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What dogs can teach us about disability

3 minutes read

My dog Scooby turns 10 today! I never thought he'd make it, if I'm being honest. A bit over a year ago, Christmas 2022, we found out he has bone cancer. It was devastating as you might imagine.

The vet told us he needs surgery. The type of cancer has no cure and the only way to try and extend Scooby's life was to cut-off the limb that's affected. Barbaric! After the surgery, followed five rounds of chemo.

And all this, the vet said, would give him a 10% chance of making it one more year. Most dogs wouldn't make it past a few months without surgery and chemo and less than 10% of dogs who have both surgery and chemo make it past one year.

But he did! A fighter if I ever saw one!

So now he's 10 years old, walking on three legs, and still enjoying life.

He's, as you might say, physically disabled and he's joined the senior age group. For a dog, walking on three legs is no different than walking on four. He can still jump on the couch, jump up to greet me when I get home, eat, drink, play. All mostly normal. We haven't altered the environment in any way to make life difficult for him.

For us, it's not so easy. Being in a wheelchair, or using a cane, we need to have certain adjustments made to our environment in order to function properly.

It's not us who are disabled. We've done nothing wrong. It's the environment around us that's putting restrictions in place. If you're in a wheelchair, you can't get on a bus or up some stairs without a ramp. You need automatic doors and wide hallways to move freely in a wheelchair.

If you're older, your eyesight isn't what it used to be. Maybe you can't see when the light turns green to cross the street safely. So you need audible crosswalk signals. Maybe your hearing isn't what it used to be, so tactile signals can help you as well.

Once you get to work, adjustable desks and ergonomic tools will be indispensable to work comfortably.

And this is the point.

It's easy for a dog to continue his life once he gets to a certain age or if he's missing a leg. We haven't created environments that assume a dog needs to have four legs. But we have built environments and systems that rely on persons to have certain physical characteristics to fully participate and enjoy all rights and benefits.

And now it's up to us to fix it. I'm being selfish when I say this, but I don't want to get to Scooby's age and not be able to use my computer, the internet, enjoy movies, reading books, shopping or using the damn bus.

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