School is supposed to be a place for learning.
A place where kids feel safe.
A place where all possible care is taken to make learning possible.
Yet, at least one school had set up a committee to decide whether or not to allow a disabled child’s guide dog to accompany her to school.
Our society is rightly supportive of disabled people, and doubly so for those who work hard to succeed despite their disability. Since different people have different needs and preferences, we have developed a myriad of tools to aid them.
One such ‘tool’ – perhaps ‘the classical one’ – is the guide dog.
These canines are not just some loving pets. They go through a screening process which permits only the most intelligent, non-aggressive animals to be entered into a rigorous training program. And only the best of the best ever graduate to become certified guide dogs.
And that is not the end. Now that the dog has become a highly trained professional, it is carefully matched with the person whom it is to assist, to ensure compatibility. And there are courses to teach the disabled person and the dog how to communicate with each other, as well as to teach the dog the skills which it will require to aid this specific person.
That is doubly so in the case of a guide dog assigned to a child!
Cargo made it through all that training! Fully trained, graduated and certified as an official guide dog, Cargo was assigned to a young girl named Annika Merner. A ‘feel good’ story, right?
Except that,Colchester North Elementary School in Essex, Ontario, where Annika is a grade 4 student, will not permit Cargo to enter school property!
Well, some kids might be allergic to dogs…
Please, do not misunderstand: I am not making light of allergies, especially serious ones. They could affect a child’s ability to learn – no question about it.
But, surely, in a civilized society, we can figure out a way to accommodate both! The school and the parents of all the affected kids could sit, talk, figure out a workable solution based on the level of allergies of the individual students that were affected and their relative location in the school.
Could they not?
Why wouldn’t they?
But that did not happen. Nothing like that. Just a simple ‘No dogs on school property – no exceptions for guide dogs!’
Only after Annika’s parents pointed out that this is not only unfair to their child, but actually against the law – guide dogs are exempted from ‘no dog’ rules – the Greater Essex County District School Board formed a committee last November to examine the issue…
Now, eleven months later, they have still not come up with any decision – and little Annika is still going to school without her guide dog.
Good news: in two weeks, the committee might come out with a decision which might permit the use of a guide dog on school property.
Ah, the mighty ‘might‘!
How grand of them!
This – in my never-humble-opinion – is indicative of a much greater problem in our society. We have lost the ability, desire – or both – to get along with each other amicably without long and convoluted sets of rules, whose application often blurs the line between accommodating a real, physical disability and frivolous grievances which are a matter of choices and opinions.
It is precisely to deal with situations like Annika’s that the Human Rights Commissions (Tribunals) (HRCs) were formed! Their whole ‘raison d’etre’ was making sure that people were not discriminated against based on things they had no control over, like their race or disabilities.
After all, one cannot simply choose to no longer be disabled. A person cannot become a member of a different race by changing their opinion or belief. These are not a matter of choice!
To discriminate against someone because of something one cannot change, one cannot choose to change, to deny a person the best possible chance to start out from ‘ as level a playing field as physically possible’ – that is wrong! And we, as a society, must not tolerate it. Ever.
Of course, we can never overcome a disability someone else has for them – but we should and MUST do our best to permit disabled people the tools to help them overcome it as much as possible. Even if it means allowing their guide dogs access to places where pet dogs are not permitted. Like, say, school…
That is a reasonable accommodation!
Instead, we – as a society – have lumped ‘accommodation’ based on ‘choices, opinions and/or beliefs’ and given them equal or greater importance than accommodation because of real disabilities.
In 2006, Canadian Supreme Court unanimously decided that even though knives of all kinds are banned on school property, a Sikh boy can carry a 10cm blade because he believes his religion requires it. This, despite the testimony of Sikh religious leaders who stated that carrying a picture of the ceremonial dagger is sufficient to satisfy the religious requirement.
In effect, the Supreme Court of Canada said that religious belief is sufficient grounds for weaponizing our schools!
Please, contrast the two cases: one child, based on ‘belief’, is permitted to bring weapons to school… while a disabled child’s certified guide dog is banned!
We have, with the HRCs acting as enforcers, elevated people’s choices and opinions into a place which is supposed to be reserved to stop discrimination based on things people have no control over!
Certainly, we must tolerate other opinions and personal beliefs – but we should not be obligated to accommodate them to as high a degree as if they were something the person could not exercise a choice over. Like, say, one’s race or physical disability…