Saturday, August 8, 2009

Disabled in Indiana: Part I

To make this short and for a full understanding of what I'm about to post, I have a handicapped placard for my car due to a cardiac pacemaker I have implanted. I use it mainly on campus or wherever else I have to use a backpack, since I can't carry it around both shoulders. I also have a service dog from a regional agency. He has a vest clearly identifying him as a service animal, and identification (even though, from what I've heard, service animals in Indiana aren't required to wear a vest).

For the most part, I've had relatively good experiences bringing my service dog, Quest, out in public. He has treats in his vest so people can give him one before they pet him, he follows my commands, pays attention, and is fine with waiting while I eat or read. Most of the time, employees of businesses just ask "Is that a service dog?" and leave it at that, just to make sure. Many of the businesses I frequent (usually in Broad Ripple) know Quest by name. And the times I've had confrontations, it's from some idiot manager at a fast food restaurant or a rent-a-cop.

The restaurant I went to on Wednesday night (August 5), Boogie Burger, has by far the best burgers in town for a great price. Friendly staff, locally owned, and Quest and I have been there before. I've dragged friends and family there and they've all loved it.

But on Wednesday, I had a vastly different experience.

I walk in to Boogie Burger to order a milkshake. Immediately, I am told from someone working in the back that dogs aren't allowed in and I have to take him outside. I informed him, very clearly, it was a service dog. An employee up front also mentioned it was a service dog. But the man in the back kept saying I had to take the dog outside because it was a health hazard. I refused to do so, and I asked who he was. He responded that he was the owner, and came out of the kitchen and stood behind the counter while I was on the other side of it.

I kept informing him that I would not leave because, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, my service dog has every right to be where I can be. After some more back and forth of this, he said "Sir, get the fucking dog out of the restaurant." I refused, again reiterating that it was a service dog. He then asked "What type of service dog is it?". Knowing full well that it is specifically prohibited to inquire what the service dog does or what one's disability is, I said "None of your fucking business."

After being yelled at, scolded, and trying to be outshouted, he said "Sir, I'm going to ask you to leave." He then points to the sign that says that they have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. I once again refused. He talked about how no one should curse at him in his restaurant and goes on about how out of control I am. I told him that he first cursed at ME, and that I'm doing nothing other than fighting for my right as a consumer. He then said he'd call the cops if I didn't leave this instant. I said "Go ahead." He picked up the phone, dialed 911, then hung up a few seconds later.

At this point, pretty much all business has stopped due to this back and forth between me and the owner. Customers and employees are staring at us. After his almost-cop call, this woman leans him over and whispers into his ear. She says to me "Sir, I apologize for this, what can I do to make it up to you?" I asked who she was, and she said she was also the owner. I said I wanted an apology.

The male owner completely backtracks, lies, and manipulates what had just happened. He says "I'm sorry, but I couldn't see the dog's collar from the kitchen". I said to him that that is an excuse, not an apology. I continued on saying that while what he said might be true, an employee noted it was a service dog, and I continually mentioned it was a service dog, mentioned the ADA, and he himself inquired what type of service dog it is. I mentally noted that he was a fairly tall guy and would have no problem seeing over the counter to where my dog was. I demand an actual apology, but he feeds me the same bullshit line that I quoted. Again, this turns into another back and forth, and he tries to "call it even", saying that we both got out of control. I refused this, saying that his faults should not be shifted to me. Eventually, he goes to the back and he disappears for a while.

Somewhere in this whole mess, I decide to enjoy my milkshake in the store and unravel a bit. I'm not what I would call a very aggressive person, and after all this huffing and puffing, my voice was shaky, my legs were tired, and my throat was dry. I sat in the restaurant for about 20 minutes hardly touching my drink and wondering what my next course of action would be.

The male owner once again came out and was talking to the female clerk, apparently not realizing I was still there. He apologized to her, and was about to say something else (probably an explanation shifting the blame onto me rather than him) but then noticed I was still there. He repeated the line he had been giving me to a while now, and said "What do you want me to do?". I said "I want you to go to the back and leave me alone." He said "I can do that." and did so.

Since then, my mind was been dissecting this event. Why did the other employees stay silent, even though one of them clearly noted it was a service dog. Why did the female owner stand in silence during the entire back and forth? Did those regular employees think I was some asshole for putting up such a scene? What about the customers that were waiting behind me? Would the male owner, who happened to be black, do what I did if someone tried to kick him out due to his race even if it was thinly covered up by a "you're being unruly, get out" excuse?

Maybe the male owner is afraid of dogs, or has a personal backstory. But as someone who has been on the "other side" of the cash register, I know that when you go to work, you put your personal biases and phobias and whatever else away. You treat your customers, your clients, with the utmost respect. And when you realize you've crossed the line, you stop, you apologize (no excuses) and you do whatever you can to make up for it. And when you can't handle a situation in a calm manner, you let someone else take over. That didn't happen here.

And while I'm still personally struggling with the full impact of this situation, and am doubting that I'll ever go to one of my favorite restaurants ever again, I've been assured by multiple people that what I did was right. And I hope that when someone tries to violate your rights as a human being, that you fight like hell for them too. Remember, laws do not give you rights. State and national constitutions don't either. They are INHERENT rights that all humans are born with. They just so happened to be spelled out in respective constitutions.

I titled this Part I, because I might post about my past experiences, or there may be follow up. And I'm sure there will be more incidents in the future, either about me or others.


  1. Matt,
    I am sorry that you had this experience. I enjoy reading your posts. Keep writing.

  2. Matt,

    I am sorry this happened to you but I am also proud of you for standing up for your rights and for all those disabled individuals whose rights may be violated at one point but are unable to speak up for themselves.

    Don't feel bad for speaking up for what is right!

  3. You did what was Right!!! You were quite brave for staying in the restaurant, i maybe would have left, but you had every right to stay, and it certainly made him think! There are a lot of Jerks in this world!!! My son has HD and CCHS he is only 20 mths old, but i know he will meet with a lot of predjudice in life. I currently struggle with a lot, even from family!!!!

  4. I am sorry for what happened to you. I'm glad you stood up for your rights, but next time please don't sink to their level and begin cursing back. Maybe you should have called the police to really get your point across.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I thank you all for your comments. I apologize that I accidentllly deleted some of them. Feel free to re-post.

    As to the one anonymous comment, calling the police in a civil dispute could've netted someone else a fine for doing a false 911 call. I don't think cursing is "sinking to their level." Sometimes it's just gotta be expressed, and I shouldn't have to have the moral high ground (nor anyone) when it's a violation of one's rights.

  7. If I may offer my side of the story?

    Working in the back as I was, my view from the wall of the "pass" is obstructed. What I saw was you entering the store with a dog on the lease. I could not see that the dog was a service animal. Being in BR we've had to deal with people coming in with dogs (not service) shirtless, shoeless, drunk, etc. From my vantage point all I could see was the leash.

    I asked you to please take the dog outside and you began your tirade about the service animal. It wasn't until I came around to the front that I could see what type of dog it was. You still continued shouting at the top of your lungs, and believe me I was as unsettled by this as you! Immaturely, we both used bad language.

    Your being asked to leave had nothing to do with the your dog. It was you being beligerent (sp?) and making a scene. My only option is to call the police in these situations. I did, and then hung up the phone, realizing how ridiculous this whole thing was becoming.

    I apologized to you no less than 3 (three) times which you didn't accept. My wife comped your order. You still continued with the scene. And told me basically to get out of my own store! Sat there, and kept on another five minutes.

    Understand that we will not be yelled at, harrassed or threatened by anyone. We treat all of our customers with respect and expect the same. This is the way adults behave.

    You and your dog (and I have one too.) are always welcome in Boogie Burger - and I have seen that you've been back. I haven't even had the pleasure of meeting you and getting your name. My name is Mark Radford and I look forward to putting this behind us.

    (I'm only posting this as "anon" because it won't let me put my name.


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