Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Access issues with the Mini Marathon

Before signing up for the Mini Marathon, I sent an email to the Indy 500 festival org because on the registration information and such, it specifically states that NO animals are allowed on the race course. So I emailed and asked if they would be willing to work with me on using my service animal during the race. I sent that email on Tuesday and didn't hear anything back. So by Thursday, I'd been really giving it all some thought and I was at the church for something with the kids and had the opportunity to walk around the walking track in the church gym. My time was good and Mike said he was going to go ahead and do it. So I decided to sign up. My last appt with the dr showed higher cholesterol and I know I need to get this weight off, so I decided I was going to do it and at absolute worst if I cannot use Rei (if I didn't have the blessings of my guide dog school or vet) then I would find someone to do this with me, however I fully intend to use Rei to
guide me during the race.

So Mike and I registered for the race and we have our bib numbers. We've paid our fees and I set my goal to start walking our neighborhoods and my goal for the race itself is just to not get caught by the bus! Hee hee!

In the meantime I had been in touch with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind where I got Rei from and they told me that some handlers have done marathons with thier dogs and that it was doable and that they'd be glad to work with me and help me on training Rei for this race as well so that we both could do the race in the safest manner possible for both of us. I also contacted my vet and he re-assured me that Rei is more than capable of doing the race, being a young dog and he was happy to work with me too- checking her out before the race and helping with suggestions as we go along in training too.

So nearly a week passes and on the following Monday after sending off the email to the contact person of the Indy 500 festival org, I call the 1-800 number for them and it takes me to the lady that actually received my email. She explained that she had indeed received the email and sent it on to another person to make the decision on. She said that she hadn't heard back from that person and that she'd try to get with that person and send me an answer by the end of the day.

I told her thank you and that I also wanted to mention since I hadn't done so in my email, that I had been in touch with the school that had trained me and the dog and had thier full support and so forth as well as my vet. She said she'd relay the information and get back to me ASAP.

So I was feeling pretty good, thinking all would be cool and so forth. WRONG......

Here's the response that I received:

Subject: Eligibility to Participate

Hello Kacie!

Thank you for contacting the 500 Festival and for your interest in the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. We would definitely welcome your participation in the event if you are able to supply a visual guide. Unfortunately, we do not allow any animals, including service animals, on the course not only for the safety of all of the participants, but also for the safety of the animal.

If you are interested in having a visual guide for the event, please let us know and we can provide you with the name and contact info for a company that may have guides available. Also, please note that both you and the guide must register for the event.

Thank you again for your interest!

So first off, with general mentality of "you cant bring your dog because we know what's best for you and it's safer for the dog" just absolutely rubbed me the wrong way. Secondly, the more I thought about it, the more I felt in my heart this is illegal and probably a thing that no one has ever pushed it after being told No that they couldn't bring their service animal.

At first I thought with going into the holidays, I really dont have the ability or energy to fight this on my own. Mike also kept telling me to just find a person at church to run this with me. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I needed to take a stand, as we just worked so hard to get the HB 1603 passed this summer.

The argument that they are saying is that it'll be safer for my dog and that a visual guide can keep me safe. I beg to differ as they bring in bands and entertainers to play and entertain along the entire route of the race, as well as all of the crowds. So that means with all of this noise, I will not be able to hear and quite frankly, the turning point for why I went to get a guide dog re-iterates why I need my dog and not a visual guide to lead me.

When Mike and I went for a get-away weekend 2 yrs ago for our 10th anniversary, we went to Detroit to visit local sight seeing places there. We also went to a very large mall and did some clothes shopping for our kids and for my mother in law who was moving into assisted living.

We were walking through the mall past the food courts and I was using my telescoping white cane. Mike had bags in both hands and this young girl came flying across in front of my path. Mike tried desperately to get my attention verbally, but because of the noise of the food courts, I was unable to hear him. Because his hands were full with our purchases, he was unable to get my attention quickly enough before the collision occured. The girl came in front of me and my white cane went between her legs and she snapped off the cane and sent the end of it clattering across the floor. I was startled, and even somewhat afraid and hesitant to travel on my own after that. Thus I came home determined to find a guide dog school that would work with me on doing home training.

So as I recalled this- I am wanting my dog to meet both my visual and hard of hearing needs since a visual guide will not be able just say to me as we are going along- Watch out, there's a crack in the road- because with all of the people clamoring, all of the bands, and noise going on, I'm not going to be able to hear them. So I am going to need someone that can communicate with me explaining in this sort of setting, With my dog, we communicate with each other non-verbally through the harness handle and with beign a team, we have learned each other's cues to be able work effectively as a team.

So after some thought on whether or not to pursue it, I put an email out to the network of advocates I know here in the Indy area from my Partner's class. Thankfully with my work on the HB 1603 bill, I had made a good handful of networks that were happy to support me in this.

So a gentleman that is a volunteer advocate and fellow Partners graduate has taken this up and is helping me with all this. He has contacted the Mayor's office and One America, the primary sponsor of the race, asking them to work with us and to make sure they were aware of the situation.

Upon contacting them, both did a hands off approach, saying they didn't make the call and that the Indy 500 group is the one that made the decision and that it is up to them in regards to eligibility to participate. So from here, my understanding is that he has been in touch with several connections regarding the legalities of this issue and so forth. The reponses on this has pointed to say that this situation does fall within the provisions of the ADA and under the new HB1603 bill that was just passed this summer.

So at this point, he is working on getting in touch with the Indy 500 festival org and hoping that with explaing the provisions of the law, that they'll re-consider thier position and become educated on how service animals work. He will also point out to them that if the race is too dangerous for the dog, then it's too dangerous for people to run in as well. Lastly he intends to point out that since the race does have a specific wheelchair division, that the race committee cannot pick and choose who they will accomodate.

If this doesn't yeild an agreement of mutual satisfaction, then the another advocate will go to the next step, the board of directors of the Indy 500 festival org and explain to them the situation again and that if they are unwilling to work with us, then they will be facing further course of action because of these statutes.

All that being said though, we really, really hope they'll realize that with this being a public event and such, that they'll sit down and be educated on what service animals do to be educated and then agree to work with us without having to take it any further at all.

So we'll see what happens, as I'm praying that it resolves quickly and goes well. My Aunt and Dad have also both signed up to do this with me, since they are youngens too. So at absolute worst, if push comes to shove and for some reason I am not able to use Rei- I will have family to help me out during the race, but not what I'm planning on at this point.

We've been training for several weeks now and started out doing 1.75 miles at a pretty good pace. Right now we ae at 3 miles in just over 45 minutes, so doing 15 minute miles. We just need to build up the endurance to maintain that pace for 13 miles by May and I think it's an attainable goal, just will take some work on our part and some bundling up as it's turning cold here in the midwest!