Get Ready for More Red Tape, Alberta!
It's that time of year again, and I'm back with the next chapter of my guide dog journey. This time around, things are going to be a little rougher. As you might recall, I recently underwent training with my second guide dog and woof, what an adventure that was! But that's a story for another day. Today, I want to focus on the struggle I faced upon returning home and obtaining my provincial ID card for my guide.
Welcome back to Alberta, where everything comes with an extra helping of red tape!
Before I dive into the issue at hand, let me stress that I wholeheartedly support the need for and the struggles of owner-managed service dog teams. That said, I believe that Alberta has a long way to go in terms of creating equitable provincial legislation pertaining to guide and service dogs and their handlers. In its current state, the legislation is downright discriminatory, even while purporting to protect us.
Alberta law requires all handlers with a service dog to carry identification at all times that proves that their dog is legally recognized as a service dog. Yes, you read that correctly. Our dogs require provincial identification, regardless of whether they were trained by the owner or by a private trainer/program recognized by either the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) or Assistance Dogs International (ADI). If you're a regular visitor to this province, it's even suggested that you apply for this card yourself. What?! This card is essentially a stamp of approval from the province acknowledging that my guide dog is trained and can safely accompany me in public. While a dog's behavior is important, to create an ID card that must be presented to anyone who asks essentially segregates an entire class of people.
And here's where the issue gets tricky. Alberta has two pieces of legislation to govern service dogs: the Service Dogs Act and the Blind Persons Rights Act. While all "Guide Dogs" are protected under the Blind Persons Rights act, you would only know that legislation existed if you were privy to such knowledge. However, as a blind person with a guide dog, I am required to apply for a "Service Dog Identification Card" by visiting the service dogs page on the government of Alberta website. Confusing, right? If you do make it to the page, you'll notice a list of approved "Service Dog Organizations" that Alberta acknowledges and approves. Here comes the kicker - if you use a guide dog, you're out of luck on paper. The website only recognizes two guide dog programs, and none of the recognized programs are outside Canada. Many individuals opt to acquire guide and service dogs trained in the USA for various reasons. Examples include the superior quality of dogs produced, different training techniques employed, shorter waitlists, and dogs trained to address the handler's specific disability-related needs.
It's unclear if blind people can obtain the blind persons rights act card, or if they are applying for the service dog identification card, or what legislation protects our rights to access public facilities and services. As I mentioned in my previous post, I couldn't register my guide with the city of Edmonton without receiving an ID card that, according to the government of Alberta website, I may not qualify for at all!
To apply for this ID card, you must fill out an inaccessible PDF form (not screen reader-friendly) and have your program fill out a portion of it before sending it in to the Service Dog Assessment Team. The form isn't designed to be filled out by a visually impaired person, adding another layer of discrimination to the mix. It's possible to apply for the ID card through the MyAlberta Digital ID portal, but based on the qualifications outlined in the form, it's uncertain if guide dogs trained by an IGDF-recognized program would be accepted.
So I guess this means that those of us with guide dogs in Alberta are still not equal? Do we even have protections? Can the protections that are outlined within the two legislative documents be enforced? Who even enforces them, as I have been told that they constitute civil law, not criminal, and have been told that the police departments are not enforcing the legislative document ts outlined within this post. So, let me pose the question, Is Alberta discriminatory or are we just reluctant to accept people have rights? Do we think this will change with the next government?
Until next time