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Module 3 – Serving Customers with Disabilities

How Does This Apply to You?

Let’s have a look at a few situations on campus involving persons with disabilities accompanied by service animals, support persons or in need of assistance.

In the classroom

Dr. James Smith is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology; Ella is a student in one of his very popular introductory courses. Ella uses a wheelchair and is accompanied by Charlie, a service dog who wears a special harness and jacket. Dr. Smith sees the obvious reason for the wheelchair but after several weeks of classes has not yet learned why Ella brings the dog to class.

One day while he is lecturing, Ella, who always sits at the front of the class, drops a small case and several pens and other items fall out. Just as Dr. Smith is about to step over and pick them up for her, he stops when he sees Charlie pick up each item and bring them to Ella.

Dr. Smith now understands why Ella brings the dog to class. You may encounter people using service animals or assistive devices without knowing why they use them. While Dr. Smith was curious, he did not ask Ella why Charlie accompanies her to class, and rightly so. Don’t expect people who use service animals or assistive devices to disclose the reason they use them if there is no need to do so.

In the office

Following his training on accessibility issues, a Department Head became curious about whether his course website is accessible to persons with disabilities. He decides to purchase some software to help him find out and calls Joseph, a computer science student working in the department for the summer to help him test it.

Joseph comes the next day with his guide dog, Bart. An avid dog lover, the Department Head forgets himself for a moment and begins to pet Bart on the head. Then he remembers not to do that and apologizes.

Joseph laughs, saying, “Oh, if you start petting him, I’ll never get him back to work”. This situation serves as a reminder for the Department Head about the importance of not petting service animals. He’ll likely remember it the next time he encounters someone else with a service animal.

In campus facilities

One cold January morning, Pedro, who uses a walker, is nervously trying to make his way down a steep access ramp that has quite a bit of ice on it. The concrete ramp has railings on either side but if Pedro lets go of his walker, it along with his computer and books will do a runner down the ramp.

He’s really lucky because at the right moment one of his professors comes along and notices what is happening. He asks Pedro if he can be of assistance and when Pedro says yes, the professor holds the walker and walks slowly backwards, allowing Pedro and his walker to proceed safely down the ramp.

Pedro is very grateful, especially when his professor later emails to tell him he has alerted the grounds maintenance unit about the ice on the ramp. Not only does this scenario exemplify our shared responsibility around what to do when noticing that someone with a disability is having difficulties accessing a service, it also illustrates the importance of notifying the appropriate campus department(s) to ensure that accessibility issues are addressed.

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