Respecting Disabilities

Peter Ashenden Health Guide
  • Recently, I had an experience that illustrates the naïve misunderstanding of what it's like to live with a mental illness or disability. I travel fairly often, and it's important to mention I do so with a service dog, Bella. She provides comfort during the at-times stressful and difficult travel situations I encounter. It's also important to mention that every time I travel, I personally call the hotels where I'll be staying, and I also personally call the airlines, to inform them I'll be traveling with a service dog. Although this isn't required, I understand that traveling with a service dog calls for accommodations that are beyond the usual circumstances. And so, it's important for me to provide as much notification as I can to help support those accommodations.

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    On a recent trip, I was with a friend in the concierge level lounge of my hotel, discussing plans for dinner. As we were talking, I noticed a man enter the room who started yelling about my service dog, sitting next to me on the couch. His loud and paternalistic manner was most offensive, and it clearly was also a disturbance to the rest of the guests in this lounge.


    I immediately picked up Bella and walked over to him, asking him to lower his voice as his manner was totally unnecessary. He was the hotel's general manager. He asked me my room number, and I refused to offer him that information in front of a room full of people. He asked me why I hadn't paid a fee for the dog to stay in the hotel. I told him that, at check-in and beforehand when I made the reservation, I was told that service dogs were welcome and no one had mentioned a fee. I also pointed out to him several times that Bella was wearing a service vest and that all of her paperwork was in my room if he wanted to see it.


    He continued to get more agitated, and I kept asking him to lower his voice, as it was inappropriate way to speak to me that way. It was clear he had little respect for me or my circumstances. He turned on his heels, saying he'd be back to the lounge later and "that dog better not be on the couch!" I began to wonder what exactly the issue was: that I had a dog, that the dog was on the couch, or that people with service dogs didn't belong in the concierge lounge....?


    I stay at many of the national chain hotels and have never encountered such ignorance and lack of respect from a general manager. In these economic times, I don't think it's wise to be rude or loud with any customer. But furthermore, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in effect for over 10 years now, and it's time that every level of staff who serves the public be properly trained accordingly. I did contact that hotel's customer service department and register a complaint. But, to date, I still haven't seen a letter of apology.


    We may have ADA in place, but we still have a long way to go before those of us with mental illnesses receive the treatment we're entitled to. My experience at this hotel demonstrates that mental illness remains an "invisible disability," and that makes it all the more possible to level stigma and discrimination against those of us who live with it. We must stay strong and demand the respect we deserve. I hope you'll join me in this quest to foster respect and understanding for all of those with disabilities!


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    What are some ways that you, or others you know, have worked to promote greater respect and understanding within the general public?


Published On: January 12, 2009