If you’ve ever wondered why I include information on a restaurant’s accessibility on each of my restaurant review posts, it is because I am in a wheelchair thanks to multiple medical conditions which have left me physically disabled. Living with disabilities means that I face numerous barriers each and every day, and part of the reason I love food blogging is that eating great gluten and dairy free food is something I can do that is not affected by my physical limitations (well… except for the fact I cannot eat gluten and dairy!).
The reason why I bring this up is that for this past week and the next, I am training to “graduate” with a full mobility service dog. The experience has been the most incredible one of my whole life and I have learned so much from the dedicated instructors and staff, intelligent dogs, and the incredible people who like me, are here to train with and gain a whole new outlook on life. My new service dog will literally open doors for me and help me live as an independent life as I go off for college and beyond. But one of the unexpected discoveries I have made while here, is that dietary limitations do not have to hold me back as well. After all, as open and knowledgeable I am about my diet, I still find it hard to speak up about it and often, I do not bring it up just to avoid the constant questioning.
One special aspect of the training facility we are at is that there is a full dorm in which we stay, which is equipped with a large kitchen and is open for communal dining. On our first full day in training, which happened to be Cinco de Mayo, we collectively agreed to have a taco party for dinner. Usually, I am left out of these kinds of events because it is hard to accommodate gluten and dairy substitutions when group dining. However, my classmates really wanted me to join in, so I helped them understand what to buy so that it could be safe for my own needs. As we went around collecting people’s preferred toppings for tacos, I realized that I was not the only one there who had dietary limitations. Once the big grocery run was made, taco night kicked into full force, which turned into a real party because we could all share it together. Thanks to the adaptive kitchen, I found that I could help cut up and cook the food, which was a neat experience since my own kitchen is wheelchair accessible but not friendly.
All in all, these small steps of independence and acceptance by others of my dietary limitations has given me confidence and independence. Although I know I will not be accommodated at every turn, it is experiences like this that inspire me. Inclusion and acceptance is not just a disabled/able-bodied threshold, but one that applies in all aspects of our lives including dietary limitations.
On another note, I cannot wait to post more about my new service dog (and dining companion) after we get through the intensive training period next week. Although Eating Out Without will remain a gluten and dairy free blog, my dog will definitely be mentioned along the way!