Rant Day!!! I give up…time for a bigger hammer?

It’s not titled “Adventures in a PTSD World” for nothing and I did say that this blog shared the dual purpose of mentoring and as a place for me to vent every once in a while.

Well, its a while! And I’m not even sure where this will go but lets just jump right in, shall we?

I don’t look, act or speak as if I have a disability…or maybe thats the other persons perception of what a disability is and at what level it impacts them? Suffice to say its a mental health disability that limits me, more than the physical one that I don’t count. Thus the requirement for a Service Dog but this is not a rant about service dogs, this is about something way more important, this is about the attitude of non-disabled people towards accessibility in general. It’s reached a level of revulsion in me that no longer do I wish to “educate” people about the importance of accessibility but wish to crack them over the head with “The Code” and not just for people with disabilities. Now I believe that there are more than a few that resent the AODA, don’t understand where it comes from, are angry that they have to spend money and from personal experience, break the AODA on purpose because it has no teeth and twist other regulations to do the absolute minimum.

Let’s start at the beginning…this morning I had a counsellor appointment and all was good, confusing a little but that was normal as I still don’t get how some things are connected. I guess the important part was that I was open, vulnerable but not scared. So I left there, went to the bank and then Tim’s before driving home, everything is still okay, just me and Tonka driving home listening to the radio. And I get thinking about something else and how its going to inconvenience me with something important, with a deadline thats running out…and it starts!

By the time I get back to town I’m trying to stay calm and just deal with the flow, then I see it. The open door of the store cutting the sidewalk width in half, held open with a block and a display sign hiding behind it. That and I’d just noticed that the sports bar had their board sign blocking the walkway by the tree, again. Then I thought of how the signage for the accessible parking never got done, how the building inspector deemed brail on washroom signage not necessary as blind people couldn’t see where the sign is and the extreme efforts in our town to create public transportation without creating any conventional transportation system, then have the audacity to say “it doesn’t need to be accessible”! Those thoughts are minor compared to where I got after thinking about the accessibility committee being disbanded and the rest of it…arrrghhhh!

But there was that door, opening into the sidewalk. I’d been hit by a different one yesterday that I didn’t know was there. The two girls looked at me as if it was my fault, like I was the one in the way! Thats when the “what if’s” started. Thats when I started calling people and leaving not quite polite messages, impatience took over without immediate response, fear of betrayal became anger and then things spun away, now I rant to resolve.

Of course it started with something small and now, maybe, I’m being overdramatic its only $30, however I have to drive 40 minutes to pay it because it took them 10 days to process my request, then I find out today that its supposed to be free. I’ll go pay it tomorrow and get done what I need…its only $30…who cares about how much it will cost in gas to give someone $30 while smiling because you wanna rip their head off for stealing your money by kidnapping your personal medical records…I’m okay, its fine, little slip, sorry!

Now back to this door. I’ve almost walked into this glass door several times now, I mean who expects a glass door to be opened into the sidewalk? I’m walking along reading the road banner and WHOA!!! Then I get hit by another one yesterday. The week prior I’m speaking with this lady in a wheelchair being pushed by her husband and we start talking about the state of accessibility within the town. She tells me all kinds of different things and I wish I could make everything better for her but I can’t, so I encourage her to write to the town. Then I see the sports bar sign and mention how we keep trying to get the business owners to move their signs. She tells me how she has already hit two with her arms because there wasn’t enough room to push her wheels and how she’s ready to start knocking them all over, she didn’t care, she was tired of the bullshit! I said I’d speak with the town for her, her response was perfect. File a human rights complaint or they won’t listen!

There you have it in a nutshell…perhaps educating some people really does need the “bigger hammer”. I have the experience and knowledge to do it but do I?

Someone once asked me if I want to be known as “that ass who” or “the guy who”? In a small town like the one I live in thats the most important question. Which will I be?

The ass that made all the businesses move their signs, correct the safety of pedestrians by fixing doors and allow people with disabilities to navigate the sidewalks as per the law?

Or, the guy who helped the BIA understand what accessibility is all about and that all people with a disability want is to live their life as you do, anyway you want too.

I’ve tried the first for two years now. I’ve spoken with others who have tried for decades. I spent almost 400 hours building a seminar of the AODA for the town staff. I’ve listened to politicians be indignant when held accountable to the AODA.

And I’ve watched the administration, council and businesses of my town discriminate against people with a disability, any kind of disability, for the last time!

I’ve spoken with them about the importance of the AODA. I’ve been in the same AODA training from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario as they were. I’ve taught them the AODA and OHRC. They have signed off on all this training and filed a compliance report with the Directorate. And yet, they still haven’t learned!

Time for a “bigger hammer”. I’d like to be known as “the ass who”, this time!

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Tonka takes the train…

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It was 5:45am when I thumped the alarm off!

This was it, the day that had consumed most of my week to get ready for! Tonka and I were off to Toronto on the 7:34am VIA Rail train to Toronto Sick Kids to meet my daughter, Chantel and her mom Nancy at The Dalglish Family Hearts and Minds Clinic. I was giving my blood for genetic and research testing in the hope of discovering more about 22Q11.2 Deletion Syndrome that Chantel has and is not known well because it is a relatively new discovery.

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Our destination at Sick Kid’s in Toronto

The Accessibility for Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act (AODA), General Requirements, Section 7: Training say that every person in Ontario who is an employee, employer, volunteer or who helps make policy shall take Ontario Human Rights Code training. During the first training video it explains how aircraft, banks and interprovincial travel are exempt from the AODA as they are considered Federal organizations…I should have remembered that that fact makes riding the Go Train very different from riding VIA Rail!

I’ve been on the Go Train and the Subway with Tonka before so I’m thinking that VIA Rail will be a breeze, buy a ticket, get on the train with Tonka on my lap and off we go…never think like that!

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Boarding in Kingston…

When travelling on the Go Train I just buy a ticket and get on but travelling by VIA Rail required booking a seat. I had just finished paying for my train ticket and was reading the ticket information when I realized that my seat was on the aisle. That wouldn’t be good for Tonka as he’d end up in peoples way and besides I wanted the window too. Calling VIA’s customer service was my next step as I had to change from the aisle, they’d understand because I had a Service Dog or so I thought.

Explaining that I’d accidentally booked an aisle seat and would prefer a window was no problem. Great, I exclaimed, my Service Dog likes to sit on my lap and look out the window. There was a slight pause then she asked “Do you have a Service Dog?”. When I confirmed that I did, she told me I’d need 2 seats reserved! My first thought was that the trip was going to cost me double, my next was “why?” Then I started to get anxious and it started building. The rep quickly explained that Tonka would need his own seat and that there would be no extra cost, he would though have to stay off the seat and remain on the floor. She continued that I’d need a little more room because of him so she reserved 2 seats from a group of 4 plus a small table. Everything was going along great until her next request.

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Tonka’s first train ticket and assigned floor space!

She needed a form signed by my doctor saying I needed a Service Dog and they would keep it on file, make sure that I had my certificate to show at boarding and carry his vaccination records to present if asked and to make sure that I had my certificate ready! This was Monday afternoon and I was leaving Friday at 7:34am, I also had problems with what was being said…I was still operating under the false assumption that the AODA applied. After a few very tense moments talking I realized that I was wrong and this was a very different circumstance as there are no accessibility requirements for Service Dogs at the federal level. There are UN Human Rights requirements that Canada has accepted at the federal level however, so there is a requirement for accommodation just no official federal policy.

Monday night the anxiousness had built to a mild peak of “freak-out” when I decided to tell VIA what I thought of their Service Dog policy. Stating how I thought it was unfair because there was no way I could get my doctor to sign that note in 3 days, that there are no government approved (federal or provincial) training centres for Service Dogs and that the certificates/capes they asked for could be bought online in a kit for $250 to create false Service Dogs and finally, I didn’t need vaccination records to cross the US border and am only required to carry my “letter of documentation” stating I required a Service Dog for a medical reason and the only way to get that letter is to be diagnosed with a disability, thus the letter or as I call it “my prescription”! The rant continued…as they embarrassingly do!

The next day I got a call from Ms Norie-Lyn Grier at VIA Rail Customer Service in answer to my email. Now maybe nobody else would have a problem but my mental health disability was working full force and I was almost paralyzed with the fear of not getting to Sick Kid’s. After apologizing for being a dink in my email I explained how my disability was effecting me. Everything that VIA and I seemed to do created more tension on my side but Ms Grier, kept me calm and worked through every concern that I had…in short she was great. I learned from her and I think that she learned a little from me. Nothing was done in an order that made sense but that was mostly my problem…as a Service Dog owner I must assume a certain amount of responsibility to call/check accessibility requirements and availability as well as liability. I didn’t do that and now was running scared that I wouldn’t have time to do everything I needed to do. Again VIA was great and already had a system in place. Even though their system seemed a tad over the line in avoiding liability.

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Our Conductor for both our VIA rides that day…lucky us, she was great.

These are some ways to help make Service Dog accessibility work for you on VIA Rail.

  • The first time you call to book a seat you should call at least a week ahead as there is a little paperwork and special seating to arrange for future travelling…after that you’re in their system and the need for accommodation is automatically flagged for the ticket agent when making your reservation.
  • If you are like me and have a mental health or development disability call VIA by phone and ask for help…I found booking on the VIA website confusing. There is a drop-down box from one of the menu items on the home page where you will see a link to “Special Needs” (I know I had a problem too)…it helps but in my case it was better to call and get help.
  • Create a VIA Rail Preference Number…this gives you an account and lists you as needing accommodation for your disability including the accommodation required.  In my case it says that I travel with a Service Dog and need an extra seat, which under the VIA support person/service dog policy is free…with documentation that you sent whilst creating that preference number.
  • Via will email a form that your doctor must sign stating you require accommodation due to a medical disability. This form asks for medical information that I was not comfortable handing out and is needed for medical documentation. I explained that under the AODA I had to carry a “letter of documentation” signed by a medical professional stating that I required a Service Dog due to a disability…this letter was the only thing that made my dog legal as you can’t buy it online! After a brief discussion Ms Grier said that attaching a copy of the “letter” to the form in place of the doctors signature would suffice and offer the evidence they needed.
  • Next was a requirement that I carry a copy of his vaccination records…even though I argued that I don’t need that to cross the US border, I relented. What was the trouble in making a photocopy and having Tonka carry it in his cape pocket…life is mostly a two way street, this was my turn to show that I understood their point.
  • Ms Grier and I discussed the “certificate” problem. I explained that if the person mentioned a “certificate” then I automatically assume that the person has not had accessibility training! Again Ms Grier was great…we had a great talk about the difference between a “letter of documentation” signed by a medical professional who has diagnosed the person’s disability and a “certificate” that anyone can buy online. She then said that the letter would suffice as a certificate as it was signed by a doctor on letterhead with the medical professionals registered license numbers. I think I was arguing semantics but was still convinced that if nothing was said the station attendant would still be looking for a plastic card…seems that everyone believes a plastic card stating Tonka is a Service Dog is needed, its not, the letter is!
  • The dog can not be on the seat, its must be on the floor.
  • The train can’t stop for a “pee break” and you can’t get off and get on the next one as may be possible with a GO Train…this requires advanced planning depending on the length of the trip and the dogs washroom routines, which are normally trained into the dog. For instance, when sailing I control Tonka’s food/water intake the night before, on land its a little easier but he still has a routine for evacuation and I can control that routine after training a “poo-on-command”. Within a few minutes we’re done.
  • Remember that as the owner/handler “you” have a certain amount of responsibility to keep the dog under control.
  • It must be leashed and identified as a Service Dog with a cape.

So a quick recap; call a week ahead, setup a preference number for ease of future travel (creates an accommodation flag on your account), fill out medical form (without intimate detail) and attach the “Letter of Documentation” then fax both, carry a copy of the letter and vaccination records when travelling, keep off seat, must be under control (leash, obedient, housebroken), wearing a cape that designates a Service Dog, assume full responsibility for your animal.

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Our Conductor was kind enough to take our picture…then it was back to the floor, unless I needed him, which I did a couple of times.

I would like to ask of VIA that they consider the following;

  1. please ensure that station attendants understand that in Ontario at least, certificates are only legal for Guide Dogs and can/are faked for Service Dogs, that only the “Letter of Documentation” makes the Service Dog legal and must be presented when asked for
  2. that a Service Dog and a Therapy Dog are not the same and should not be treated as such. Service animals must perform 3 “specific tasks” to aid the handler so are considered working dogs. Therapy Dogs aid others to feel comfortable or better they do not perform “specific tasks” for the handler and as such are not working dogs. They do to qualify for “entry exemptions” of any kind. They do not get a letter documenting the owners disability and entitlement to keep their dog with them at all times.
  3. that vaccinations might not be required as under the AODA Service Dogs are required to be healthy and vaccinated at all times, its part of the handlers responsibility as owner
  4. lastly…remind employee’s not to take abuse from customers about a certificate, explain that proof of a Service Dog requirement is part of VIA Service Dog policy, only medical documentation without detail is acceptable. The letter is more an affirmation that I have a diagnosed disability and require the presence of a Service Dog, it must be signed by one of the AODA approved medical professionals. The certificate only affirms that the dog is trained in some discipline, not that I require it and it is issued by the dogs training centre.

Tonka and I did get on the VIA Train on time. The trip was pleasant and the assistance from VIA employees, from Ms Grier to the conductor, was what I would consider fantastic. Tonka had his own ticket for his seat beside mine and I felt like I was being treated like a regular person. When I got home after travelling back to Kingston on VIA I realized something. I was treated like a regular person…VIA Rail treats everyone with the same respect, kindness, thoughtfulness and individual understanding. They are fantastic with everyone!

Thank you Via Rail and everyone who helped me that week…you went beyond for me and made me feel included, respected, independently able to travel and equal in opportunity. And thats all Human Rights ask’s…to be included in the whole“Tonka’s Tips”.

Hope this helps make your trip with VIA Rail as enjoyable (after my self-created angst alleviated) as mine was …change your habits, take the train!

Service Dog Mentor…a niche filled.

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I wrote this about a week ago and forgot to publish it…sorry.

So, here I sit on the sofa by the window watching a blizzard outside, drinking tea. It’s colder than cold because of the 20-30mph winds and if I don’t write this I’m likely to go outside and attempt the futile task of shovelling the driveway!

Yesterday I had my counselling session and I brought up the subject of mentoring people to train their own ptsd service dog because the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Code allow it as some people can’t get help but would be discriminated against if only certain people could train and/or supply Service Dogs! After 35 minutes I realized I hadn’t shut-up about it and thats when I stopped over thinking…I’m going to do this…I’m going to be a PTSD Service Dog Mentor.I remember what it was like before Tonka was allowed to be my Service Dog…it sucked! It’s not perfect now but its real and I’m a part of it because of Tonka.

Not many people can afford $15-30,000 for a trained service dog and not many can wait 18-24 months to get one, have time or the emotional stability to fundraise or take the necessary handler training while still not being guaranteed the dog they trained with. Sure there are all kinds of groups that can help with funding and many “accredited” training schools to work with but there is still a group in society that can’t access these dogs due to different life circumstances or geographical location.

That is a niche that can to be filled by a Service Dog Mentor and I believe that I have a unique set of life skills that qualify me to be one!

  • I am bi-polar, agoraphobic, ptsd from childhood trauma, disabling anxiety and hyper-awareness.
  • helping my parents with their kennels and show dogs I couldn’t help but learn about dog behaviour and training, however I still get help training my own dogs because I can’t see what I’m doing!
  • learned “clicker training” with my current dog, Tonka.
  • been through the struggle and trained Tonka.
  • challenged many times and have experience dealing with it.
  • been refused entry to places and gained experience in discrimination as it applies to people with a disability under the Ontario Human Rights Code
  • experience with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and mediation.
  • previously sat on the Accessibility Advisory Committee for Gananoque
  • developed a knowledge of the AODA while creating a 6 hour seminar on the AODA and Integrated Standards for the Town of Gananoque.
  • I have good communication skills and have coaching skills from 14 years competitive soccer, mentoring and coaching people in business and life experience, presenting and creating seminars from Storytelling to the AODA

There are currently NO government “accredited” training agencies, schools, kennels or groups for Service Dogs in Ontario…none. The groups and kennels that do offer “trained dogs” are mostly legitimized because they are members of one or more national animal/dog training associations and have qualified trainers under those accreditations, who also have accessibility training…but nothing is governmentally approved, thats why the world of Service Dog’s is called a “Wild West” environment. Anyone can say that they can “certify” a dog! However, its not the training or the certification that makes a service dog a working Service Dog…its a letter proving that you require a service dog due to a disability, thats the only thing that matters!

The AODA legislation also has a provision that a person with a disability may train their own dog if they are able. The requirements are based on dog training institutions recommendations and there is a recommended method for public access testing but its not law.

  • that the dog be leashed
  • socialized to many environments and other dogs
  • well behaved in public
  • under control at all times
  • that the dog  must perform 3 specific tasks to aid the person with a disability (task performance differentiates between Service and Therapy animals)
  • while there is no government testing for Service Dogs, some industries like air transportation require that animals have a certification of training…for what, I’m not sure, ask if flying, I’ve not done that.

Note…be aware that, unfortunately, this “provider” also allows unscrupulous people from abusing the “self-training” clause by selling service dog capes and certifications so anyone can take their dog anywhere with them. Only thats not quite true…you are required to have a medically diagnosed disability that requires you to have a Service Dog AND you have to be able to produce a letter to that effect when asked (challenged). That you can’t buy!

The good news is that, that “provider” also allows me to mentor/train you to train your own dog legally. The huge benefit is that you start getting the benefits of a Service Dog immediately, even during the training period, which is huge. It could be a dog you own now or one that you need help finding. The whole process seemed daunting at first but in hindsight I can honestly say that, even with all the frustrating parts, the training was fun for me and Tonka, plus I learned so much about myself that I gained some new found confidence in my own abilities.

I am hoping to work with different mental health units on a referral basis so that I know that a disability is involved, immediate help would benefit an individual and its in an area that has little to no support for Service Animals.

The definition of a Service Dog and its use are defined under the Accessibility for Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act (AODA) and can be found under the Customer Service Standard of the IASR, Section’s 80.45 and 80.47.

PART IV.2
CUSTOMER SERVICE STANDARDS

Scope and interpretation
80.45 (1) The standards set out in this Part apply to obligated organizations that are providers of goods, services or facilities. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

(2) In this Part, a reference to a provider is a reference to an obligated organization as a provider of goods, services or facilities, unless the context requires otherwise. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

(3) In this Part,

“guide dog” means a guide dog as defined in section 1 of the Blind Persons’ Rights Act; (“chien-guide”)

“service animal” means an animal described in subsection (4); (“animal d’assistance”)

“support person” means, in relation to a person with a disability, another person who accompanies him or her in order to help with communication, mobility, personal care or medical needs or with access to goods, services or facilities. (“personne de soutien”). O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

(4) For the purposes of this Part, an animal is a service animal for a person with a disability if,

(a) the animal can be readily identified as one that is being used by the person for reasons relating to the person’s disability, as a result of visual indicators such as the vest or harness worn by the animal; or

(b) the person provides documentation from one of the following regulated health professionals confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to the disability:

(i) A member of the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario.

(ii) A member of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario.

(iii) A member of the College of Nurses of Ontario.

(iv) A member of the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario.

(v) A member of the College of Optometrists of Ontario.

(vi) A member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

(vii) A member of the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario.

(viii) A member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

(ix) A member of the College of Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Mental Health Therapists of Ontario. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

Use of service animals and support persons

80.47 (1) This section applies if goods, services or facilities are provided to members of the public or other third parties at premises owned or operated by the provider and if the public or third parties have access to the premises. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

(2) If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her, unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

(3) If a service animal is excluded by law from the premises, the provider shall ensure that other measures are available to enable a person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the provider’s goods, services or facilities. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

Subsections (4) thru (7) relate to Support Persons only so I’ve removed them. The subsections below (8) thru (10) dictate policy requirements of organizations not people in general. They are required to have a Service Dog policy and are to make sure that everyone is trained in not only the policy but also sensitivity and awareness training in how to interact with you and your Service Dog.

 

(8) Every provider, other than a small organization, shall prepare one or more documents describing its policies with respect to the matters governed by this section and, on request, shall give a copy of any such document to any person. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

(9) Every provider, other than a small organization, shall notify persons to whom it provides goods, services or facilities that the documents required by subsection (8) are available on request. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

(10) The notice required by subsection (9) may be given by posting the information at a conspicuous place on premises owned or operated by the provider, by posting it on the provider’s website, if any, or by such other method as is reasonable in the circumstances. O. Reg. 165/16, s. 16.

Thats it folks…all that fear about what a Service Dog is about. This is what the beginning of a new life looks like. Permission to help yourself and I’m here to mentor those who need it.