Amy 19, is part of FLARE and enjoys spending time with her dogs. Lexi is 2 and is an Autism Assistance Dog trained by a Community Interest Company called Autism Dogs CIC.
“I didn’t realise quite how much everybody was assuming about me because I look like I don’t have a disability and how much they were assuming I could do and then getting cross when I couldn’t do it.”
After almost a year with her assistance dog Lexi, FLARE member Amy spoke with the Participation team about the unexpected changes she saw in the attitudes of others towards her.
It was just before lockdown when Amy got her assistance dog Lexi and it wasn’t long before Amy noticed differences in how she was being treated by the general public. One of the first experiences Amy had with Lexi was on the tram. “It was a fairly bright day; most people wouldn’t have been wearing sunglasses but I needed to.” On boarding the tram, a lady noticed that Amy had got on and due to the combination of Amy’s sunglasses and Lexi, this lady assumed that Amy was blind.
“So, she stood up to give me her seat which is nice but then she just manhandled me into the seat because she had assumed not only that I was blind but also that I needed her help. I was thinking, even if I was blind I don’t need your help because that’s what the dog’s for. Don’t just assume that people need your help.”
Amy says that:
“It is a common issue, they [people] struggle because the most common type of assistance dogs you see are guide dogs and all guide dogs are assistance dogs but not all assistance dogs are guide dogs.”
On speaking to other young people with assistance dogs, Amy found that she was not the only one experiencing the effects of a lack of awareness around invisible disability from the general public. Amy explained:
“We do find it quite amusing that that’s the only thing people can imagine when they see the dog. They can’t image that she might be doing things to help that are not because I will walk into a lamppost but because I might get stressed and refuse to walk anywhere. So, it’s really hard for people to realise but at the same time I think it’s helpful that the dog has made what was invisible, visible.”
Amy is extremely positive about the influence that having her assistance dog Lexi has had. She said:
“I just think that the dogs are, they’re just the most helpful things that I’ve ever had. I absolutely love having her and she is incredibly helpful. She’s very helpful in herself because she can do things to help me but actually a massive part of the help she has given me, is actually just people around me giving me a bit more time. And just not assuming that actually I am being slow to create trouble for their day.” Lexi’s presence is “basically me wearing a massive sign that says ‘I do actually have a disability’ while walking around with her. It kind of just tells everyone around that I need more space and a bit more time and just a bit more consideration. It was kind of strange because I didn’t realise how little consideration people have for others around them, how little they look at them and think oh actually maybe they’re struggling because of a disability.”
People’s impatience and lack of consideration for others that has become all the more apparent to Amy since Lexi has come into her life.
“She [Lexi] is amazingly helpful in everything she does but a massive part of what she does especially when I’m out and about is she kind of pulls away the judgement that has always kind of followed me everywhere I have gone. Whenever I’ve done anything that was slower than other people or not quite the way other people would do it or not what other people would consider to be socially appropriate in that setting, you felt the judgement. […]she’s like a big massive bubble around me and it just kind of deflects judgement away because people are thinking ‘Oh judge.. judge.. oh wait a minute there’s a dog, must be disabled, I can’t actually judge’ and it just kind of deflects away all the judgement that I feel normally when I walk around. She is really great for what she can do, and what she’s been trained to do but also for what she shows other people about me and maybe about their own assumptions.”
And it is these assumptions that Amy would like to see change for the benefit of everyone. Amy explained that:
“I think the world would be a much better place if everyone just decided that ‘actually, maybe I don’t know the whole story here and maybe I shouldn’t judge because I don’t know what’s going on. […] if we treated other people around us like they might actually have a good reason for what they’re doing and maybe we should just help them. That’s not going to hurt the people that don’t have a disability in any way but it could help the people who do just so, so much.”