When a Store Clerk Told Me to ‘Get Out’ Because I Had a Service Dog

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When people meet me, they don’t usually realize I have Asperger’s syndrome and a brain tumor. After years of utilizing coping skills, I finally got the tool I needed to function optimally: a service dog. 

My husband and I knew it might bring some challenges since people would want to ask questions, so I carefully practiced answers and educated the staff at stores and restaurants where I often went before I took my dog with me. My first solo trip with my service dog seemed simple. Drive two miles from my home and walk into a convenience store where I was known to the staff, pick up a Diet Coke and a candy bar and drive home. Taking my service dog with me shouldn’t have been a problem since I had already educated the manager and staff about bringing my dog.

It was a sunny fall day, and I pulled the door open and my service dog, Bella, walked calmly at my side as we entered. Unexpectedly, a shrill scream pierced the air. “Are you blind? Get that dog out of here!” Shocked, shamed and confused, I glanced at a new clerk who stood at the nearest counter. She pointed at the door. “Get out! Are you dumb? And deaf?” I could not believe the insults; they burned into my heart.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a second clerk I knew wave at me as Bella and I hurriedly left and other customers watched this rude display. I had no words as tears flowed down my face and I drove home. I sat wordless as Bella pressed against me, silently comforting me. I was in turmoil and couldn’t sort or express my emotions.

My husband came home 20 minutes later, and the phone was ringing off the hook. He had stopped at the same convenience store and heard a very interesting story. The second clerk came forward and educated the new clerk about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She indicated that service dogs had public access and, if necessary, there were two questions to ask: Is the dog necessary for a disability and what work or tasks does the dog do? IDs and vests were not necessary. 

My husband suggested I answer the phone. The clerk who had been so rude made the effort to call and apologize to me. I listened and accepted her apologies, but it didn’t erase the deep hurt and shame I felt when I left the store.

The clerk also attempted to ask many questions about my disability and medical condition. It was difficult for me to deal with this conversation, but I took it as an opportunity to discuss the ADA and service dogs, so other service dog teams who entered the store would have an easier time. 

We ended our conversation on a good note. Despite the apology, it took hours of work to process my emotions due to my disability and days passed before I went back into the local convenience store. When I did, I noticed a sign that stated, “No pets, service dogs welcome.” I felt I had been a small part of that change in our community. If you have a service dog, you may face questions and access challenges no matter how prepared you are. But be strong. You never know how you might help change a piece of the world.

Lesley Nord the mighty.1-001

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To the Anxiety That Makes Life Extremely Hard for My Daughter With Autism

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To my daughter’s Anxiety,

It’s been a while since you and I fell out. Today you made me angry even though I wasn’t your target. You see my daughter is 6 and has autism. It makes her day to day life extremely hard at times as she attempts to navigate the world and find her place. It’s not helpful when you come along and add to the mounting stress she already feels. I know you often tag along with your friend, autism; you seem to be closely connected.

We had a lovely playdate arranged with some close friends in a park we often visit. The school holidays throw her out of her comfort zone but she copes really well with planning. It should have been a lovely day. Plan we did, prompt we did. We talked it through loads and off we went. But some days there just isn’t enough planning in the world and you seem to grab her regardless. My beautiful girl was crying, screaming and kicking the seat in the car. She hit her little brother and she threw whatever she could get a hold of. She refused to get out of the car so we sat there, her crying and her brother unsure. You had her, and you were winning.

I wanted to yell and scream at you, Anxiety. I wanted to rip you out of my daughter and stamp on you a million times for what you do to her. I wanted to swear at you and boy, did I have some select words for you. I wanted to cry, truth be told, because I’m exhausted, overwhelmed and often feel out of my depth trying to do what’s best for her. Trying, as a parent, to make her world as easy and understandable as I can, while also trying to keep her safe. I have to think with and about her 24/7, and when you decide to stop by it’s a hundred times worse. She’s likely to run at any given moment, and it’s scary.

Instead, I wish to thank you, Anxiety. You see, every time something like this happens, it makes me a stronger parent, ready to face you the next time you decide to gatecrash our lives. You know what else? With my help (and maybe a little stubborn attitude) she got out of the car. She had a few moments on the floor waving and kicking her arms in the air and I let her. Why? Because she was releasing you. It seemed like she was angry at the feelings she was having. I know deep down she wanted to see her friends, to go on the swings, to eat the picnic we took with us. After she started to calm, I bent down and gave her a choice – go to the playdate or get back in the car and go home. I was calm and fair, she knew either would be OK with me. And do you know what? She chose the playdate. After a few more minutes of calming down she had a great time. It was a lovely day after all.

Thank you for attempting to take my daughter down today. You’ve shown me she’s not going to let you win, even at the age of 6. She made a choice to put you aside and remind you that you don’t get to rule her life. I would say better luck next time, but I don’t want to suggest I’m offering you a seat our next day out. I will just bid you farewell for today. We’ll see you when we see you. We’ll be ready for you every time.

Yours Sincerely,

Blooming Autism

Follow this journey on Blooming Autism.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could write a letter to the disability or disease you (or a loved one) face, what would you say to it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Parents Claim Dance Studio Turned Away Their 8-Year-Old With Down Syndrome

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Anna Winnicki loves to dance. The 8-year-old with Down syndrome has been dancing since she was 2 and has danced with studios for years.

So when Anna’s parents, Tricia and Jason Winnicki, tried to enroll her in a dance studio near their home in Buffalo, New York, they were shocked that the studio turned them away, WIVB News reported. Tricia Winnicki said the studio owner told her the school was unequipped to manage her daughter’s needs.

The Mighty reached out to the dance studio in question for a comment, but has not yet heard back.

“She’s a kid. Every kid should get the same chance to try things and to be a part of things,” Jason Winnicki told WIVB News in the video below. “It shouldn’t matter about a disability. It should be about [letting people] try.”

Anna’s story has prompted a large response from the community. Since the story was posted to the WIVB Buffalo Facebook page on August 13, it’s been shared more than 1,200 times and received hundreds of comments. Many people voiced their support for Anna and suggested other more inclusive dance studios in the Buffalo area.

“Keep on dancing, Anna, you are perfect just the way you are!” one commenter wrote.

The Winnickis say Anna will continue to dance at Center Stage Dance Studio where she was previously enrolled.

Hear more about Winnickis’ story in the video below.

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Can Music Help Prevent Seizures?

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A recently presented study suggests the brains of people with epilepsy experience music differently than those without the disorder.

“We believe that music could potentially be used as an intervention to help people with epilepsy,” said Christine Charyton, PhD, adjunct professor and visiting professor of neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, when presenting her team’s research at the American Psychological Association’s 123rd Annual Convention in Toronto.

Charyton and her colleagues studied the effects of music on the brains of people with and without epilepsy, in the epilepsy monitoring unit at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center from September 2012 through May 2014. They recorded brainwave patterns while patients rotated between listening to 10 minutes of silence and then songs like Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos” or John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.”

Charyton said brainwave activity in people with epilepsy “tended to synchronize more with the music, especially in the temporal lobe, than in people without epilepsy.” Temporal lobe epilepsy accounts for 60 percent of all patients with epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. The temporal lobe, where seizures often begin, is also where you’ll find the auditory cortex, which helps the brain process music. The synchronization that Charyton witnessed may suggest that when people with epilepsy listen to relaxing music, it can help prevent seizures. However, the research presented doesn’t suggest music should replace current epilepsy treatments or therapies, but can instead be “used in conjunction” with current seizure prevention methods.

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What I’d Like People to See When They Realize I’m Blind

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From a young age, my parents taught me that my blindness wasn’t something I needed to hide. Even if accommodating me meant taking more time, doing things differently or making a bit of a fuss, I could and would experience the same things they did. Still, it wasn’t always easy to put into practice.

When I was little, I didn’t often carry my cane, and no one looked twice at the pink sunglasses I wore around the clock. Whether I was running wild at the park, making a mess in the toy store or pestering my older sister, I was often able to pass as just another wound-up kid. But in other ways, my family began to stand out with my constant questions and curiosity and their steadfast refusal to curb the inquisitive, impetuous reach of my hands.

Crowds, long lines and the endless waiting that goes hand in hand with being blind in a visual world tended to make me irritable and overwhelmed. Listening to music and audiobooks on my Walkman was the obvious solution, but my favorite escape involved wriggling into the center of a clothes rack with a Braille book. I could read in quiet comfort, startling unwitting shoppers who happened to part the clothes nearest me.

Though these fixes meant a peaceful afternoon at the mall for my family, they came at a price. Carting around bulky Braille tomes and countless cassette tapes while simultaneously guiding me, often singlehandedly, through the mall’s inherent chaos, wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. And, in the background, dubious fellow shoppers stared, mystified by the little girl who seemed apathetic about where she walked and impervious to the brightly-colored displays begging her attention.

As I grew older, my blindness became more readily apparent to onlookers. I used my cane, and later a guide dog, when I wasn’t walking with a sighted guide. Braille was never far from my fingertips, and since I avoided wearing sunglasses, the involuntary, erratic movements of my eyes were easily visible. But adolescence made me self-conscious, leery of asking questions and touching my way through experiences the way I had as a child. I was uncomfortable being seen in a world which I myself could not see.

Passers-by, behaving as if I couldn’t hear, often asked my parents and friends about my blindness, promised to pray for a “miracle,” cut the prices of the things we were buying and patted me condescendingly on the head. Even without my cane or my Braille, even when I was simply standing still, people always seemed to know. I wondered what I was or wasn’t doing which set me apart so drastically. Perhaps worse were the people who commented that I didn’t even look blind, that you could “hardly tell,” that I was “absolutely beautiful.” It was impossible for me not to believe that they were voicing the polar opposite of what they felt — of what they were truly seeing — just to make me feel better.

 * * *

Typically, ignorance, not rudeness, breeds staring. Now that I’m an adult, I appreciate people with the courage to approach me and ask questions. Our interaction, most likely, began with staring, whether or not I was aware of it.

Staring is a conversation which has not yet found its voice, and, luckily, voice is something I have in spades and am more than happy to share.

* * *

Caitlin Hernandez uses her cane while on Rollerblades.
Caitlin Hernandez uses her cane while on Rollerblades.

Once, as a friend and I walked together, my hand in his, our laughter over some silly story making both our gaits uneven, a man shouted across the San Francisco street, “You two are so cute!”

Once, a friend and I, flushed after a long walk in the summer heat and giddy after a successful choir performance, were scarfing down ice cream and laughing together when an older man came up to our table. He told us we’d made his day, that our happiness was contagious, that he loved how much fun we were having.

Once, seeing a friend holding my hand as we struggled along the sidewalk, weighed down by grocery bags, a man eagerly asked if we were married.

Once, as I sat alone on a bench — cane folded, sunglasses on, Braille notetaker tucked away, doing absolutely nothing — a woman told me she loved my smile.

Sometimes, when people stare at me, they only see blindness. Sometimes they see other parts of me, too: joy, insecurity, excitement, uncertainty. Sometimes they see the whole picture: a person who happens to be blind. But what they see isn’t nearly as important as what they take away. Most days, I’m simply grateful to them for noticing, for seeing beyond their own world in the first place.

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This Romantic Comedy’s Main Characters Both Have Autism

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A short romantic comedy is playfully addressing the intersection between being on the autism spectrum and the dating world.

Written and directed by Rachel Israel, “Keep the Change” is a 15-minute romantic comedy that tells the story of David (Brandon Polansky), a 30-year-old who works hard to hide his high-functioning autism from the world. At the beginning of the film, David begrudgingly agrees to attend a support group for adults with autism. There, he meets Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), a woman who has autism and a language processing disability. David and Sarah are asked to find a birthday present for another member of their group. Throughout their day together, David questions Sarah’s need for structure and routine, and Sarah questions David’s need to conceal who he is from the world. By the end of the day, the two fall in love.

Israel, who wrote and directed the film as part of her Master’s thesis at Columbia University, wrote the script for first-time actors who all have autism. She told KQED Public Radio’s Film School blog that she wanted to create a well-rounded portrayal of people who have the disorder.

“It was important to me that our film not sanitize these characters just because they have disabilities,” Israel told KQED. “I find such portrayals offensive to people with disabilities. They are not saints just because of a disability. They are flawed and human.”

As of July 2015, the short film is in production to become a full-length feature film. The new version of the story will go further in depth with characters who were introduced in the short film but not fully developed, according to the film’s website.

Watch the entire 15-minute short film below. (Note — includes semi-inappropriate language that may not be suitable for some audiences).

Related: 7 Films That Tried to Accurately Depict a Character With Autism

h/t Autism Daily News

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