When I see the email pop up on my notifications, my heart starts racing. I tap on the icon, and take a deep breath as it loads. I skim down to the part I’m looking for. And my heart, still beating fast, sinks into my stomach.
Let’s rewind. The month before, I went through several interviews with this company for a summer internship position. Earlier in the month, I received an offer. Wait, what? Based on the title, you thought this was going to be a pity party about how people with disabilities can’t get jobs, right? Well, it’s not. Stop thinking people with disabilities want your pity.
So what was I so upset about? I had an offer, right?
The company had denied my request for accommodations.
I use a service animal to help mitigate my physical and mental disabilities, allowing me to participate more in life than I would be able to without one. My dog is trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate these disabilities. By law, the animal is classified as medical equipment.
This company refused to allow me to have my service animal with me at work. They refused to allow me to have my medical equipment. Yes, they offered other solutions. Solutions that would not only hurt my health in the long run but significantly decrease my productivity as an intern. I had no option but to refuse the job. I could not jeopardize my health for a job.
Their number one reason for refusing this accommodation? It would be distracting to other employees. They told me that my health was less important to them than other employees’ inability to concentrate around a service dog. Not a yappy, peeing, shedding pet. A task-trained service dog. I was furious. But, because they are a private company, there was little I could do except for bring a lawsuit against them.
There are two points you need to take away from this. First, ignore service animals. They’re ignoring you, just leave them and their handlers alone. Secondly, and more importantly in light of HR620, people with disabilities are people. We are people who often have to work much harder than everyone else just to act normal. We are people who (if we are lucky enough that our disability is invisible) are scared to disclose so much of who we are because of the judgement and discrimination. We are people who still have to enter the building from the back, sit in the back of the theater, or take separate public transportation when we use our mobility devices because that is the only accessible option. We are the silent, the forgotten, and the turned-away. We are people, and we deserve our rights.