I read with dismay and disappointment that Qantas no longer allows psychiatric assistance dogs on board. What was even more distressing, was reading the comments that followed the article in the The Australian.
Yes, I have always known that Australia as a whole isn’t half as progressive as countries in Europe, or even the USA, where disability issues are concerned, but the four years I spent in Sydney led (or misled?) me to believe that they’re still way ahead of my dear ol’ Singapore. After reading all the horrible, ignorant-minded and mean-spirited gibberish sprouting from these people, I’m wondering if my time in Sydney was nothing but a fluffy dream, or perhaps I just lived inside a bubble filled with the best of the best of human kind? These comments, do they come from sorry specimens of humanity, or are they actually the real deal and that’s what humans are when they’re not trying to pretend to be decent? Yes, the keyboard warrior / online creep phenomenon is at play.
I’m so shaken that I am even questioning my own memory and my own perception now. And guess what, I know that those types lurking around the cyberspaces waiting to jump in with their commentaries bursting with worldly wisdom would say that this is a reflection of my lunacy – followed by various not-so-imaginative descriptive words detailing what they think / feel about ‘people like’ me. Yes, disabled people. Disabled people who have specific needs. Disabled people who dare to request for their needs to be respected. Disabled people who are not hiding at home but wanting to live autonomous lives out there in society like every other non-disabled person. Gasp! Gasp! Gasp! How dare we????
Bigots and mean people are everywhere in human society. Here in Singapore, some people commented after an article about me and Lucy was published in the Straits Times, that I should “just stay home” because I am autistic. This is why disabled people cannot merely depend on societal “kindness” to be treated with dignity and respect – this is why I argue and campaign for legislation. Haben Girma, the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law, talks about the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) a lot. Without the ADA, she says, she wouldn’t have been able to achieve as much as she has done. I agree. Singapore needs a legislation to protect the rights of the disabled. Australia has the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – and yet, society is still so ignorant and downright discriminatory. How far can disabled people go in a society with no legislative protection for basic fundamental rights to exist? But I digress. Back to the topic…
What is so utterly sad is that Qantas flew Lucy and me in cabin, when I returned to Singapore in November 2016, and I was waxing lyrical about the airline afterwards. So, why are they banning psychiatric assistance dogs now?
In fact, while other airlines were unhelpful, including Singapore Airlines, my country’s very own carrier of which I used to be so proud, Qantas was amazing in the way they handled our application, guiding me through all the various paperwork required for clearance. When I rang the Qantas disability assistance unit, the person on the other end of the line even reassured me, “Yes, we know mindDog.” From the minute we appeared at the Qantas counters in Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport, we were treated with care and consideration, all the way through the immigration check points and up into the airplane. The pilot waved hello to us too! And the cabin crew were attentive and kind. All this goodness helped to ease my anxiety. I am always extremely anxious when I travel, although nobody looking at me would be able to tell at all. Keeping it all in does nothing to ameliorate the screaming terror inside my brain, though. So, for me, it was an almost exhilarating experience, because there was so much positivity. I became a vocal Qantas fan. Until now.
I do not know why Qantas made that decision. Was it because of one or two ‘bad eggs’ that spoilt it for the rest of us? Or did someone new enter the scenario and just decided to exclude psychiatric dogs because they (the powers behind this decision) shared the same kinds of regressive aggressive opinions about disability, about psycho-social disability, and about dogs in general, as those people who made such nasty comments (in response to the article in The Australian)?
Oh yes, what is the big fuss here? Pet dogs fly in cabin around Europe. Yes. I know. But people will argue that Australians (like Singaporeans) are less sophisticated and do not know how to train their pet dogs to behave. I agree. But mindDogs are trained assistance dogs, we undergo rigorous Public Access Tests every year. As for noise, poor behaviour and fouling the cabin: these are seriously ridiculous arguments, because 90% of human children and 70% of adult humans travelling in airplanes are filthier, noisier and behave more objectionably than 100% of dogs I’ve ever known.
Lucy will never see her friends in Sydney again. She is too old to fly anyway. But this has tainted the pristine memory of our amazing adventure. And there I was, extolling the virtues of Qantas. Such a mockery. I now have nothing but a wet, soggy and mouldy rag left in my hands, and waving it round and round is a pathetic activity – in other words, I’m now that balmy old lady standing in the streets protesting, “But it didn’t used to be this way!” It didn’t. But that was then. And now is now.
I hope Qantas comes to their senses. Though the more I live and the closer to death I become, the more heartbreaking is my growing despondency about the human creature. Please, somebody save this middle-aged Aunty from utter despair and despondency – Qantas, are you listening?