The COVID-19 puts obstacles for recipients of assistance dogs

La COVID-19 met des obstacles pour les bénéficiaires de chiens d’assistance

La COVID-19 met des obstacles pour les bénéficiaires de chiens d’assistance

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June 20, 2020 16h43

Updated at 18h52

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The COVID-19 puts obstacles for recipients of assistance dogs

Virginia Abat-Roy

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… ”


Anne-Marie Bourcier

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.

La COVID-19 met des obstacles pour les bénéficiaires de chiens d’assistance

Awareness campaign of the INCA on the social distancing for the recipients of guide dogs. Image Description : A recipient and her guide dog are to the left of the image and an arrow pointing to 2 metres – 6 feet separates them from a person doing his grocery store. It is written : guide dogs do not understand social distancing. Thank you for helping us to keep a safe distance.

Canadian national institute for the blind (CNIB)

Physical barriers add to the psychological obstacles. “At the hospital, I need my dog and my spouse during my MRI. I had to negotiate for entry… ” confides Genevieve, a beneficiary of dog traction. The mask the out of breath and it must constantly adjust its tone of voice to give instructions to his dog. “I feel bad taking him away. With estrangement, fear of people and sometimes the small alleys, it makes me scared to start dating…”.

Thus, the risk of social isolation is amplified for beneficiaries who need to stay home and make a cross on their routine.

The reverse of the medal

Despite the difficulties, this doesn’t have to be negative experiences that are identified. Many beneficiaries think it is great that with the guidance of social distancing, no one is trying to flatter their dog, this typically happens several times per outing. This distraction is to risk committing an error to the animal and may put the safety of the recipient in danger.

Elsewhere, all testify to their gratitude to have a companion during this crisis. In spite of the isolation, the beneficiaries can count on the reassuring presence of their pet. Marie-Eve Leduc is the mother of a child being diagnosed with a disorder in the autism spectrum (ASD) who have a service dog. She is relieved to have had Amhara for his boy.

“During the confinement, Amhara has proven its value. Since Arthur is not returned to school, he spends a lot more time with it ! He spends long moments stuck to it, talk to her, flatters her… The change in habits went very well, thanks to our dog ! ”


Marie-Eve Leduc

After several months of confinement, the host of the traders has resulted in the smooth running of their first exit.

La COVID-19 met des obstacles pour les bénéficiaires de chiens d’assistance

Arthur and Amhara, service dog for child ASD. Description of photo : Arthur holds him by the neck Amhara, a black labrador.

Provided by Marie-Eve Leduc

Solutions exist

While the process of déconfinement begins in Canada, many beneficiaries fear being forgotten since the measures rarely take into account Canadians living with a disability. A few solutions are suggested to them, including priority entrance at all times, of the hours reserved service and shopping assistance.

Masks with transparent screen or visors to enable individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to lip-read would be necessary in essential services, particularly in the home. Finally, the estrangement may be permanent around of the beneficiaries of working dogs.

Among this wave of change, it is up to us to seize the opportunity to make our society a more accessible place.

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This text first appeared on the site of the franco-canadian of The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.

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