Last week, I started a new job as a part-time community partnerships executive with K9Assistance, Singapore’s first assistance dog advocacy organization. Assistance dogs are service dogs trained to help disabled people perform tasks to mitigate their impairments.
As a Duchenne muscular dystrophy survivor, I’ve always been intrigued by how guide dogs have empowered the lives of blind and low-vision handlers in my community. However, I didn’t know if assistance dogs could benefit someone like me, with multiple life-threatening health conditions, including cardiomyopathy, hydronephrosis, restrictive lung disease, and severe mobility impairments.
That was until I embarked on my undergraduate dissertation project in mid-2020, an autoethnographic analysis of my conversion trauma experiences in the mainstream church in 2019, where lay counselors and religious leaders attempted to pray my Duchenne away. The last thing I ever wanted was to be robbed of the disability I’ve come to accept, embrace, and love after spending a lifetime of highs and lows together with the condition.
For my research, I read social psychologist and disability studies scholar Michelle Nario-Redmond’s “Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice” to learn and understand more about ableism and crip theory, a combination of queer theory and critical disability studies, which I felt was intimately connected with my adverse church experiences. While the project was challenging because of my chronic mood disorder and undiagnosed ADHD, I still gained so much from that learning experience and process.
In one of the book’s chapters analyzing the kinds of learning support available in the United States for students with mobility disabilities, mobility assistance dogs were cited for their contributions to empowering students to move around independently on campus. I began to study it in greater detail through Google searches and links to that particular chapter in the book. When I typed “assistance dog” in the search engine, the first entry that appeared was K9Assistance!
That same year, I became much more active and involved with a Facebook group for local disability justice advocates called Disability Studies in Singapore, which for the first time made me feel that I truly belonged. I’d joined the group the previous year, fresh from my conversion trauma, which led to a keen interest in and passion for the academic discipline of disability studies, which I didn’t even know existed until my confrontation with ableist religious doctrine.
I made friends with an autistic artist and researcher in the group, the first person without vision impairment to have an assistance dog in Singapore that was not a guide dog. Having heard that K9Assistance planned on providing assistance dogs for people with nonvision disabilities in the next few years, I was overjoyed. I was one of the first people to sign up to be on the waiting list for a mobility assistance dog in Singapore.
From the time they are weaned, mobility assistance dogs are trained to provide daily living assistance and on-demand support for wheelchair users to perform everyday tasks. They need to pass strict testing criteria to qualify. Some of the daily living activities they help with are opening doors, retrieving and returning items that their handlers have dropped, and pushing elevator buttons.
My health and mobility issues are serious, and I wonder if a mobility assistance dog could perform other daily tasks I need my care attendant to carry out for me. I can’t possibly go to the bathroom independently when I’m in public, so would an assistance dog be able to assist with that? How about clearing crowds and obstacles when I’m in public spaces? Or alerting me of dangerous obstacles to avoid, or calming me down when I have ADHD-related meltdowns and panic attacks?
The latter might be possible since assistance dogs often work with handlers who have multiple disabilities. But in Singapore, in my opinion, people with multiple disabilities are frequently marginalized, overlooked, and sidelined by mainstream disability activism because multiple comorbidities aren’t always diagnosed in medical research.
In my case, for instance, Singapore recognizes my muscular dystrophy as a legal and medical disability, but not my ADHD or other conditions. Because of this, K9Assistance says that the dogs are for mobility support, but not emotional support. All that’s in addition to my concern that social awareness and understanding of rare diseases are almost nonexistent here.
I don’t know if local officials will approve my having a mobility assistance dog, but I remain hopeful it’ll happen. I will keep you posted in upcoming columns.
Notes: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.