Rep. Kinkead discusses service dog etiquette
Photo: Office of Rep. Kinkead
For many of us, dogs are our best friends – an enormous source of companionship and emotional support. But for folks living with sensory issues such as blindness, dogs are also a fundamental part of navigating the world. Since September is National Guide Dog month, and District 20’s own Borough of Bellevue is home to one of the largest visually impaired communities, per capita, in our state, I think it is important to discuss how we can best support these individuals and their service animals.
To start, we should emphasize that, while guide dogs are commonly associated with the visually impaired, their service is not exclusive to people with vision loss. They may also serve those who frequently experience severe anxiety or seizures, such as veterans or children with autism. So do not automatically assume that someone with a guide dog is visually impaired.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do to help these people and their animals is to refrain from petting or otherwise distracting guide dogs, no matter how adorable they are, unless explicit permission is given from the handler. Remember, these animals are on the job and their handlers depend on them, so do not take offense if a request to pet is denied.
The best practice is to avoid talking to the dog, feeding them, making extraneous noises or staring at them. It’s especially helpful to share these tips with children who may not understand the role of a service animal, and to use any encounter with a guide dog as an educational opportunity.
While it is important for us to recognize the importance of these animals in our community, in Harrisburg I am also working to address issues affecting visually impaired individuals, and all of our neighbors who are living with a disability. This includes working with my colleagues to promote legislation and policies that would increase accessibility in public areas and increase access to medical services, as well as working with the community to ensure that the policies and legislation that we are working on in Harrisburg are, in fact, the most helpful to the individuals we are aiming to help.
That is just one of the reasons I joined state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, this year at his annual Disability Summit in Pittsburgh, to hear first-hand from members of our visually impaired community what policies or best practices we as a Commonwealth can implement or adopt – because I believe that every Pennsylvanian should have the opportunity to succeed on their own terms.
Beyond the policy and legislative arenas, I’ve also been a supporter of local programs and organizations that work to enrich the lives of local residents and provide opportunities which otherwise might not be accessible to everyone.
Did you know that Pittsburgh is home to a library specifically for visually impaired folks or others who are living with a physically based reading disability? The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Library of Accessible Media for Pennsylvanians (LAMP) offers resources such as large print books, audio-described DVDs, audio books and magazines with playback equipment, physical Braille books, and other services to state residents who are unable to read standard print.
Remember, you can contact my office for assistance with any state-related matter. Just email [email protected] or call our district office at 412-321-5523. Please don’t hesitate to reach out – my team and I are eager to help you in any way we can.