How My Service Dog Changes the Way People See Me

Last week, I had my first appointment with an occupational therapist. She thinks she will be able to help me build up to returning to work and school, but it will be a very slow process to learn my limits and stay inside them. I will be using a wheelchair almost all the time, and I have been preparing myself for the transition. I am in the process of getting a chair fitted to me, but until then, I have an old Goodwill one that works if I have someone with me to push.

My roommate came with me to the appointment, and we decided to stop by our local Scheel’s to look at sandals and swimsuits after. Scheel’s is dog friendly, so we brought my service dog prospect, Quimby, for some training and socialization opportunities. I knew that walking the store would leave me sick the next day, so I used the chair. I had a really great experience, and I didn’t expect it.

I’ve used the chair before, but always without my pup. Many people would glance my way and quickly avert their eyes, completely avoid me, profusely apologize for not seeing me, or even speak to me as if I couldn’t understand. It doesn’t upset me, but it also doesn’t feel very good. I don’t like to be seen as an embarrassment or burden to anyone. I know their intentions are not to make me embarrassed, but many really don’t know how to act or approach someone in a wheelchair.

I found it strange that with my pup in my lap in a big department store, I was approached easily. I had several lengthy conversations with staff and shoppers, and not one person seemed to think I was anything other than a person with a puppy. No one looked at the chair funny or gave me pitying looks, and everyone was so happy to see me and my pup. I got to explain to several people how owner training a service dog works, and I got to meet many people I never would’ve had the chance to talk to before.

After shopping, I had a nice night with a couple of my closest friends, and as we were discussing the trip, we realized my experience could help everyone understand how to talk to people in wheelchairs or people who are disabled in other ways.

If treating us like you treat anyone else is too hard or makes you nervous, treat us as you would if we were holding a puppy.

My little service pup prospect, Quimby.

We like to talk to people and have conversations just like everyone else.

Sometimes when I go to a store, it’s the only time I’ve been out of the house for a few days, and I enjoy the chance to socialize a little bit. I like to answer questions, and I’m pretty open about why I need a service dog, why I use a chair sometimes, or why I need to take breaks. I would much rather someone politely ask me what they are thinking than avert their eyes or give me sad looks.

I’d like people to smile at me like I have a cute puppy on my lap and not like I’m a charity case. I would carry a puppy on my lap all the time if I could, but unfortunately, she will grow bigger than lap size eventually.

I’m sure others who use a wheelchair have had similar experiences, and I think it’s time things were different for us. I found that using this analogy really helped me explain to everyone how I’d like to be treated, and I think part of the reason we get treated so differently is because we don’t talk about it. I hope this article will help you have a quick and easy way to explain to others how to treat someone in a wheelchair, and if you can relate, I’d love to hear about it.

Image Credits: Blythe Bouchard

This story originally appeared on Blythe With Stripes.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Charlie sitting on her rollator, with her eyes closed. She is in front of a wall with blue, black and purple street art on it. The entire image is mirrored down the middle.

Navigating the Space Between Visible and Invisible Disability

I recently started using a rollator (outdoor walker). Before getting this mobility aid I had completely stopped leaving the house by myself, only leaving the house with the assistance of my partner or my parents less than once a week. Since getting my walker, I have been going out at least once a week by [...]
A woman holding a new born baby that is looking up at her.

To a New Mum With EDS, From Your Fellow Spoonie

First of all, congratulations. I bet that little bundle of joy is absolutely gorgeous! I was lucky enough to welcome my own daughter into the world in January of this year, so I know how tough pregnancy and delivery with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) can be. My own labor was quite short, but very eventful, as [...]
A pictures of the writer pulling on her face's skin, showing how far it stretches.

5 Things I Want You to Know About Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

I had a counseling appointment this week, and I was able to bring my service dog in training with me for practice. I was having a rough day, so I was extra tired and sore. Whenever I bring her in, the staff wants to see her and pet her, which is great for socialization. However, [...]
A young mother and her 5-year-old son walking in a park while holding hands.

7 Challenges That Only Moms With Chronic Illness Will Understand

So many times I am talking to my mom friends (most of which don’t have chronic illness) and there seems to be a common theme that we all have days where we feel like a shit mom. We probably all have had days where we thought this multiple times in the day. But then I [...]