June 20, 2020 16h43
Updated at 18h52
The COVID-19 puts obstacles for recipients of assistance dogs
Candidate PhD in education, University of Ottawa
Sticking in a group on Facebook aimed at recipients of guide dogs, dogs and mobility assistance dogs, a publication of one of the members jumped out at me : “Have you dared to go out with your dog ? Are you able to leave your home ?”. Since march 2020, several have their eyes glued to the news and follow the instructions of the government. But in all this tumult, one would have forgotten the citizens living with a disability?
I am a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa and a teacher resource for pupils suspended or expelled. I specialize in the areas of inclusion and service dogs. My research project has allowed me to have Toulouse, a service dog from the Mira Foundation trained specifically for my students with special needs. Since march, 2019, it accompanies me everywhere and has made me discover a reality to which I was not expecting.
As a researcher in this field, I am fortunate to have access to a network of recipients of assistance dogs. With this article, I would like to offer them a public voice in order to draw a portrait of their reality since the beginning of the crisis of the Covid-19.
One accessibility failing
The “capacistisme” is the word to describe the strength of discrimination multidimensional exerted towards people living with a disability. The beneficiaries of working dogs are subjected to every day. In fact, our society is designed for people without disabilities and requires, de facto, the people having to fight for their basic rights, such accessibility, and this in spite of the canadian charter of rights and freedoms and the canadian human rights Act to the person who ” guarantee the equality of rights of persons with disabilities and protect them against discrimination “.
In normal context, the working dogs can accompany these individuals and facilitate their daily lives. However, since the beginning of the crisis of the Covid-19, the barriers to accessibility have never been considerable.
The risks of exclusion increase
Anne-Marie Bourcier has a visual disability and is receiving his third guide dog from the Mira Foundation. With her dog Machine, it typically takes the bus and the subway to go shopping or to lunch with a friend. Autonomy is the watchword for the duo. However, since the pandemic, they do come out more in public. She wrote me a long e-mail in order to make me part of his new reality.
“I don’t see how I could be self sufficient with my guide dog in a grocery store : where to start the arrows ? Where are the sinks for washing hands ? Am I flirting with someone ? Are we going the wrong direction in the aisles ? Someone will there to help me once on the spot ? My guide dog is accustomed to enter directly into the trade. If we enter, we are going to tell us to go out and make the queue ? In my opinion it is quite complex… ”
These questions remain unanswered for Anne-Marie and many other beneficiaries. The physical barriers are major, especially for a dog who has not been trained to deal in the context of a public health crisis and prevention measures.
While we might assume that the people give priority to persons living with a disability, rather it is the contrary which occurs. For example, a recipient of guide dog explains that he must often avoid people who do not give in the passage.
Dogs and social distancing
Add to this the situations where the disability is not visible and that the public believes that the dog is in training. Awareness-raising campaigns on the social distancing have also been carried out by the Foundation INCA.