Barking Up The Deaf Tree

My uncle forwarded me this New York Times article about young John Cave Jr., a deaf student, who wanted to bring his service dog, Simba, to school. There is a cute picture of a Simba, a yellow Labrador, in the article.

To summarize: the Nassau County school said no to the Cave family, “concluding that having a dog in school would provide no instructional benefit to the student, and could pose a health risk to students with severe allergies and create safety issues during fire drills and practice lockdowns.”

The case made its way to the New York Division on Human Rights, where Commissioner Kumiki Gibson “found that students with disabilities were entitled to have a service dog with them in school under state law and ordered the East Meadow district to change its policy immediately.”

Due to the vagaries of state law, this policy hasn’t been put into effect yet because of an appeal to the State Supreme Court, but so far, so good. I’m happy with the Commissioner’s decision. Of course, schools should allow students with disabilities to bring their guide dogs to class. I do not dispute that.

My problem is: why does John Cave need a guide dog in school? His mother, Nancy, points out that he uses cochlear implants and that Simba accompanies “her son almost everywhere, alerting him to sounds he cannot hear, like fire alarms or someone calling his name.”

Millions of deaf children, including me, went to school and survived just fine without guide dogs. Fire alarms are a no-brainer. Everyone in the classroom runs for the door, so follow ‘em. Sure, it’s a little confusing, but so what?

My friend just said, “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.” Exactly.

There are lots of great adaptions John Cave could take advantage of. Teach people to tap on his shoulder if they need his attention. Tell the teacher she can wave her hand. Being deaf means learning those adaption skills and educating others on how to work with deaf people.

Instead, John “outsources” those skills and depends on his service dog. It’s just smacks of a very deaf=disability perspective. When I’m in a class, the last thing I think about is how people will get my attention or what I will do in a fire alarm. I’m sorry, but I just can’t see any vital use for Simba in the classroom. Can someone tell me?

I also can’t help but wonder if John Cave’s real problem are over-protective parents; you will see that the picture in the article shows him wearing a medical bracelet. As my friend said, “I hope to god it doesn’t just say ‘DEAF’ and instead lists some other serious medical condition.”

This situation troubles me. I do understand everyone is entitled to their own choice of accommodations. I know many deaf people and families have hearing dogs at home.

But what kind of humanistic message does having a guide dog in school send to John, his family, his classmates, and the school? Discuss.

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