Many people do not realize the difference between visible and invisible disabilities. As human beings, we are visual creatures. When we see someone walking with a cane, in a wheelchair, or with braces on their legs, we immediately realize that this person has a disability, and we can put that in terms that our mind understands. What we don’t see is the cashier ringing up your groceries who may have a very serious diabetic imbalance – a brittle diabetic that could suddenly collapse or become incoherent because you don’t see diabetes externally until something happens.
People may also misinterpret someone with a seizure. They can certainly have an intellectual conversation with you, walk, talk, and do everything normally to where you have no idea because you can’t see that they have a seizure issue until suddenly there is a seizure, and perhaps even something catastrophic happens as a result.
This is the same thing with PTSD. You don’t see those issues until they emerge, and then again, they are often misinterpreted when someone suddenly gets really angry for no reason or they have a panic attack. These are huge issues for those individuals.
At my presentations, I ask the audience, “Do you, a family member, or someone, you know have PTSD? If so, put your hand up and leave your hand up.” I also ask the same questions about diabetes and seizures. At that point, I have 99% of the hands up in the room every single time. There are a lot of invisible disabilities that people do not understand or even think about.
I think one of the most egregious things that I had happen was when I was at an event with one of my teams. There were a couple of guys having a conversation right next to me, I wasn’t part of their conversation, but all of a sudden, I overheard them discussing my service dog team, who was walking across the aisle way. One man commented to the other, saying, “See that guy right there, there is absolutely nothing wrong with him, but he’s got one of those fake service dogs.”
I was so angry. I turned around, I invaded their conversation, and I said to them, “You know nothing about what you’re talking about. That man is a Purple Heart Vietnam War veteran that was blown up in a tank. He has one lung, shrapnel throughout his body, PTSD, and a TBI. Tell me how you can possibly judge this person without knowing him?”
They shut up quickly. I was angry in that moment that they would speak so rudely about one of our teams. However, this is a perfect example of what I explained above about how we are visual creatures and should think before we judge others.
One of the things that we strive to do through our work when pairing our service dogs with disabled individuals is to educate everyone all the time. I think education of the various disabilities and tasks that service dogs perform brings a new awareness and respect for others that is extremely important.
To learn more about our mission here at Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs and how service dogs help those with disabilities, visit our website today!