And Finally: The Education Trap

Reprinted from PN September 2001
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During team training at Loving Paws, I had an unexpected opportunity to teach an unwanted lesson to an unknown person. I even managed to do this without violence—well, for the most part.

At Loving Paws, I was training with Sushi, a yellow Labrador, who was to be my successor service dog. We went to the mall for several training sessions. One day while there I went into the ladies room. Linda, the mother of the other girl in my class, was using the sink. I put Sushi in a down position under the sinks, asking Linda to keep an eye on him while I made a quick trip into the bathroom. The rest room had two stalls, the typical small one and a larger version to accommodate a wheelchair. I started toward the accessible one when an able-bodied-looking woman raced by me and took that stall. I didn't know how long this person would take. I have discovered some people think the larger stalls were built not only for people with disabilities but also for those with serious business to tend to, sometimes requiring a Reader's Digest.

After Linda and I looked at each other in shock, I decided to attempt the other stall with a much narrower door. It took several tries forward and backward and forward again, banging and scraping, to position my large power chair through the small doorway. The metal stall seemed flimsy as it shook and made crashing sounds, but stayed intact. I only had to go in far enough to rest my foot on the toilet and empty my leg bag into it. I accomplished about three-fourths of this—the rest ended up on the toilet seat and the floor.

As I performed this acrobatic feat, a voice came from the two-inch opening to the accessible stall. It was at this point I realized I was blocking the door to her stall. Okay, I must admit I had no bad feelings about this. Besides, can you think of a stronger way to get my message across?

The voice from behind the door said, "Oh, did you want to use this stall?"

"It's too late now," I answered. It was probably at this point when Linda was rolling on the floor in hysterics. She regained her composure within a couple of minutes. Although the length of time the woman was trapped in the bathroom stall increased as the story spread, I'm sure it didn't take me any longer than a minute to complete my business.

I came out of the bathroom followed by a newly educated young lady. Judging mainly from her legs (there was a lot to be seen under her short skirt), she must have been in her mid-20s.

At the sinks, she turned and addressed Linda. "I didn't know she wanted to use the bathroom."

I felt like I was being treated like a nonperson. She was talking about me in front of me like I wasn't even there. I was shocked to the point that I couldn't respond. I was far from addressing her in a civil, assertive way. Fortunately, Linda came to the rescue:

"If there's ever a choice, I always use the able-bodied stall, leaving the wheelchair one for those who need it."

Yes, Linda and I provided an education that day and diverted a potentially nasty situation.

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And Finally: The Education Trap


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