Monday, January 4, 2016

Waving the orange flag

“When you and Trooper are in public,” the Dogs for the Deaf rep said, “he must wear his orange ‘Dogs for the Deaf’ vest and his orange hearing dog collar and leash.” 

In Oregon it’s the law, he added. (Dogs for the Deaf’s headquarters is in Central Point, Ore.)

Hmm. The U.S. Justice Department’s service animals guideline for the Americans with Disabilities Act says this:

“Q. Do service animals have to wear a vest or patch or special harness identifying them as service animals?

“A. No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.”

Trooper and I live in Illinois, where, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s guidelines, state law echoes federal: “Some service animals wear special collars, harnesses or capes. Some are licensed or certified by training entities and have identification papers. Special identification and certification, however, are not required by the ADA.”

In any case, as a general matter, any lawyer will tell you, federal law trumps conflicting state law. 

That means Trooper and I don’t have to advertise my disability in any way. Having a disability is privileged medical information and therefore none of the public’s business.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wave the orange flag.

In my case it makes great good sense to identify Trooper publicly as a service dog. When I was a young man around town, being marked as a deaf person brought many difficulties. Deafness could, for instance, mean social isolation from those fearful of deaf speech or too lazy or self-absorbed to try to speak to a lipreader. The nice thing (the only nice thing) about deafness was that it wasn’t visible and didn’t make me stand out in a crowd.

But I’m now 75, and things have changed. I’m neither as personable as I once thought I was nor as quick on my feet as I used to be. An orange leash and vest says “Caution!” to rushing passersby and drivers. Busy people are more patient. Fewer skeptical questions are asked in restaurants and supermarkets.

And a working service dog, especially one as cute as little Trooper is, attracts interest from otherwise incurious people. (In fact, he’s a chick magnet.)

And so, every time we go out, except for our brief whiz walks around the corner, we choose to sport our orange uniform. We don’t have to, but we do. It works.

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