabilities, you’d realize that I’m really asking for very little.

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