Medical condition shouldn’t be a barrier to employment

Saanich woman turned down for jobs because of her service dog

Dealing with a life-altering medical condition is something most of us will never have to deal with. We can only hope that we as a society can do whatever we can to lessen the challenges so many are facing.

But the attitudes held by many in society can make their situations even more difficult.

Saanich’s Tessa Hawkins is an example in point. Hawkins is a talented and highly educated professional, holding a bachelor’s degree from the University of Victoria and a masters from the University of Alberta. She also suffers from epilepsy, and that condition has proven to be a barrier to using her skills to earn a living.

Hawkins has the assistance of a full-time working dog. Merlot, her two-year-old flat coat retriever, will bark, seek help or retrieve Hawkins’ phone in case of a seizure.

But while Merlot has helped to improve Hawkins’ quality of life, the idea of a service dog has not always gone over well with prospective employers. A friend of Hawkins sat on the panel for one of her job interviews and told her the guide dog was a factor in why she wasn’t chosen for the job.

“As soon as I am labelled as ‘disabled’ with my guide dog, my ability to work is called into question regardless of what is on my resume and my successful employment and academic history,” Hawkins wrote to the minister of social development.

And Hawkins is not alone. The Saanich News has received letters from others who have faced discrimination as a result of a medical condition and use of a service dog.

The new B.C. Guide Dog and Service Dog Act came into effect this year and will upgrade several rules. This legislation will likely eliminate some obstacles for those using a service dog but it won’t ultimately solve the problem faced by Hawkins and others. Those with medical conditions shouldn’t have to initiate legal action to get a job where the working environment has already been negatively affected.

Unfortunately, compassion cannot be legislated. It is up to us as a society to see that others are judged on their merits, and not what may or may not be at the other end of a leash.