Inclusion For Invisible Disabilities

At the Y, we are for all. We have staff and childcare employees that help others by teaching about diversity and explaining the differences that others may have.

Jordyn Pope, Director of Childcare at Northwest Valley Family YMCA, makes stand to educate her students on diversity and inclusion stating, “You may not see them [disabilities], you may not understand them, you may not know it, but everyone is a human being, and everyone has something, whether it be a learning disability, they might have autism, they might have down syndrome, they might have PTSD.”

Jordyn identifies with four invisible disabilities, making her a passionate individual to be a part of the movement to help our community learn and grow so that differences are better understood, and inclusion comes easier by accepting the diversity in others. Jordyn even brings along her service dog, Phoenix, to help out in the movement!

What is a Service Dog?

Jordyn and Phoenix, the power of inclusion duo, helps the community understand what a service dog is, what tasks they are trained on, and that it is simply not polite to ask, “Why do you have a dog? What’s wrong with you?”.

A service dog can take three to eight years on a waitlist and can cost up to $40,000 to get. Say what?! One of the many reasons being that service dogs must be tasked trained. Task trained? Yes, task trained! Service dogs are required to know at least three “tricks” (aka tasks) that serves a purpose in helping a human function properly, differing greatly from training a dog to sit or stay.

Some common tasks are retrieving specified items, alerting to oncoming seizures attacks, and reminding a human to take prescribed medication at a certain time, however, there are a myriad of tasks dogs have the innate ability to learn when becoming a service dog.

Our locally famous Northwest Valley Family YMCA service dog, Phoenix, is tasked trained on deep pressure therapy, how to notice a panic attack arising, and is an alarm clock. In deep pressure therapy, Phoenix will add pressure from her body onto Jordyn’s chest to keep the chest from raising fully, preventing hyperventilation because Jordyn’s chest isn’t able to expand the full way.

By noticing when a panic attack may be coming on, Phoenix knows to nudge Jordyn’s hand aggressively until she stops the anxious behavior before the panic attack comes on. Trained on being an alarm clock you say? That’s right, Phoenix can wake Jordyn up in the morning at a specific time in case Jordyn oversleeps due to her disabilities. As you may have guessed, service dogs are working dogs and they are on 24/7.

Phoenix is of course trained to Jordyn, which is an important difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal (ESA); service dogs are trained to a specific person while a therapy dog is available to help everyone.

In attempt to tackle a myth about ESA’s, ESA’s have no training or rights and are simply given a certificate saying they are there to help a person calm down. Service dogs, on the other hand, have federal rights to get into public places without a certificate. Although, proper documentation of completed training, prescription for having the dog, human’s medical diagnosis, and the dog’s medical records must always be carried.

Most people don’t know that it is actually a federal offense to distract a service dog, where it may lead to jail time and a hefty fine. Part of Jordyn’s mission in her role is to teach children how to properly handle a service dog and be in their presence so such issues are limited.

Service Dog Lessons

One of the first things you will see walking into Northwest Valley Family YMCA (besides our smiling front desk staff, of course) is a service dog poster showcasing to others that there is a dog in the building.

For Jordyn, this poster is also an indication to parents that their child will be around a service dog and will learn about why a person may need one. Most importantly, this poster makes sure children, parents, members, and staff understand and honor the fact that she is a working dog and may not be interrupted, pet, or distracted in anyway.

Jordyn has found many creative ways of engaging children to learn about service dogs, including service dog books, coloring pages, and demonstrations of Phoenix’s tasks. Jordyn’s says the purpose of sharing her knowledge and experience is:

“Knowing that I am teaching children to be accepting to others, understanding, and how to be helpful with people who are different than them. It makes me feel so good because I am providing these children, who will grow into adulthood, with something that most people don’t have and most people don’t understand that disabilities aren’t chosen. No one choses to have a disability. I am providing these kids with knowledge on how to live in a society where we are just so open to everything.”

Jordyn and Phoenix truly serve an important presence to help bring awareness to all kinds of disabilities, even if we cannot see them, and open minds to recognizing that people have differences.

The Y Impact

Jordyn is currently teaching service dog lessons at her home branch, Northwest Valley Family YMCA, and is working towards offering class at branches across the valley.

Jordyn’s vision for her career at the Y is to become an Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusions so she can teach staff how to deal with diagnosis in children with disabilities and differences and teach everyone who becomes part of a Y how to handle other people’s issues, understand, and cope with differences.

Jordyn is also optimistic of the acceptance of the mental health conversation and hopes to push this movement forward because “it’s just a lot easier and kinder if we treat everyone as our friend.”

“The Y changed the trajectory of my entire life, not just my career”, Director of Childcare Jordyn Pope.

To learn more about our childcare programs, visit our website.
Rebecca Varney, Community Relations Coordinator, Valley of the Sun YMCA, striving to tell your #WhyTheY story.