‘Black, queer, disabled and brilliant’: Activist hopes to make history in space

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Eddie Ndopu wasn’t expected to live past 5 years old. Now, the 27-year-old South African hopes to be the first person with a disability to travel to space.

Eddie Ndopu describes himself as “black, queer, disabled and brilliant.”

“I embody all of the identities that position me at a disadvantage in society,” he told NBC News. “But I am turning that on its head.”

By the end of the year, the 27-year-old South African hopes to become the first person with a disability to go to space.

When Ndopu was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), an incurable condition that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. His prognosis was devastating: His family was initially told he would not live beyond the age of 5.

But a tenacious Ndopu said it wasn’t long before he was able to “outstrip and outlive all expectations,” both academically and medically. He attributes this in part due to his mother, whom he said never gave up on him or stopped fighting for him.

Ndopu said when he was 7 years old and living in Namibia (he moved to neighboring South Africa when he was 10), his mom came home to find him sitting in front of the television staring despondently at a blank screen. “She held my head in her hands and begged me to tell her what was wrong,” Ndopu recalled.“Finally, I told her all I wanted was to go to school.”

Despite inclusive education laws, growing up disabled in southern Africa meant a mainstream education was never guaranteed. In fact, a 2017 United Nations report revealed that even today, 90 percent of disabled children in developing countries never see the inside of a classroom.

But Ndopu said his mom is a “fearless warrior” who knocked on “every door” until finally he was accepted to a small elementary school on the outskirts of his hometown.

Ndopu has so far outlived his prognosis by more than two decades, and last year he became the first African with a disability to graduate from Britain’s prestigious University of Oxford. The disability-rights activist, who admits he has a weakness for lipstick and fashion, said he is “a living manifestation of possibility.”

Now Ndopu, whose disease has left him unable to walk, has set himself a new “audacious” goal: to become the first person with a disability to go to space.

Backed by the United Nations, he hopes to deliver “the speech of [his] life,” championing disability rights from a space shuttle to the UN’s New York headquarters this December.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a South African lawmaker and the executive director of UN Women, told NBC News if Ndopu attains his goal, it would be “a powerful symbol to demonstrate that people with disabilities can break barriers.”

“By reaching space,” she added, “it clearly demonstrates that determined disabled people, in an enabling environment, can excel like anyone else.”

Continue onto NBC News to read the complete article.

Wonder Women in Accessibility

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The Americans with Disabilities Act celebrated its 27th anniversary this year, and while it has changed countless lives, it clear that much work still needs to be done. The ADA was designed to ensure that people with disabilities become viable and authentic citizens within the United States, but access to resources are often still denied and the disability community continues to fight for basic civil rights.

About the importance of making employment opportunities inclusive, Shirley Davis, director of global diversity and inclusion at the Society for Human Resource Management, said: “People with disabilities represent a critical talent pool that is underserved and underutilized”.

Meet some of the women on the front lines of this continuing effort, either by rejecting any barriers or by lobbying for formal change.

Click on source  links to read
more about these women.

Minda Dentler

Earlier this year Minda Dentler became the first female wheelchair athlete to complete Ironman. Ironman is a long distance triathlon race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.22 mile run without a break.

Source: justrunlah.com

Tammy Duckworth

War Veteran Tammy Duckworth made history as the first disabled female veteran to earn election to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, she is also only the second female Asian-American Senator.

Source: biography.com

Claudia Gordon


Better known as one of former President Barack Obama’s key advisors for disability issues, Claudia Gordon made history as the first deaf African-American attorney in the United States. Now, she’s the Director of Government and Compliance with Sprint Accessibility.

Sources: tedxuniversityofrochester.com, autostraddle.com

Cerrie Burnell

Entertainer Cerrie Burnell was born with no right forearm and is severely dyslexic. She regularly speaks out in favor of diversity and inclusion for people with disabilities in the media, and supports a body-confidence organization called “Body Gossip”.

Source: disabilityhorizons.com

Alice Wong 

Disability activist, media maker, and consultant Alice Wong is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project (DVP)—a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. Wong, who had envisioned DVP to last only one year, continued DVP due to the demand and enthusiasm by people with disabilities, she mentioned in an interview with HelloFlo. You can find her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf

Sources: disabilityvisibilityproject.com, helloflo.com

MTA New York City Transit Hires First-Ever Senior Advisor for Systemwide Accessibility

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For the first time ever, New York City Transit will have a dedicated accessibility chief. 

On Monday, NYCT President Andy Byford announced the appointment of Alex Elegudin as Senior Advisor for Systemwide Accessibility. He’ll be tasked with overseeing and implementing the Fast Forward Plan initiative to expand accessibility to subway and bus customers, as well as improve Access-A-Ride service.

Elegudin, a longtime accessibility advocate, will serve as MTA NYC Transit’s innaugural Senior Advisor for Systemwide Accessibility, an executive-level position reporting directly to President Byford.  His first day on the job is Monday, June 25.

“Advancing the cause of accessibility is one of my top priorities and Alex’s new role will pull together all of our accessibility-related work streams, touching all Fast Forward projects and all NYC Transit departments,” President Byford said.

“I’m incredibly excited to be joining President Byford’s executive team,” Elegudin said.  “The vision set forth in the ‘Fast Forward’ plan will make NYC Transit work better for New Yorkers of all abilities, with a strong emphasis on improving accessibility quickly.  I look forward to being a part of making the plan a reality and helping to make New York City the most accessible city in the world.”

“Expanding accessibility is a priority for all MTA agencies, with the subway serving millions of people a day having particular urgency,” said MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, who has convened a special working group of MTA Board members to advise on improving accessibility.  “President Byford’s creation of this new position and Alex’s appointment are a victory for all of our customers who need more accessible subway, bus and paratransit service.”

Continue onto the MTA Newsroom to read the complete article.

 

Challenges are Inevitable, Defeat is Optional

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Since she was a little girl, Carrie Davis knew she was unique. Born without her left arm, she often wondered, “Why me?” She longed to be known for her contributions, not for what she was missing.

Love for Teaching and Service

Carrie was born and raised in Spokane, Washington, the perfect place for an outdoor enthusiast. As a child, Carrie enjoyed a number of outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, skiing, boating, and track and field. In high school, she was involved in numerous clubs and activities and volunteered with students with developmental disabilities daily. It was with those students that she developed a passion for teaching and service.

She went on to Washington State University and earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Speech Communications. She also earned her Secondary Teaching Certificate and, upon graduation, returned to Spokane to teach high school English and to coach a national qualifying debate team. After her first year, she was one of three teachers in School District 81 to receive the Sallie Mae Best New Teacher Award. Two years later, she moved to California and continued her teaching career. Then she went on to Texas, where she left her teaching job to take on another job: motherhood.

In Texas, Carrie started working part time for Hanger Clinic, setting appointments for upper extremity clinics and offering assistance to patients who were making decisions about prosthetics. Over the last nine years, the position has evolved, and now she functions as the National Upper Extremity Patient Advocate, combining her love of teaching and service with her passion to help others like her as the AMPOWER National Coordinator, a group of more than 650 trained volunteers who assist others transitioning into life after limb loss.

Empowering Others

Carrie was born with a below-elbow congenital limb deficiency and has worn a prosthesis since she was nine months old. She has tried every option available, from the cable-operated prosthesis to the passive prosthesis to the technologically advanced myoelectric prosthesis, including the most recent addition to the UE market, the iLIMB. Additionally, she uses a variety of specialized terminal devices, like a guitar adapter, weight-lifting adapters, and biking and swimming devices to assist her in attaining her goals. She has participated in numerous sporting events, like the CAF San Diego Triathlon Challenge and the NYC Nautica National PC Championship Triathlon—she has been awarded First Place National Female Upper Limb Amputee Finisher twice.

As part of her position with Hanger Clinic, she travels across the country offering her experience and perspective to patients, therapists, prosthetists, and doctors in her committed effort toward improving patient care and is the recipient of the esteemed JE Hanger Excellence Award for customer service. She acts as a peer mentor and serves as the support group leader and assistant for Camp No Limits, a national foundation dedicated to helping young amputees realize their potential. She also works with families of children born with congenital anomalies and advocates for all amputees, assisting those in need to find resources for funding, as well as through her participation in the ACA Peer Mentor Program and the ACA’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.

Carrie lives by the motto, “Life is not about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself.” She strives to create the best life for herself, her family, and for the people and patients she serves by taking an active role in life, regardless of limitations. She believes that the only limitations we have for ourselves are the ones that we create in our own minds, and therefore, she chooses “no limits.” She is grateful every day that she is able to assist in the lives of others through her participation in patient care in the prosthetics industry.

Today, Carrie is the AMPOWER National Coordinator and an Upper Extremity Patient Advocate. She provides peer training for other AMPOWER members, writes articles about limb loss and the power of peer support for local and national publications, and personally meets and greets all new Empowering Amputees members.

Join empoweringamputees.org. Challenges are inevitable. Defeat is optional.

Source: hangerclinic.com

Resources for Women with Disabilities Who Own Businesses

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For women with disabilities, entrepreneurship offers a dynamic opportunity to break through barriers. In the corporate world, women with disabilities face a high unemployment rate and other challenges with employers who can be less than accommodating.

But, as the Disability Network reports, the good news is that for the 27 million women with disabilities in the United States, being SELF MADE helps create a promising future. For SELF MADE women, flexible schedules and custom careers are par for the course. And in the past few years, more programs have launched that offer loans, mentorship, and support. Check out our list of business resources for women with disabilities below.

Resources for Funding

What’s a great business idea without funding? Just another great idea! Don’t let your business dreams fall by the wayside for lack of funding. Below you’ll find information on funding specifically for disabled entrepreneurs. For more funding leads, please visit our “ALL WOMEN” section.

Accion

Provides small business loans to businesses that have a hard time gaining capital, such as small businesses owned by disabled persons.

Abilities Fund

Offers business development training, referrals to funding and other financial assistance options, and more support designed to help people with disabilities succeed.

Kaleidoscope Investments

This financial institution pledges a commitment to helping entrepreneurs with disabilities gain capital for their businesses.

American Association of People with Disabilities

The largest nonprofit for all people with disabilities, this organization fights for economic and political empowerment for people with disabilities.

State Assistive Technology Loan Programs

Services vary state by state, but this organization offers a range of financial assistance including low-interest loans to buy assistive technology that helps provide access to educational, employment and independent-living opportunities.

CouponChief.com<

While this isn’t a fund-raising resource per se, it is a great way for women with disabilities to save funds.

Resources for Training

Women with disabilities face unique challenges in entrepreneurship but these challenges do not have to keep you from your startup dream. Below are more business resources for women with disabilities that specialize in training and development to help entrepreneurs with disabilities achieve their dreams of owning a business.

Community Options

Operating in 10 states, this organization helps people with disabilities find housing, employment opportunities, and other support services. =

Disabled Businesspersons Associations

These groups offer entrepreneur education courses specifically for people with disabilities.

Disability.Gov

An online database of resources and links to assistance for entrepreneurs-in-training with disabilities.

Job Accommodation Network (Jan Network)

This network connects entrepreneurs with disabilities to other people in their field and provides technical assistance and mentoring programs for entrepreneurs with disabilities.

Hadley Forsythe Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Offers free online training courses that prepare its blind and visually impaired students to become entrepreneurs.

Disability.biz

This group offers business plan consulting and coaching for disabled entrepreneurs.

Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Education for People with Disabilities (CREED)

Chicago-based training and development center for entrepreneurs with disabilities.

WSU Online MBA

This online resource is loaded with all varieties of tools and tips for entrepreneurs with disabilities, from writing a business plan to marketing and pretty much everything in between.

Resources for Networking

When it comes to business resources for women with disabilities, finding like-minded business owners and a close network of friends is a great way to get jump-started on your journey to success. Here are business resources for women with disabilities that focus on networking.

American Association for People With Disabilities

The largest nonprofit cross-disability member organization in the United States, this organization helps people with disabilities find independence and political power in the United States.

Global Network for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

A networking and public advocacy group offering real life stories, resources and networking opportunities for people with disabilities.

International Network of Women With Disabilities

A blog that catalogs women’s groups around the world and offers links to different organizations.

The Mighty

A moving blog that shares inspirational stories of people with disabilities overcoming obstacles and creating new opportunities for their lives.
National Organization on Disability

An organization that raises awareness and creates employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for the community.

Author-Michelle Herrera Mulligan at becomingselfmade.com

Rising Leader: Cody Bowman

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Cody Bowman graduated from State College of Florida with her Associate of Arts degree in 2014. Currently, she is a junior at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee. She is studying for her Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Social Science in Social Work and Sociology.

Cody’s passion lies in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. She is a member of the Sarasota County Developmental Disabilities Committee, which serves to advocate with one voice for the needs of Sarasota County citizens with developmental disabilities. As a student at USF, she was chosen to be a student representative for the Physical Access Workshop (PAW) Committee which is comprised of campus-wide representatives. PAW assists in identifying barriers to equal access and recommends action steps and priorities for removal of the barriers that have been identified in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA). This includes physical barriers on campus as well as website and instructional access.

Cody is a 2015 graduate of Florida Partners in Policy-Making which is a leadership and advocacy training program that teaches individuals with developmental disabilities and parents to become community leaders and catalysts for systems change.

Cody has also participated in “Ms. Wheelchair Florida”, which serves as a platform for women in all 67 counties in Florida while advocating for the 54 million Americans who are living with disabilities. MWFL Inc. strives to bring awareness to all people with disabilities and the importance of them being included in the communities in which they live and can have a choice when it comes to employment, education, and housing. In addition, Cody is a 2015 alumni participant of the Mentorship Exchange Program (formerly the USBLN Rising Leaders Mentoring Program.)

When not attending school, Cody works 2 part-time jobs. She is an adaptive yoga instructor/executive assistant for a small company specializing in yoga for people with special needs, and also a receptionist at Easter Seals of Southwest Florida.

During her free time, which is scarce…Cody enjoys traveling, volunteering at Instride Therapy which is an equine therapy center for people with disabilities, as well as being a proud member of the Sarasota Adaptive Rowing Program.

Chris Lawrence: From Brain Injury to Boxing

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Chris Lawrence-Boxing

After Marine veteran Chris Lawrence sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from an improvised explosive device (IED) detonation while on tour in Iraq, he was told he probably wouldn’t walk again. Now he’s running and boxing and has graduated from the police academy. In fact, Lawrence relies on being active to cope with his TBI symptoms.

“We are highlighting this veteran’s compelling story to show others that treatment is available and recovery from TBI is possible,” said Scott Livingston, director of education at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. “Our hope is that our nation’s heroes can connect with Lawrence—or others who have shared stories with A Head for the Future—and begin their own path to recovery.”

Following the incident in 2007, Lawrence lost part of his leg due to medical complications. He also found himself struggling with memory, sleep and irritability issues—common symptoms of TBI. Since his diagnosis, he has taken up boxing as an adaptive sports therapy. He says it’s helped improve his balance, concentration and memory, all of which are essential to his recovery.

“Boxing has been the best thing for me, because it didn’t allow me to use my disabilities as a reason to hold back,” said Lawrence. “I could say that I’m better now than I was 10 years ago. I’ve been humbled, and I’ve been strengthened at the same time.”

As a police officer, Lawrence said, “I figured I can’t go back to the Marine Corps. I am missing pieces now, but I can still serve the community, just the same.”

Lawrence also attributes the power of family to helping him continue to recover and cope with TBI.

“My daughter, Dahlia, when I’m having a bad day, she makes it better, no matter what,” Lawrence Chris Lawrence and familysaid. “My girlfriend, Michelle, she helps me identify a lot of issues that I still have. She’s helped me do things I don’t want to do that have made me better.”

Department of Defense data shows that since 2000, more than 375,000 service members have been diagnosed with a TBI—most sustained in noncombat settings. Falls, motor vehicle collisions, sports-related incidents and training accidents are the most common causes of noncombat-related brain injury among service members.

To learn more about TBI and the A Head for the Future initiative, and to find additional videos and educational resources on preventing brain injury, visit dvbic.dcoe.mil/aheadforthefuture and follow A Head for the Future on Twitter and Facebook.

Source: dvbic.dcoe.mil

Disability Includes Diversity

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Sara Xayarath Hernández

It’s not obvious, but Sara Xayarath Hernández, associate dean for inclusion and student engagement in the Graduate School at Cornell University, has a disability. In 2008, three years after joining the staff of Diversity Programs in Engineering (DPE), she was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.

She recently began speaking about her experiences in managing a mostly nonobvious disability and is featured in Cornell’s “Diversity includes Disability” poster campaign for the month of March. “The more we can normalize things – what disability looks like and how it is experienced – the better,” she said.

For Hernández, not only does diversity include disability, disability includes diversity. “Not everyone realizes that chronic health conditions are included under the definition of disability,” she said. “How that impacts people who have chronic conditions and the way those conditions affect them may be highly variable, depending on their treatment or how progressive the condition may be.”

Having a chronic health condition has not negatively affected Hernández’s career trajectory. While dealing with the challenges of her condition in 2009, Hernández became director of Diversity Programs in Engineering. In 2011, under her leadership, DPE was recognized by former President Barack Obama with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. She has been associate dean at the Graduate School since 2015.

At times, especially when she was first diagnosed and during relapses, Hernandez’s condition has been challenging. At present it is controlled, doesn’t limit her physical abilities and doesn’t require ongoing accommodation. She sometimes experiences complications related to the side effects of treatment, altering how she feels and what she is able to do.

Hernández finds it frustrating when people who learn of her disability say, “but you look fine.” Most days she is fine, but a nonobvious disability is, by definition, not obvious. “Just because you look fine does not mean you’re not experiencing very real challenges in other ways,” she said.

Hernández said the College of Engineering and the Graduate School have been tremendously supportive as she has worked through those challenges. Diversity Programs in Engineering “has always been a professional organization with high achievers trying to do a lot of work, but it has also been very familial in nature. It was an environment in which I felt comfortable sharing with my colleagues what was going on. I was never treated differently; no one questioned whether I’d be able to maintain the level of work required.” Hernández credited the college with providing flexible accommodations and appreciated her staff, who carried forward in her absence so that the students would not feel a gap in services.

Shortly after Hernández accepted her current position at the Graduate School, she learned she was pregnant. She worked through the majority of her pregnancy before taking time off for the birth of her daughter and a relapse of leukemia that followed. “My colleagues and Dean (Barbara) Knuth have been tremendously supportive,” she said.

Hernández said her nonobvious disability has made it easier for students to talk with her about their disabilities. “Not all students that I work with know the various challenges I’ve navigated, but it occasionally comes up in different conversations. There is dramatic diversity in the types of physical and mental health-related challenges that our students are managing, and a moment of empathy can help,” she said.

Hernández advises students to use the network of support available on and off campus to request an accommodation or health care leave if necessary. “One of the most important things I will tell them – or anyone – is that having a disability does not necessarily create limitations on what one is able to achieve. And that’s regardless if it’s a nonobvious disability or one that may be visible,” she said.

Author
Nancy Doolittle
news.cornell.edu

Rice Krispies Treats Just Took A Real Step Toward Inclusivity

LinkedIn

Kids with visual impairments can get loving messages with their snacks through Braille stickers and audio boxes.

Kellogg’s is increasing accessibility to the full joys of Rice Krispies Treats for children with visual impairments.

Last year, the packaged food giant rolled out writable wrappers on individual Rice Krispies Treats so that parents and others could pen encouraging messages for kids to read at school. But those notes wouldn’t reach some 62,000 American schoolchildren who are blind or low-vision, as the company said on its website.

So Rice Krispies announced Tuesday that it has partnered with the National Federation of the Blind to create “Love Notes” in the form of Braille stickers and recordable audio boxes, allowing kids with visual impairments to get a verbal boost with their snacks too.

The Braille stickers come in sheets of eight with preprinted uplifting phrases such as “You’ve Got This” and “Love You Lots.” They’re shaped like a heart, which matches the spot for writing notes on the Rice Krispies wrapper.

Because some children don’t read Braille or respond better to the spoken word, Kellogg’s is also offering a recordable audio box in which to tuck one Rice Krispies Treat. When the box is opened, it plays a 10-second message recorded by mom or dad.

According to Kellogg’s, the audio message can be re-recorded more than 1,000 times. That amounts to several school years’ worth of support ― assuming kids bring the boxes home each day.

The stickers and the audio boxes can be ordered through the Rice Krispies Treats website at no cost while supplies last.

The Love Notes also honor Will Keith Kellogg, the founder of the Kellogg Company, who lost his sight for the last decade of his life, according to Jessica Waller, vice president of sales and co-chair of the Kapable Business/Employee Resource Group at Kellogg’s.

“Inclusion is in our DNA, and is now shared through Rice Krispies Treats’ ‘Love Notes,’” Waller said in Tuesday’s press release. “Everyone is important, and we want each child to be able to feel loved, supported and acknowledged.”

Continue onto the Huffington Post to read the complete article.

Doctors With Disabilities Push For Culture Change In Medicine

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Lisa Iezzoni was in medical school at Harvard in the early 1980s when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She started experiencing some of the symptoms, including fatigue, but she wasn’t letting that get in the way of her goal. Then came the moment she scrubbed in on a surgery and the surgeon told her what he thought of her chances in the field.

“He opined that I had no right to go into medicine because I lacked the most important quality in medicine,” Iezzoni recalls “And that was 24/7 availability.”

Iezzoni didn’t end up becoming a doctor. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, and she says she just didn’t have the support.

In the decades since, court rulings and amendments have clarified rights and protections. But culture change has been slow to take hold in the profession.

Doctors are often portrayed as pinnacles of health, superhumans responding to emergencies around the clock, performing miracles of all kinds. They’re seen as the fixers, not the ones ever in need of accommodations or care.

“This profession historically has viewed themselves as able-bodied in the extreme,” Iezzoni says.

Now, a growing movement of current and aspiring doctors with disabilities is starting to challenge that narrative, saying it is a disservice both to the medical profession and to patients.

It’s important to acknowledge and accommodate medical professionals with disabilities, says Lisa Meeks, a psychologist and researcher at Michigan Medicine specializing in disabilities in medicine and medical education. “It deserves attention and its own problem-solving,” she says.

Meeks co-founded the Coalition for Disability Access in Health Science and Medical Education, a group focused on improving access to medical education for students with disabilities.

She also co-authored a report released this year on disabilities and medicine, which found that many doctors still conceal their disabilities out of fear of stigma or bias.

Earlier this year, Meeks had a thought: If doctors with disabilities saw more people like themselves, would they talk more openly about the challenges and opportunities? She started a social media campaign with the hashtag #DocsWithDisabilities.

The goal was to find 20 doctors willing to share their stories online. She has been flooded with interest from doctors with disabilities.

“There’s no end in sight,” Meeks says.

And now #NursesWithDisabilities have joined in, too.

“I felt this was a really unique opportunity to introduce all of these docs with disabilities to the medical field,” she says. “To let people know there are not unique one or two physicians with disabilities, but that there are a number of physicians with disabilities throughout the United States.”

Continue onto NPR to read the complete article.

9 things you need to know about how to behave around assistance dogs

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By Soraya Ferdman

Recently, I noticed a person about to cross the street — right into the path of an oncoming car. Before I could lunge forward to pull her back, her guide dog yanked its owner to safety. I felt the strong urge to pet the dog, which in addition to being a very good dog was also an Australian Shepherd, the same breed as my own. 

Then I noticed the words “DO NOT PET” across the dog’s harness.

The term “assistance dog” includes guide dogs, who help the blind; hearing dogs, who help the Deaf; and service dogs, who help people with a broader range of disabilities including but not limited to autism, epilepsy, life-threatening allergies, diabetes, mobility issues, neuromuscular diseases, and psychological trauma.

Thousands of people rely on these animals for independence. Assistance dogs perform services such as opening and closing doors, helping people into an upright position, and detecting allergens, low and high blood sugar levels, and more. But for those used to thinking of dogs purely as pets, it can be hard to know the proper etiquette.

Here’s what you need to know about how to behave when you spot a pooch with a harness:

1. Minimize distractions

Most assistance dogs are trained to pay little attention to people other than their handler. That doesn’t mean handlers aren’t bothered by people’s tendencies to pet, make cutesy noises, or otherwise distract their dogs.

“I’ve had people making noises, desperate to get my dog’s attention, while I’m crossing the street,” Laurel Hilbert, who lives in San Francisco and is blind, explained in an interview with Mashable. “My dog is very well-behaved, but he’s still just a dog. Those kinds of noises distract him.”

Petting an assistance dog may seem like a harmless transgression, but it can lead to the handler falling or otherwise injuring themselves.

Such was the case with Hayley Ashmore. Flynn, her seizure-alert dog, was being pet by a stranger when Hayley fell to the ground and injured her forehead and cheek. In an Instagram post reflecting on the events, Ashmore wrote, “My dog is my lifeline. I don’t say that to be cute… If he gets distracted this happens. If he gets distracted I can die.”

2. Talk to the handler

Remember: The handler and assistance dog are a team. If you feel you need to approach the dog for any reason, asking the handler for permission first is the best way to be aware of what the duo feels comfortable with, and to behave accordingly.

3. Keep your own dog at distance

Though dogs are social creatures, assistance dogs aren’t supposed to engage with other dogs while on duty. Pet owners can help handlers keep assistance dogs focused by holding their companion dogs a safe distance away.

4. No treats

According to Canine Companions for Independence, “Food is the ultimate distraction to the working dog and can jeopardize the working assistance dog team.”

Think of it like this: Beyond breaking their focus, some service dogs have special diets, and certain foods may trigger allergies. If an assistance dog is given something that triggers even a subtle allergic reaction, they’re not paying 100 percent attention to their handler. Less than 100 percent attention = bad news.

5. Therapy and emotional support dogs are not assistance dogs

While therapy and emotional support dogs are there to provide comfort, they do not receive the same training and are not granted legal access to the same degree as assistance dogs.

What distinguishes an assistance dog from what expert Chris Diefenthaler calls companion dogs, or regular pets, is the length and rigor of training. Before acquiring official status, assistance dogs undergo up to two years of training. Diefenthaler, an administrator at Assistance Dogs International, repeatedly emphasized this distinction to Mashable, explaining, “Assistance dogs have received extensive training and are uniquely equipped to help their handlers in ways neither therapy nor emotional support animals are trained to do.”

Continue onto Mashable to read the complete article.