Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Senate Committee Hearing a SUCCESS!!!!

There were 6 dogs in a somewhat small room- a golden, 3 black labs, a yellowlab, and a siberian husky. There were a lot of people standing, as the roomwas beyond full. House Representative Leonard and sponsoring SenatorStutzman both introducted the bill and discussed it. Then they opened the floor to the testimonies, which Gary started off with his statements that he's been receiving contact after contact about various people being forcedto leave places of employment and from school functions because of thier dogs. He gave several examples and the senators were just shaking thier heads.

Then I was called to testify. I was sitting directly behind the table where Representatives Leonard and Senator Stutzman were sitting, and then Senator Alting, committee chair, said that I was welcome to stay seated. I quickly thanked him for that, as I had dogs on both my right and left.

I did my testimony a little different this time and it played out perfectly. The bill was the last one to be heard and it was late afternoon-which the Senators- a panel of 11 were all bored silly and ready to go. They had moved one bill until next week and one of the bill heard before the service dog bill was about schools so the people on that bill talked a LONG time on it. Which several Senators were up and down, out of the room, chatting with other Senators and so forth.

Here is a picture of it:

I had prepared my testimony- printing it out on a half sheet of paper. Then I put it on a landscape sheet of construction paper and then took a holepunch and puched 4 holes in the shape of a rectangle at the bottom. I had ordered a bag of natural white sugar candy sticks that were about 6 inches long. I then took red curling ribbon and fed through the holes I'd punched so that I laid the candy stick horizontally on the and then the ribbon crossed over the top of the stick maiking a red "X" on the white candy stick laying on the black construction paper.

So back to the hearing- I started off addressing Mr. Chairman and then Ladies and Gentleman of the committee, and then said that I'd brought them all an afternoon snack, some sugar candy to perk things up. There was a round of laughter with that. I then gave my testimony which was pretty similar to what I'd said the last time, though I added at the end, that I asked for thier support of this bill and that I asked that they didn't force me to use the white cane, which is represented on my handout as the candy stick, and to please support this bill. You could see the light bulbs allgoing off and the chuckling as they realized what had just transpired.

In my testimony, I stressed that the cane did not work for me and that Rei *IS* my independence and that it bothers me that my state can tell me that I can't come into my kids' schools and that should I return to the work force, that employers are currently able to keep me out, solely because I use a guide dog. I stressed that the way the law currently reads, that even though I have college degrees, have worked in the past, and am an active member of my community, that I am able to be excluded because of the language of the current law. One of the senators muttered under his breath, "Why are we here? This is ADA?!?!?" In an exclaimation of hearing these stories.

The next lady to testify, had testified at the last hearing being a mom of twin boys with cognative and visual impairments as well and she built upon my testimony, saying that the reason we were all in the room today, was that it really comes down to education of the public and so forth, but that because of the current language of the law, that certain people are allowed to exclude instead of accomodate and that we all wanted this changed.

Lastly the director of ICAN testified building upon all of our testimonies that she worked with adults and kids and talking about the level of training that all of these dogs receive. She explained that before the dogs are even given out to a handler, that the school visits or learns about the different environments such as schools, home, workplaces, etc. that the dog will be working in and they make sure that the dog is matched to fit within those situations. She continued on saying that because any of these places have the right to remove a disruptive dog from thier premises, that the teams are trained to NOT be disruptive. She went on to explain too that they work to educate the people around the new team especially for fear issues and concerns of allergies, noting that very rarely are people deathly allergic to dogs and have to touch the dog in order to react to it, meaning that measures can be easily taken to ensure that the person with allergies and the dog do not have contact.

After that last testimony, Mr. Chairman broke in to thank all of the doghandlers for being present today and the committee were honored to have our presence and that within the state building, that we were all welcome anywhere within the building with our dogs. The senator that represented the Carmel area spoke up and wanted to know about the situation of where the lady was denied access to the school board meeting. Another Senator spoke up about a person that he knew that had a dog and that it made him realize how important the dogs were to those who had them and how much they allow the handler to be independent. He went on to say that as a Senator, that they ( the committee as a whole) needed to do whatever it took to allow those of us with disabilities to have our dogs to be able to do the things that other people do everyday.

They then had the motion to vote, which was quickly seconded, and then they voted to pass the bill on to the floor, 11-0! :D

Whooo Hoooooooo!

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