Today I took Hestia with me to the gynecologist’s office, and I was discriminated against. I walked in and checked in no problem. I went to sit down, and a few minutes later they called me up to the front desk.
The receptionist told me that they love dogs, but animals aren’t allowed in their office. I said she’s a service dog. The woman said she didn’t care, their policy was that no animals were allowed. I tried explaining the laws to her, but she wouldn’t budge. She eventually said that she’d get the manager to talk with me, so I sat back down and pulled up the ADA FAQ to show the manager.
The manager came and got me and pulled me into an exam room. She again told me that service animals aren’t allowed in their facility. She asked for papers, too (something they’re also not allowed to do). Eventually she said they would see me today, but that I need to call ahead and tell people I have a service animal before going there. She also said that in the future I’d need to call them from the parking lot so they could escort me in and out of the building. Further, she said I wasn’t allowed to wait in the waiting room because I’d “disturb the other patients”. I tried showing her the ADA FAQ and she wouldn’t look at them. I told her to just google service dogs and medical offices and she’d learn everything she needed to know very quickly. But she didn’t want to do that either. She was insistent that they do not have to allow service animals in their medical facility.
She left me in the exam room, and I was crying as I called Brad about how I was being treated. He told me to ask for their service animal policy in writing. So when the woman came in to check my blood pressure, I asked her for the service animal policy in writing. She left and I waited for a pretty long time. When she came back, she had a phone for me. It was the person who is in charge of the office. She was out sick with COVID, so she wasn’t able to be there in person.
She was not super helpful at first. She called my service dog a pet. She insisted the office was sterile and so they didn’t have to accommodate me (“sterile” means a very particular thing—like you find in an operating room where everyone covers up—and the office is definitely not “sterile”). Eventually, though, I think I got through to her that she didn’t really know what she was talking about. She said she had called their compliance office, and was waiting for them to call her back to tell her the laws about service animals. I told her to expect to hear from Advocates from Service Animal Partners about what the laws actually say. I also repeatedly told her and any other employees that interacted with me that they had to treat me like any other patient. I told her that they wouldn’t expect a patient who uses a wheelchair to call ahead, so why would they expect someone who uses a service dog to call ahead?
It was a terse call, but I felt that they would at least see me, even though they might not treat me very well. I had heard very good things about the doctor I was supposed to see, so I was hopeful that she’d be good even though the office staff was not.
After the call, the woman took my blood pressure and left the room. She came back in with their official service animal policy printed out. It was all totally fine, but they hadn’t followed the policy at all. Words on a page don’t mean anything if those with power ignore them.
Eventually the doctor came in and she was very nice. I explained to her that I had been discriminated against. She and the woman who took my blood pressure etc. said that it was “just a learning experience” since they’d never had a service animal in their office before. I responded “Well your learning experience is my nightmare”. They didn’t say anything for a while after that.
Luckily the doctor was good and my exam was brief. I have the card of the woman I talked with on the phone, so I am about to reach out to ASAP for next steps.
Being discriminated against is so upsetting. I am just a person trying to live my life. I need medical equipment in order to live my life. Why is it that I am harassed, told I am too disturbing to be in public spaces with others, that I need to call ahead and be “escorted” into and out of buildings, etc.? It makes me feel like when people see me, they instantly despise me or think I’m too awful to be allowed to be around “normal” people. I remember the ugly laws that used to make it so that disabled people weren’t allowed out in public, and how people like those I encountered today probably wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with that. It makes me feel like these people think I am less than human.
It seems so plain to most people that other “-isms” are wrong. Why are people still so comfortable with ableism? It’s simply not true that if you “don’t have hate in your heart”, then that means you’re not feeding into patterns that make life extra hard for certain groups of people. It takes work not to do this, but it’s too much to expect disabled people to do all the work and suffer all the fallout so others might have their “learning experience” every time we’re just trying to get out and live our lives. The solution has got to involve everyone exercising empathy and actively trying to learn and improve—before a disabled person shows up at the door.