As a result of my New Jersey guide dog discrimination case, New Jersey Attorney General Press Release , J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, Director of the Division on Civil Rights invited me to be a speaker at the January 2005 annual retreat. This retreat consists of a day long series of training seminars required for all employees. It was an honor to be invited as a presenter for the 2005 retreat. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet many employees from the Atlantic City Office where my complaint was filed. Everyone to whom I spoke to about the case was very kind and professional. They all apologized on behalf of New Jersey for the actions of a motel owner. The staff in this office exemplified customer service. I was asked to talk about guide dogs, as well as the April 2003 discrimination experience that I shared with my Freedom Guide Dog Indy. During the explanation of the discrimination case I never mentioned the establishment or owner’s name, only the Wildwood - Cape May area of South Jersey where the offense happened. It was a very enlightening experience for me since I had the privilege of sharing my time with Jason Weiland and Canine Hearing Companions Macy, his hearing ear dog. Both Jason and I spoke about different training requirements, educating the public and discrimination cases. We also told some funny personal stories. Jason described the chain of events that led up to a local shop owner being fined $500 for not allowing Macy in the store. The best part of his story, is Jason and the shop owner have become very good friends.
I then told the funny story, about my guide dog Indy. When leaving a restaurant, I told Indy to find outside. To my surprise Indy led me straight to a freezer door showing me the handle. Actually this was a perfect execution of the “find outside” command. Indy is trained to find both inside and outside of buildings. He was trained to identify a door with a handle or knob. This freezer door in Indy’s mind met all of the criteria. Jason then told the story about attending a movie with his family. Macy ended up working through the entire movie. Every knock at the door, doorbell or telephone, Macy alerted Jason of the sound. I thought it was funny, but more important Macy flawlessly did her job without any distractions. Macy, a mixed Border Collie, was trained by Canine Hearing Companions (CHC) in Vineland, NJ.
Near the end of our time slot there was a question about the “blind beatitudes” printed on the main page of this web site. I just happened to pick out the one point where some people start shouting at me when they discover that I am blind. I can hear fine, I just can not see. While explaining this situation, both Jason and his interpreter started laughing. Jason then told us that occasionally, when people find out that he can not hear, he is presented with a Braille card or menu. As Jason was telling this, the room was filling with total laughter. I always thought that visually challenged people were the only recipients of this strange behavior. The next time that someone shouts at me because I am blind, I probably will think of Jason and try not to laugh.
In closing, we were asked if we had any ideas on how to educate the public about service animals. My contribution was to suggest that information be sent to papers printed in foreign languages. I explained that when my daughter was in high school she needed some information for a World Culture class. At the time I worked with some engineers from India. I learned that they did not read our papers but ones printed in New York in their native language with news pertaining to India. Information in these types of newspapers would best be circulated through that media. I also made the suggestion that when business licenses are obtained, the information is required reading.
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