Assholes, eyes, dogs and weddings

Housekeeping first. I’m aware I tend towards lengthy silly end notes which you probably can’t be arsed to scroll down and up for. So I’m going to try putting them after the paragraph rather than at the end and we’ll see if that makes a big mess of things or if it’s better.

OK disability talk incoming with Mama Cantatrice, related to this Reddit post on AmItheAsshole. Image file here, text underneath for accessibility.

aita

AITA for not allowing my friend to bring her service animal (guide dog) to my wedding?

I (28f) will be getting married in September. I have a blind friend who mostly relies on her guide dog. The dog obviously has access to all places.

Now I am in a sticky situation and I can sense that I will be TA. I have three chronic illnesses that I take 23 pills for, severe asthma and you guessed it, an extremely severe dog allergy. Usually when I meet with my friend we meet in the open and I take two allergy pills. However, because of all the other medication I take these pills make me extremely drowsy to the point where I am not allowed to drive and I usually crash as soon as I get home from our get togethers.

Our wedding will be very intimate, i.e. we will be in relatively small rooms. I feel horrible about this but I just don’t think I can let my friend bring her dog. It just wouldn’t work. I talked about it with my fiance and some friends. Finally I talked to my friend about it, explained the situation and said I would love her to come but she just can’t bring her dog. I said that four of our mutual friends had offered to be “on a roster” and assist her should she need it. Alternatively, if she is not comfortable with this she could bring a person of her choosing to the wedding or I’d pay for a professional aid for the day. I think it is important to note that her dog is not for any additional issues like seizures or anything like that.

Unfortunately, she was less than happy with my suggestions. She accused me of being ableist and thinking her disability can be switched off for the day.

I’m not blind. So aren’t I staying in my lane? (1) I’m swerving out of that thing because I’ve seen this flying about and I see the same response to it over and over. One of the reasons I like AITA is that it brings out people’s biases and you can see them crawling about in real time.(2) If you want to learn how to be a decent human, AITA won’t teach you anything. But when you have thousands of people voting on who is in the wrong, based on very little information, you get some real insight into how they approach these issues. Virtually everyone said the bride isn’t the asshole (and by extension that her friend is) and at first I agreed. You probably did too. Because damn, she tried. What was she supposed to do? DIE on her special day?

(1) I don’t really understand most driving-themed metaphors if I’m honest. I will say, however, that I’m delighted to be hurtling along this particular motorway where the only people who *are* allowed to change lanes are blind. I can’t drive either, so we’re all in this carnage together.

(2) Well it’s that and the fact that about 5% of the posts are written by utterly terrible people who expect the internet to agree that they’re the good guys, and who get ripped to clueless shreds. Everyone who reads AITA likes those posts best. Everyone.

Then I realised that things didn’t quite add up on that front. Despite the common belief that the world is full of impossible, entitled disabled people who won’t give an inch… most disabled people are used to hitting up against things we can’t do. It sucks, but that’s being disabled in this particular iteration of reality. So Friend is spitting in the face of Bride who is trying hard to make this work, and demanding that she DEAL WITH THE ALLERGY…

…Well.

If it’s really like that I almost admire Friend’s chutzpah.(3) This might be a truly impossible situation and maybe Friend really is as stubborn as she sounds. But looking at the odd, non-sequitur nature of the things we’re told Friend said, I think this conflict is really about the actual conversation that they had. There are a lot of things we don’t know about it. So many things, in fact, that we can’t tell for certain who the asshole is here. We just can’t.  So I’m going to talk about this from the perspective of a disabled person – albeit a sighted disabled person – and as someone who is aware of the unique fuckery of getting though weddings as a disabled person. If you hear a blind person talk about this, you should take their word over mine. I’m not saying any of this because I know everything. I’m saying it because the world is full of total clueless fuckmuppets, and I know more than them.

That last sentence could be the tagline for this blog.

(3) “It wasn’t the anaphylaxis, damn it. It was the PRINCIPLE! Oh what’s that? The late bride’s funeral will be in the open, and the girl with the dog allergies didn’t get invited anyway? Sorted.”

There are just a couple of bits that stand out to me here from a disabled perspective. The most glaring is:

I talked about it with my fiance and some friends. Finally I talked to my friend about it, explained the situation and said I would love her to come but she just can’t bring her dog. I said that four of our mutual friends had offered to be “on a roster” and assist her should she need it.

This comes across to me very much like Bride is scurrying around behind Friend’s back, discussing her disability with everyone else first, like it’s some kind of awkward, dirty secret. Friend knows she’s blind. She knows this is a potential issue. She knows what she does and doesn’t feel comfortable with and she’s probably had some thoughts about how to manage this already. Why in God’s name Bride decided to ask a bunch of sighted people about this first is beyond me.

If you’re ever in this kind of situation, the first thing to do is go to the disabled friend FIRST and ask THEM if they see a way forward. Do NOT say:

“So anyway, it’s in a confined area so you won’t be able to bring the dog. But don’t worry! I have everything sorted out. I’ve already spoken to Denise, Anna, Laura and Margot, and they’ve agreed to have a roster to look after you. So you’ll be fine.”

Bride doesn’t see the problems with this. There are lots of them.

The four friends are not the same thing as the dog. A guide dog goes through YEARS of training to be the exact help that a blind person needs. I think people often fail to understand just how remarkable guide dogs are, probably because we’re all used to seeing people’s poorly trained pets slobbering under the dinner table. Even people who understand that it would be outrageous to say “our dream venue wasn’t wheelchair accessible but some of us will carry you up the stairs”(4) are vulnerable to the thinking that: “Dogs are pretty stupid compared with humans. So if a dog is good, how much better must a human be?” Answer: not better. At all. The dog represents independence; he’s almost part of the human’s body at this point and being separated is a huge deal. Working dogs can have incredible focus that humans lose when they’re talking about something fun. Part of the appeal of a guide dog is not needing your friends to guide you awkwardly around; not feeling like you owe them a favour; not feeling cross with them when they miss a rough patch of ground and you trip up. Switching between four friends just compounds all of these problems.

(4) If you’re thinking of pointing out that there are people who would not see the problem with this either, please don’t. Those people are terrible and I don’t want to think about them.

Also: “I think it is important to note that her dog is not for any additional issues like seizures or anything like that” stuck out for me. It’s not actually important to note – it’s completely irrelevant. It sounds like she thinks seizures would be a valid reason to really NEED the dog, whereas being blind isn’t.

Always, always ask first. If you come up with a “solution,” straight up, without any input from the disabled person, they’re put in the situation of going through every reason why you’re a dumbass. Bride has already talked this through with others, which puts further pressure on Friend to agree. Maybe if she’d gone to Friend first, Friend might have said “well that sounds difficult, but perhaps I can bring my mum? She has lots of experience of this kind of situation.”

Bride suggested other options though? Well yes, but Bride should not be suggesting ANYTHING upfront. Bride should, first and foremost, be listening and treating Friend as an intelligent person who understands her own disability. A different person might work, or they might not. A human, even a professional, is not the help that Friend’s used to and comfortable with. Is there someone available? Are they the right person, with whom Friend will feel comfortable? Are professional aids even prepared to attend weddings at the moment? They might have other clients who are vulnerable to C19 and it might be an absolute no from them.

On the C19 front, if Bride has the health issues she says she does, unless she lives in a country with VERY firm control of C19, she’s a fucking idiot to set this intimate indoor wedding for September. C19 isn’t going away by then.

By the time the idea of “oh… I guess you could bring a different person….” was floated, Friend was already pissed off, Bride was probably hurt that Friend had rejected her solution, the four mutual friends were going to know that their offer had been rejected, and God knows people have decided not to go to weddings for less awkward reasons than this.

If Friend doesn’t want to go without her dog, and Bride isn’t able to do anything about her allergy, then it’s clear that Friend can’t come. Did either say that? Did Bride try to push her into accepting the “solution” which she’d come up with? Because that is a thing that happens a lot. “Why can’t you just push through that discomfort? It’s just one day! I already found you help…”

Able-bodied people often do not like it when disabled people say “sorry, but I just absolutely cannot do that.” If I say I can’t do something for disability reasons, I’m not trying to ruin the fun, I’m not making excuses, I’m not indicating that I don’t care enough to PUSH THROUGH (whatever that even means). No, it doesn’t make any difference that it’s your special day. This is what disability is. This is what “I can’t switch my disability on and off” is usually a response to.

And able-bodied people are really difficult about weddings in particular. I’ve had to

  1. Muddle my way through weddings which were utter hell on me because they weren’t even remotely autism-friendly (and honestly could have been made much more bearable with a minimum amount of consultation and accommodation set up beforehand).
  2. Put up with a huge tantrum from my mum when I said I did not want to do that again, and that my cousin (whom honestly I barely know) had already told me she completely understood and was fine with it. FAAAAAAAMILLLLYYYYYYYYYYY is more important than a disabled person’s right to not experience pain.
  3. Not slap the people who ignored the fact that certain things were put in place as an accommodation for autistic guests. No, the quiet room is not a convenient place for you to bring your grumpy, exhausted toddler. You have just rendered it completely worthless as an accommodation and subjected me to a dose of pain juice. Thanks for that.
  4. Explain to people, on AITA no less, that autistic people can’t PUSH THROUGH weddings and somehow not endure pain, embarrassment, exhaustion and sensory overload out of sheer willpower because “it’s only one day.” One person even told me that “if you’re too autistic to go to the occasional family wedding, you’re obviously completely non-functional in life as a whole and urgently need to get some help with that.”

I think it’s interesting that almost everyone (including me at first, because I’m not perfect)  assumes that what’s happened is that Friend is DEMANDING that Bride either die from her dog allergy, or drug herself into a coma, so that Friend can snub the help offered and bring her dog to the wedding. There’s no indication of that. Maybe she did. Or maybe she’s frustrated that Bride knew she was blind, but didn’t bother to go to her ahead of time to work out together whether there were ways around this issue. Instead she decided to discuss it with other people, putting Friend in an awkward and embarrassing situation.

I guess we’ll never know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s