Laura Lee strives to empower individuals with disabilities to become highly skilled service dog handlers who have access to a safe and inclusive community. As advisory board chair for New Life Medical Service Dogs, Inc. she co-authored the person-centered curriculum which focuses on awareness and impact of disability when using a service animal, dog handling skills, and the rights and responsibilities of service animal owners. She is certified by the University of Missouri as an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator. As the lead advocate with the Service Dog Alliance of Florida, she conducts business and community education, manages the warm line to support service dog handlers and local businesses with information and referral services, and assists handlers in navigating employment, housing, transportation, and pubic access issues. She has 30+ years’ experience in the delivery, design and management of public and private health and human services. She has managed community-based programs for the disabled and elderly. Laura Lee is a two-time recipient of the City of Virginia Beach Creativity in Public Service Award (1993 & 1997). As a volunteer her leadership has built organizational capacity. Those roles have included: George Dame Federally Qualified Health Center Vice President, Leadership Citrus Board of Governors Chair, NAMI Florida Board of Directors, Florida Local Advocacy Council (Gubernatorial Appointed) vice-chair and United Way of Citrus County Treasurer.
Americans with Disabilities Act https://www.ada.gov/
ADA Coordinator Training Certification Program https://www.adacoordinator.org/default.aspx
Service Dog Alliance of Florida: 352-410-6500 / firstname.lastname@example.org
SPEAKERS: Laura Lee Putzback, Tony Delisle
Tony Delisle 00:00
Start with the end in mind. Those words come to us from Stephen Covey. But is an element that’s underscored in this podcast with our guest, Laura Lee Putzback. Laura Lee reached out to me a few months ago. And when she did, she asked quite simply, how can I help you? How can I support your Center for Independent Living, and the people that it serves? I have 30 years of experience in the Human Services arena, predominantly with people with disabilities. I’m a trained Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator. I am somebody that trains people on how to handle their service animals. I sit on about five boards, including the United Way. NAMI, which is the National Alliance for mental illness, and other boards in positions where she’s serving on the executive board as vice presidents and treasures. And doing so many incredible things coming to our center to ask, How can I serve? This, to me is an example of something that is so important in what we are trying to do, to collaborate, to come together to synergize, to be bigger than the sum of our parts. Laura Lee is a true example. And a person who I think really has a lot to teach us, not just about the technicalities of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the laws that surround service animals, which we get into on this podcast, but also asking the real important questions of life. Who are we? What is my purpose? How can I contribute to make this world a better place? Laura Lee offers not only some of the insights on how to do this, but actual, the tactical strategies on how to execute and doing this, not just admiring the problem, but actually putting into action, the strategies needed to solve the problem. So enjoy this podcast with Laura Lee, I hope you get as much out of it as I do, and really gain the insights necessary to be the better versions of ourselves that we can be in order for the world to be a better place. And welcome back to another edition of the independent life podcast, I am very excited about this episode, because it really goes to the heart of centerpiece, which is very important for Centers for Independent Living, to promote independent living in community to people who have disabilities. And that is, you know, partnerships, collaborations, interagency partnerships and collaborations and people that can be coming together and pull their resources, ideas and experiences into efforts that really achieve mutual outcomes, but might have different skill sets to bring to bear to do so. And to synergize that, it takes a lot of work and effort. And today’s guest, Laura Lee, really represents that. Laura, you you reached out to me not too long ago. So you know, you’re you’re probably the guests that I have a you know, just recently met that I have the least amount of experience with. But in that short time, it seems like a lot has happened. You came to me through a phone call, and wanting to get engaged and see where you can be put in service to help out and support us in our mission. And I was really taken aback because usually when people are reaching out to us, it’s usually because they want something and that’s what that is great because we want to serve and so we love it when people are reaching out you’re asking for, you know, our needs and serving, but you really came to us and and some do, but saying what can I do to help you and I thought that was really really awesome and refreshing of you to reach out and, you know, put your all your, you know, 30 years of experience in the human service area with disabilities. You know, as a certified Americans with disability coordinator, all your experience that you have on the different boards that you serve on you’ve you’ve told me that you’re retired, but you know in looking at everything that you’re doing since retirement, it’s just amazing. You’re one of the busiest retired people I know. So thank you so much for taking your time out of your busy schedule to come here and connect with us and talk about all the wisdom that you have to offer.
Laura Lee Putzback 05:08
Well, the center of Independent Living does important work in our community. I’m so glad to partner with you and your openness to work together.
Tony Delisle 05:17
So tell me what really got you into disability? You know, why disability? Why is that something that has been such a focus for you in your life?
Laura Lee Putzback 05:28
I think for me, it’s two reasons. But the primary one is college. Sophomore freshman year, I had a car accident, I was not able to go back to school. And my experience with the vocational rehabilitation counselor went something like, the best you can hope for is to work part time at McDonald’s. And that’s a stretch. So for me, I felt I could choose my path. And I had to create my path. And I actually, my first job was after taking the book of services that book rehab provided picking I went on the job training, I went out, found the job and convince the employer to hire me. And then I went back until the rehab, I had found my job and they just need to pay them to train me.
Tony Delisle 06:14
What? You totally reversed the system. Yes. Excellent. Yeah, say you’re a disrupter by nature. So okay, so you got in, you know, through seeking employment, disability was important to you because you saw some barriers there to get any employment that you wanted, you took matters into your own hands. Sounds like you probably advocated for yourself, you must have learned something about the system along the way. So tell me about those experiences that really have then led to your further endeavors into disability.
Laura Lee Putzback 06:43
I think the most important thing is we always think that service is something that you do to somebody. And yet it’s an interactive process. And so my second job experience was in psychosocial rehabilitation, for individuals with mental illness. And there, they created the first community that I experienced, of people with disabilities, and their story, they started on the steps in New York, and they’re all over the world now. And their concept is pretty simple: wanted, needed and accepted. That no matter where you are with your disability, there’s a place and you need to belong, and you need to be accepted. And that began a change how I looked at the service that I did. So it began by helping change the people who provided the service attitudes, not those with disabilities, that can do not limit people find out what they can do, find out what their dreams are. And maybe that dream isn’t possible. But what in that area could we make happen?
Tony Delisle 07:53
So is that where you’re talking about? I really like your point about services isn’t something that we do to people, but rather it’s an interaction, is that the kind of what you’re pointing towards? When you talk about that exchange? Between people?
Laura Lee Putzback 08:06
Yes, it really is. When we think of the word community, and we think of the word service, it’s, oh, somebody’s down on their luck. The population is underserved, what we’re really creating is an interaction where everybody benefits. So it’s a win-win situation, whether it’s increasing income, or having a better neighbor, those opportunities make the community in which we operate stronger.
Tony Delisle 08:33
So what is then one of the things that you think is needed to promote more interaction with, you know, agencies that maybe serve people with disabilities versus the services that are just done to them? Is that something that’s like at a systemic level? Or is that something that more added, you know, organizational/interpersonal type level that needs to really make, you know, make sure that we’re doing those interactions? Because I feel like some of the experiences that I’ve I’ve had do seem a little bit cookie cutter and rigid, there’s processes in place that, you know, have some rigidity, and not as much flexibility and fluidity to make things so individualized and tailored.
Laura Lee Putzback 09:09
I think it’s a combination of things. The first is the culture of the organization. I can be an organization that promotes people with disabilities, but the choices I make as an organization to get my funding, may limit how I do my work. So it’s making sure from the business economic reality that we’re building in our cultural beliefs of including people. And the example I will give when I worked in the community mental health field, managed care required consumers now to be participants in writing in their records. To the doctors and nurses, this was not okay, and how could they possibly do it? These people that we were giving medication to over chronic and in the hospital. I facilitated a project team that was comprised of half consumers who had been in the state hospital with diagnosis such as schizophrenia, they were better participants and had more input and how to document their progress, how to gauge their progress than the professionals. Sometimes we have to let go of perceptions of I’m an expert and say, Can we be shared experts in coming up with the best system and the best plan of action.
Tony Delisle 10:28
I love that it, and really goes to the spirit of Independent Living where it’s very consumer driven, consumer oriented, consumer centered. And that does seem to be even where the health and medical field has been pushing for the last decades to be more patient centered, even seeing it coming out of the VA being more veteran centered, where I think in the past year, you know, traditional way was it’s more system centered, like conform to the system that we have here in place here that’s kind of one size fits all methodology of addressing needs, to where it is more centered in alignment with those kinds of things. So, you know, I know that you have some understanding of what independent living is, and we’d want to get your take on why do you think independent living is important for people with disabilities and the community?
Laura Lee Putzback 11:14
Well, I think it’s so important, because when we work together, the disabled community becomes one with their larger community. And what I mean by that is, whether it’s family, network, friend, network, a service agency, a neighborhood, a legislative body, we then can develop shared expectations, that’s the key you can be wanted, needed and accepted. But if no one has common expectations of what life should look like, we’re not making any progress. And it’s been 30 years since the creation of the ADA. And there is still much work to do, because we have a structure. But we haven’t come together as a community to agree to execute the expectations.
Tony Delisle 12:06
What do you think the barriers are to that actually happening and executing on it?
Laura Lee Putzback 12:11
Well, right now our biggest threat is we’re 30 years into this. And as a community of individuals disabilities, we haven’t done the best job of helping people pick up the torch to carry on the work. My friend, Christine, who was one of the original individuals in the US, and I had that conversation recently, is who’s going to carry on this work? Who’s prepared? Have we done the job to pass the torch?
Tony Delisle 12:40
And so when I think of that, I think in general, people may look to like the youth, they’re our future, you know, in the youth leadership and development and those kinds of things? How do you see that as far as the next generation, you know, carrying the torch and all those other kinds of things? Are they in a position from your, you know, kind of vantage point to carry that torch? Or are there some things that really need to happen, some dominoes that need to fall, in order to facilitate that passing of the torch and carried it on and keeping it lit?
Laura Lee Putzback 13:09
I think it comes down to the Center for Independent Living is a great climate for personal empowerment, because it’s individuals, and they don’t have to be young, to carry on the work. You know, I can remember in my 30 years being a poster child and saying, I don’t want to do this anymore, there’s got to be someone other than me. And so if we cultivate individuals abilities to express their own needs, with their family, with their prints, with their providers, they are becoming self advocates, if that’s all they ever do, they’ve started the lighting of the torch, they’re carrying that message on, if they become someone who supports someone else trying to meet their needs. They’re doing peer support, that’s a role for someone to take on. What about someone who says hey, I want to do a little bit more educate others about my major life impairment that might be working with the Center for the Blind and talking specific about a disability or serving on a council like this transportation disadvantaged board to give perspective about living with a disability. And then of course, the big word advocating where you advocate beside someone, or on behalf of others for a specific outcome, whether it’s a legislative change or resolving a grievance. So there’s many ways to take on the torch and I don’t think we’ve done a good job preparing people that you don’t have to do at all. You just have to decide where you fit in.
Tony Delisle 14:41
So how do people decide where to fit in, like wherever that niche be? One of the questions I get asked is, you know, people with disabilities, you know, that seem to have this nature of wanting to advocate you know, let people know more what it’s like to live the life you know, within them, but often are like still kind of looking for that purpose, and how to find purpose, and what is that niche for me? Do you have advice for people that have that spark? Perhaps, but haven’t found quite exactly where that lane is? What would you advise people like that, that are kind of in that seeking space?
Laura Lee Putzback 15:13
My personal advice is you first have to be comfortable with yourself. And where you’re at? Are you accepting of yourself? Are you able to explain out a lot of disclosure begin explain enough so that you can have a direct dialogue externally with someone else outside your network. Because you start with what you’re comfortable with. You can set up a plan of you know, I’m not good at explaining what my disability is. And so it’s gonna be hard for me to go and advocate legislatively when I can’t explain it myself. So setting up some goals of where am I for self assessment? And then what do I need to add? I’m not a great public speaker, I’m a really good public speaker, but I’m not a good letter writer. It’s just what are the tools I’m going to need to be doing this work, and then is there someone who will mentor me, someone that I can talk about that has been out there been on a council, you know, people sometimes get scared to do those things. And my advice has always been your job is not to be the expert, your job is to be able to ask the question of those systems so that you can get to the answers.
Tony Delisle 16:20
I love what you’re putting out there in terms of really identifying the areas in which people might be interested in doing but having to explain themselves and who they are. I think that’s a pretty deep thing that for me, when I hear that it was like, Who am I, you know, and when we talk about disability as part of our identity, and you know, so that’s in play, but you know, there’s so many aspects of who we are, and that evolves over time, and what’s our role? What’s our fit in the community and in the world at large. And, for me, that’s always like, an ongoing reflection to have. And so I think that’s very powerful. Another one that you really thrown out there, I think that’s really important for us to take stock of is, you know, what are the skills that are needed to do what I’m finding to be who I am, and that aligns with it that I might need? Whether, like you said, it is a public speaking, is it writing, you know, is it learning more about something, being a beginner, you know, at something, and developing the skills and for me, that requires almost like a growth mindset, you know, to be able to do something like that. And to be in that’s very powerful to have in terms of where we want to go. So one of the things I think that like I find very inspiring about you, is, you seem to probably, perhaps be somebody that other people can look to her as a mentor. I mean, how many boards are you currently sitting on right now?
Laura Lee Putzback 17:36
I’m sitting on three. And here’s what I’ll say, I will commit to five years with an organization because… And that’s my maximum commitment. And the reason is an organization you need to build the bench, you need to be able to not, through your influence, make that organization it needs to be breathing and living in by bringing in other people and other ideas, you have a strong organization.
Tony Delisle 18:04
So and along with that, you know, building a strong organization and mentorship, what mentors have helped you along the way that has been helpful, and how have they helped you to get to where you’re going? Like I said, I gear now got 30 years of experience writing services to people in multiple areas and fields, like you’re talking about mental health, you do a lot with the ADA, service dogs, you’re sitting on multiple boards currently, have been on multiple boards previously. So what kind of mentorship Did you find helpful to you? And how did they provide that to you to help you propel you where you are and have done?
Laura Lee Putzback 18:37
That’s a great question when I haven’t reflected on in a long time. But I would say my first mentor was an old boss, because I am so self critical. And so learning to be kinder to myself. And not doubt myself, because I was already doing many of the things at a different level that I’m doing now. But I was afraid, unsure. And so forcing me to be kinder to myself, and being more realistic in my assessment, because sometimes it’s not that I’m not doing a good job, it’s that I think I’m not doing a good job. And so find finding that mentor that can be a good feedback loop for you to make sure you’re on track. That’s important. The second was a board member on the United Way board that’s the publisher of our paper. And he has a nickname for me, he calls me tenacious in a loving way. By the way…
Tony Delisle 19:38
What’s the name of your paper by the way, I don’t mean to interrupt.
Laura Lee Putzback 19:41
It’s the local community paper here so I’m not going to rat them out but he’s been the publisher here for for a long time. And so, you know, what he likes about me is that I will look at something when it is said No, it can’t be done instead of saying, Okay, I’m moving on. I say what can we do? And so he and I have had that relationship. And I’ll say, I don’t know, Jerry, here’s what I’m thinking. And he will say that sounds good. And here’s some places you might want to think about going to validate that. So having someone that can take and listen to your ideas, and then help connect you, encourage you, is really important.
Tony Delisle 20:23
And so when people are looking for a mentor, you know it for me, and I would imagine in these experiences, it wasn’t like that you officially went to them and had a ceremony asking them to be a mentor. And then they dubbed, you know, tattooed on their shoulder. And now you’re my mentee, right? So if someone who wants to like seek mentorship it, is it more of an informal process? And if so, how do people go about like, finding mentors?
Laura Lee Putzback 20:50
Well, I think it can be formal or informal and formal, and I have a legislative mentor, and that really is about legislative process and how I get things done and, and that kind of thing. But the ones that have the most valuable aren’t the technical mentors, but they’re the places where I have developed a relationship that I can truly let down my guard, and good or bad, say what I need to say and get to that feedback loop.
Tony Delisle 21:16
That’s great. I’ve heard of that, as a court of counsel, like people have their build their own courts of counsel, you know, that night people might have on that court of counsels that they have can be 2, 3, 4 people that may or may not know each other, and that you can always turn to two to get that. So I think that’s phenomenal, phenomenal advice there. So when we go back to independent living, and the need in the community, for people with disabilities for Independent Living, where do you see some of the biggest needs that are currently impacting people with disabilities and being able to live independently? What are you coming across?
Laura Lee Putzback 22:15
I think the, the two areas that I get the most calls about are barriers to access, employment and housing. From the employment side, the accommodation process is interactive. And so there’s still a culture out there that employers even though it’s required, it’s an interactive process. Coming up with preferred accommodation seems to be challenging, because it’s a way of excluding without saying, I won’t don’t want someone who’s disabled to be here.
Tony Delisle 22:49
Wow. So can you unpack that, you know, I think you hit on something that are preferred accommodations, what does that mean?
Laura Lee Putzback 22:56
I’ll use because I’m doing service dogs right now. So an employer does not have to allow me to bring my service dog to work, it is an accommodation, and we need to go through a process to make sure that that’s the accommodation that will fit the business need. And so there may be other alternatives to a service dog in the workplace. They may decide they want me to work from home, rather than bring my dog to work, which we often are seeing now. So that would be an example where the employer is driving the process because there is more than one answer to the question, How can I accommodate you in a business setting?
Tony Delisle 23:35
And so with accommodations of preferred accommodations, employment seems to be a place that you’re getting it. Where in housing specifically, are you seeing some of the biggest issues or threats to independent living?
Laura Lee Putzback 23:50
For the housing it comes down to number one, getting an apartment if you’ve not been out on your own before and you don’t have your luck coming from either living with family or a group home setting to the independent setting, you don’t have the credit, you don’t have the references that they’re looking for and they don’t have to rent to you and they can do it in a way without violating the law that says there’s no openings.
Tony Delisle 24:20
Yeah, we’ve seen that a lot here as well it’s a kind of a conundrum you almost need credit to get credit and so people that you know don’t have past experience in housing or those references or let alone maybe the income for first last deposit and having access and even when there is you know, mandates for affordable housing within an apartment units the certain member units set aside we know that as certain circumstances. We know where there seems to be a gray area where a property managers can say we did our due diligence we advertised you know, no one qualified, interested or etc. may have applied where, you know, in fact, it wasn’t the case and wasn’t fully available and accessible and communicated effectively to people that there indeed was some units that were designated for affordable housing, and then they go for market value. We’re kind of touching along the edges here of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and certainly the Fair Housing Act as we talked about housing. And I know you’re steeped into this, you know, being a certified coordinator with the ADA. But you know, if you wanted to do kind of a brief overview of what the ADA is, and why it’s important for people with disabilities, please let us know what some of your thoughts are on it.
Laura Lee Putzback 25:30
That’s a broad question. From our time perspective, the ADA, a was really meant to ensure that individuals have equal opportunity to participate in society. And that aligns with what the Center for Independent Living does. What they want to do on your end, from what I’ve seen, is they want to make sure people can live, work, play, worship, in the community of their choice in the least restrictive alternative. And so these rules are designed to break down the barriers. And in the beginning, it was the physical barriers that the building worked. But what about effective communication, whether it’s that a website’s accessible or that someone who was deaf has interpreter services. So the ADA is important, because that step sets a structure for the ground rules so that we have equal opportunity to participate.
Tony Delisle 26:24
Thank you. It was a very broad question, broad overview. And with that, you know, you mentioned previously, it’s been 30 years since the adea was put into place. Where have you seen, you know, some of the the successes with the ADA? Where do you believe like, Hey, this is really made, you know, impact has changed the lives of people with disabilities who are born nowadays, after went into effect that they get to benefit from the people before 1990 did not get to benefit from?
Laura Lee Putzback 26:50
Two very visible ones, you can go into any modern building. And you can actually get into the building because from the parking lot, from the parking space to park my van that is accessible to the no steps then a ramp, to using the doors that open automatically to the bathrooms that accommodate my wheelchair, we’ve done the most work in making buildings accessible. I would say watch major news and you’ll see an interpreter. So from an effective communication, we’ve seen some strides, recognizing that you can’t, if you can’t communicate the message, it’s a problem, especially in natural disasters, for example. And I think we’ve done a good job in helping employers understand that people with disabilities can be valuable workers if given the opportunity.
Tony Delisle 27:54
So these are these are some of the successes that you see in terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And now I’m going to ask the flip side, where do you find that, you know, at least the spirit of the ADA is falling short in terms of operationalizing, you know, the ADA, and what is really meant to do? Where some of the areas that perhaps it’s falling short on?
Laura Lee Putzback 28:12
I’m going to take that a little step back, I think where we fell short, is we made so many different laws that are confusing, but complimentary. So we have the Fair Housing Act, and we have the Air Carrier act, and we have the ADA. Asome of those offer similar protections, rights and responsibilities, and some of them don’t. And so now we have states coming in and creating secondary levels to kind of fill in some space. So it isn’t a clear navigatable system. And then if you need to navigate and file a complaint, you know, do I file it with HUD? Do I file it with the DOJ? Well, if they don’t take it well my will the Human Rights Commission take it or do I need to go through the Fair Housing council? It gets cumbersome to actually operationalize it.
Tony Delisle 29:08
So basically you’re saying like the bureaucracy that underlies the complexities within it, is that correct?
Laura Lee Putzback 29:13
Yes, it’s hard to navigate without a guide.
Tony Delisle 29:16
Is that bureaucracy almost like a necessary evil for all the checks and balances or is it I mean, it’s problematic of course but like there’s all this emphasis on accountability and where’s the money going and who has it and deliverables and responsibilities and reporting and and then we want to make sure that you know the outcomes are there and aligned and in order to do that it’s almost like you are creating or you know, the system is creating all these layers for checks and balances so it almost seems to me again, one of those, you know, is it a necessary evil? How do we get out of it? How do we streamline it? How do we make it skinnier, but also accountable? Like do you have any thoughts on that in terms of like if we were going to really look under the hood and rewire the system? How do we do that?
Laura Lee Putzback 29:57
In the service dog world, I would have very specific And I don’t want to take all the time to that. But in the service dog world, it’s very, it’s very easy, because we’re using terms multiple ways across laws, we have multiple agencies performing the main functions. You know, if that example, I think to look at where the synergy is, is important, when we write the laws, we’re not thinking about the outcome. So begin with the end in mind, is the saying that I truly believe in what do we want this outcome to be? We want people to have equal access. Well, if they don’t, how does that get remedied? And I don’t think that’s how the laws were written is how do we remedy not getting equal access? And that’s really where the focus should be from my opinion.
Tony Delisle 30:46
Gotcha. And that makes complete sense. Do you do you feel like the the convoluted pneus of these laws are also due perhaps, to some of the litigious actions that have been taken and through that, you know, there becomes this patchwork of a, you know, kind of a quilt of these kind of changes and add-ons and all these other kind of things that aren’t completely synergistic to it? Because I’ve heard that, you know, could be, you know, part of the issues with like health care, you know, a lot of the the laws and the managed care, and all these other kinds of things that surround that have laregly usually been a result of litigation, is that it’s a force that, you know, kind of has, you know, making this more systemic and bureaucratic as well.
Laura Lee Putzback 31:27
I think litigation certainly impacts it. But when laws are written, the laws were written through influence. And so whoever has the loudest voice in the room, or is the last in the room usually affects the outcome of what we have to live with as a law.
Tony Delisle 31:48
Yeah, yeah, the loudest that there’s cliches built around that. So do you find that there’s a, you have some threats out there right now to the Americans with Disabilities Act that people need to be aware of like, yes, you know, there’s some really, you know, important legislation that are on the books that really helped to protect, you know, people’s rights. And yet, even today, there’s some potential threats of repealing certain things that are in there and etc, are there things that we need to be aware about that could be vulnerable to being changed, modified or eliminated?
Laura Lee Putzback 32:23
At this point, I would say that my expertise is not about changing the law, it’s about getting consumers to be the pressure points for the law that’s affecting them. Does that make sense? So I would look to the Center for Independent Living clients to maybe do a survey and say, How do I had barriers to access? Have I been I’ve been denied equal opportunity to participate in society? Are there commonalities that are experienced, and is there some way we can impact our community, whether it’s local or at the state or national level? For me, and one of the things that is on our agenda for the service dog alliance of Florida is we’re now five years in to a state law that enhances protections for service dog handlers. And yet the system does not have a way to collect data about if the law is working. It’s not universally applied, the law, across municipalities. And so, and there’s not agreement among the stakeholders, which are service dog providers, groups, about what should be done because there’s a fear of we touched the law, we’re going to lose the protections we already have.
Tony Delisle 33:39
So I’m glad you’re opening this direction, because you you have so much to offer here in terms of service animals, and, you know, all the things that are surrounding that. To zoom out just a little bit. I was wondering if you could explain, first of all, some of the differences in terms related to service animals, comfort, emotional support animals in some of the distinctions that are baked into that.
Laura Lee Putzback 34:03
And it depends which law you’re following. Up until January, an emotional support animal was recognized by the air carrier act, it is no longer. But housing recognizes support animal and service animal because they’re both assistance animals, and then the ADA recognizes service animal. So the main difference is a service animal is trained for a person to mitigate their disability. So it has a specific job the dog does to make my life better and make that disability not so prevalent. An assistance animal, also known as a comfort animal or an emotional support animal. Their presence does not have to do work or task doesn’t have to be trained, but it is performing a function and it is medically necessary just by being present.
Tony Delisle 35:01
So say I’m a restaurant owner, and someone comes in with a dog, and I want to ask them about, you know, their service animal or their comfort, and I don’t know if it’s a Sir, I don’t know if it’s their own pet or what they’re doing. What am I allowed to ask, you know, if I own a business, someone’s coming into the business has an animal has a dog? What do I do in that situation?
Laura Lee Putzback 35:24
Number one, if it is not readily apparent, what the dog does. So for example, if it’s not readily apparent that the dog is pulling the wheelchair, so it’s obviously doing a job, I am allowed to ask two questions. And the two questions are, is this a service dog required because of your disability? And what work or tasks is it trained to perform?
Tony Delisle 35:49
So is this a service dog? And second question, what tasks has it been performed to do? And if they are able to answer those questions, and it may be apparent that it’s an assistive assistive animal, and I’m in a public restaurant, bank, kind of like a private public operation, you know, organization that is taken in people from the general public? And it gets illuminated? That it, it is a service animal? Am I am I supposed to allow that person to have the service animal?
Laura Lee Putzback 36:24
Tony Delisle 36:25
What if it’s an assistive animal?
Laura Lee Putzback 36:27
Service animals are the only animal guaranteed rights and protections to enter places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, doctor’s offices, grocery stores. An emotional support animal a comfort animal, and assistance animal are not, a service animal is.
Tony Delisle 36:52
Gotcha. And what do you find to be, you know, one of the biggest challenges in ensuring that people aren’t gaining the system and bringing assist of animals into public places that are out there? Because, you know, it does seem to be kind of an issue of, you know, identifying whether or not they are or not like how, it just seems like it’s kind of a difficult space, what are some remedies that you recommend, especially people responsible for discerning whether or not it’s in the system or service animal? What are some of the things that we can help to remedy the situation to make sure that people you know, aren’t bringing in counterfeit animals or the rights of people who actually do have the right animal are protected?
Laura Lee Putzback 37:33
We are in a time where we are suffering greatly from service dog fatigue, as I call it, our service dog Alliance is focusing on our community. And our community means businesses, and service dog handlers. And by focusing on the rights and responsibilities of both parties, we will address the issue of handlers who are misrepresenting that their dog is a service dog, handlers who are misrepresenting that they have a disability, or handlers who have a disability and the service dog, but it’s out of control. So that it is safe for teams, the dog and handler, service dog handler to go to businesses and for businesses to feel confident that who is supposed to be in their establishment, they’re able to provide good customer service and not create hardships and barriers, because they’re thinking everybody is not doing the right thing.
Tony Delisle 38:32
So there is no identification, or, say visible light jackets, or distinguishing things that the dogs can wear that’s certify that it is a service animal, correct?
Laura Lee Putzback 38:47
That is correct. There’s a difference in what we would like the law to be and what the law is, and the law clearly states, the dog does not have to be identified, it’s helpful and we encourage families to think about why they may or not put something on. But certifications not required. vests not required. Local leash laws are required to be followed. As you can’t, you have must follow them. And there will be times when a dog may need to perform its tasks off leash, because the person’s disability prevents them from managing the leash. And there are other ways they need to control it. But that is very rare.
Tony Delisle 39:31
And like you said, even if it’s a trained service animal, it still has to behave appropriately in public and not be you know, causing necessarily mayhem. Right?
Laura Lee Putzback 39:39
That is correct. And we do a lot of work doing businesses. We’ve got three presentations coming up doing the rights and responsibilities of businesses, because it comes down to it’s not just is it legal? It’s how do you want your customers to feel because if you’re always believing the person coming in the door with their service animal, isn’t it Real, that’s great customer service and how do you manage the needs of your customers? Because some people just don’t like dogs in the environment. How do you have a safe environment and an inclusive environment without making it an unwelcoming environment? And so we spent a lot of time not only dealing with the law, but the cultural attitudes, and it comes down to customer service.
Tony Delisle 40:23
Absolutely, I’m glad you’re saying that the primary focus to that. How much you know, training typically does go into a service animal, and often how much at a cost to to doing that training?
Laura Lee Putzback 40:34
There is a wide range. Service dog alliance of Florida is a division of new life medical service dogs. And we came about because we didn’t want to train dogs, we wanted to make access for handlers manageable. So whether you got a dog through New Life Medical or not, we’re going to help you and our community access it. Programs like New Life Medical Service Dogs are not…some of them are nonprofit, and don’t charge. There are other programs in the community where in our region, Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, Suncoast Service Dogs, nonprofits that don’t charge nominal fee, and then there are professional dog trainers that will do it in charge. So there’s a wide array of options for people who want to service dog. And some people self train, how you get your training is not as important as does your dog display the necessary skill sets. Time is the biggest challenge. Because if you think about what goes into a service dog, there’s obedience. So that’s beginner, intermediate, and advanced obedience skills. There’s public access, learning how to beyond just sit, stay in a public setting and responding emotionally and physically to all the things that could happen in public settings. And then there there’s the very personal need to learn tasks specific to my disability in my situation. And so depending on the age of the dog, and the complexity of the skill level will determine where you need to go to get help in getting a service dog. Traditionally, it could take up to two years, I’ve seen some shorter than that a year. But again, it depends on the age of the dog and what the dog needs to learn. I’ve seen waiting lists that were longer than like five years to get the dog because there’s demand and I’ve seen anywhere from someone getting a dog for free train to someone having to pay $50,000.
Tony Delisle 42:37
Wow, quite a range there. What have you found to be some of the most benefiting things in terms of the experiences that you’ve seen people that you’ve trained to be handlers? You know, I imagine you you’ve probably seen, you know, a lot of people coming in as beginners and then learn how to handle their service animals. Along that progression of learning, what are some of the things that you found valuable to people in terms of learning how to handle their service animal, but also meeting the needs of their disability? So I imagine there’s a lot of when you talk about interactions here that go along there, there’s got to be a lot, we’re talking trainer to handle the dog, the dog, and then the person. So this is almost like a three way interaction here that’s going on. And I’m sure you’ve seen some really interesting things that have happened along that process. Is there anything that you’d like to share along those lines?
Laura Lee Putzback 43:24
I think you’ve been peeking at our community education program, because we call it the, we call it the Trinity, and we have a sign up. We have a sign of the human service delegate than the two, I think, what makes our program because everybody does it different. But what makes our program different is we focus first on the person with disability. And the reason for that is we are all volunteers. And we are all volunteers who have a disability and have a service dog.
Tony Delisle 43:52
So I love it. I love that it’s peer to peer, it’s…
Laura Lee Putzback 43:56
And I have personally had service dogs from other service dog organizations that have kind of watched the lessons learned. And for me, and for our group, what we saw was the focus was on the dog. And that’s really not what it’s about. We spend the first 15 weeks helping the person from the time we meet them till the time they finish intermediate obedience, understanding how their disability impacts their life. Before they’re out in the community with the dog,
Tony Delisle 44:30
Is that where you start to get into the Who are you Who am I?
Laura Lee Putzback 44:34
A little bit, but because we talk about what’s getting in the way, you know, for example, I’ll give you an example because we do book work classes with our students. And then we do dog classes with the dogs and so the dogs for the first hour, learn to sit patiently under under the table because their job, really the biggest job of service dog is waiting for me to do something. So they’re they’re getting trained learning how to sit and be quiet while we’re learning about how we’re going to implement in their lives. So you know, one of the discussions is what verbal and nonverbal communications am I sending down the leash? Well, if I don’t understand what my face and my body and my muscles do, and how anxiety or fear or happiness translates down the leash, how am I gonna understand what my dog is trying to tell me?
Tony Delisle 45:22
Wow, that’s deep. So do you teach like this self awareness along with it? That seems to me to take an incredible amount of like self awareness, present moment awareness, body, you know, understanding what you’re doing.
Laura Lee Putzback 45:34
A lot of those first weeks, we have what we call a service dog Basics class in a teamwork class. And those two are to look at my life as an individual with a disability. And so when we talk about you’re going to be going to the grocery store, well, what does it look like? Now? When I come up to a counter? Where am I standing? How am I going to get my wallet? No, when I go to my car, and I have a service dog who gets in first? We’re making them think about the physicality but also the emotional side of the restaurant, where am I going to sit? And why? And how am I going to navigate so that we’re preparing them and not just throwing them in?
Tony Delisle 46:13
I love that you’re bringing like this present moment awareness to their daily activities that people are doing and integrating that way to think about, well, once I do have a service animal, how is this going to, you know, work and align those kind of things. This is phenomenal that you really work on this and this identity and all these other kinds of things. What else do you do with the people that you’re training and handling, and that kind of like personal level?
Laura Lee Putzback 46:37
The other thing we talked about is really how their their disability gets in the way of getting what they want. And so for example, you will begin to see before the dog is ever ready to go to work, they’re already changing some of the things that have not been productive. And in terms of giving them the results they want. The biggest the biggest one is the grumpy folks who immediately when they get frustrated yell. The dog doesn’t respond to that. And so you know, we talk about these things not in a way that is meant to be blameful but to talk about how what we do, impacts what we get.
Tony Delisle 47:21
So are you basically training people to get out of their own way, in some ways? Trying to navigate, you know, very hard emotions or fixed mindsets?
Laura Lee Putzback 47:29
Our goal is to help them develop a relationship with their dog. This is not a command and control relationship. This is a relationship like you’d have with a partner that someone has your back. And so you’re developing that communication and mindset of what’s allowed in that relationship? And what’s going to work to your benefit in that relationship? And what secret hand signals are you going to send out in public to your dog, so that they know what you want?
Tony Delisle 48:00
Wow, you know, this sounds like such a unique approach to me. And again, I don’t know like, huge amount about you know, service animal handling, and training and all those other kinds of things. But I just really love how you go in on the personal, the identity and what what might be getting in your way. And then the relationship aspect of a person with a disability with their animal versus I am the controller, owner, dictator of this animal kind of an approach there. That just varied seems to be unique is that unique in the service, animal handling, you know, kind of training world set you all apart?
Laura Lee Putzback 48:31
That’s why I said that’s what sets us apart, because the programs, you show up, here’s your dog, you may spend a couple of days or a couple of weeks with us, this is what the dog does for you. What we have found is this approach allows us for someone who doesn’t know the capacity of what a dog can do for them to grow. And usually what they say they wanted the dog to do coming in is changed. And we’ve either added or deleted tasks by the end of the program. It doesn’t… the picture doesn’t look the same, because we have a tendency to minimize our disabilities, because we’ve just adapted so much. And so, Oh yeah, I got this, I don’t need help with that, or we overstated what we can do, because we don’t want people to know, we have that vulnerability. And so the time that we spend allows us to truly help them define what do I need and experiment with what is going to work.
Tony Delisle 49:27
I love the experimentation process as well. I feel like sometimes we learn more. Sometimes when the experiment goes wrong. Then when it always goes right as well. So you and I have also collaborated recently related to service animals, but in the area of disaster preparedness and emergency management, living in Florida and you know, all the different things that are going on, it’s been a very big topic. And you also, you know, illuminated doesn’t have to be like a hurricane disaster for service animals to be something that people who do emergency management and even first responders to really be putting into their planning to be aware of that you know, and to be ready for when it happens. Like it could be just a day to day thing where you do need a paramedic or whatnot to come to you. So where do you see the important issue areas or, you know, things that, you know, professionals in disaster management need to be prepared for? When a disaster or an ordinary everyday health hazard safety hazard occurs? With a person who has a service animal? What should people be thinking about and preparing for if this is their job to ensure that people with service animals have, you know, the access that they need to the health and safety services of our company these issues?
Laura Lee Putzback 51:06
The nice thing is, I’m beginning to see emergency planners account for not only service animals for pets, because what after Hurricane Katrina, we saw the federal law that says you must have a plan for animals. What we need to work on is understanding separating handlers from their animals, and having handlers prepared to not be separated from their animals and taking the things during a disaster, that their plan includes planning for their dog. And so there needs to be a coming together. And so having pet expos because oftentimes during hurricane season, you’ll see pet expos. You know, having information about how to plan for emergency shelter situations with your service animal will help prevent trouble at the door getting in it having those discussions because emergency management teams usually use schools. So there’s stakeholders that you’re using other resources to talk about, how are we going to handle this so that when Shellman shows up with a service dog, we all are on the same page?
Tony Delisle 52:17
So how about disaster hits? You have a service animal going to a shelter, and I go to a general population shelter with my service animal? Are they required to let me in and not be accessible? Or are they going to be you know, referring me out to a special needs shelter?
Laura Lee Putzback 52:34
A special needs shelter, again, each locality gets to talk about what that means. But they’re really just typically designed as a medical intervention, that there’s some higher need of care. If they’re just trying to take and put someone with a service dog over there, because they have a dog, again, that may not be in their best interest. At the time during a disaster. You may need to do what you got to do. But I certainly would be coming back and having that discussion, because it’s about equal access. I don’t need anyone to do anything for my service dog. I want to be with my family. We showed up at the shelter. I brought all my provisions, are you going to send me in my wheelchair away? A dog is a medical device. There’s nothing wrong with an emergency shelter saying we have a special place if you’d like. Because you have a service dog because it’s not as crowded. There’s nothing to say you can’t offer an accommodation. But to generally divert because you’ve targeted and profile people like this with this disability go here. It’s really a gray and unforgiving area.
Tony Delisle 53:46
It is it is and yeah, so yes, the general population shelters you know, should accept somebody that has a service animal, no other medical needs. They’re just like you said, like someone in a wheelchair come into a general population shelter. And it seems like we could see past variances where you know, it’s not put out there as an option is like, oh, we’re gonna go to the special needs shelter, here’s the address or even because there is, you know, an animal involved, well, here’s the shelter that allows pets, and you get sent in that kind of direction, too. So I think it… I’m glad you’re really illuminating for us that really should be up to the person where they go, you know, the choice that is allowed that and that’s the responsibility role of people run the shelters to know those differences.
Laura Lee Putzback 54:27
And quite honestly, in the middle of the disaster, you know, we’ve had after the fact calls. In the middle of a disaster, you can’t really do much about it, if because the emergency shelters kind of be stuck in their position. But we can work after the fact that we can work in advance to make sure we are implementing policies that give equal opportunity to participate.
Tony Delisle 54:49
And I’m really glad that you know you mentioned that. So when during blue skies as I guess it’s called the emergency management world where the disasters aren’t hitting, this is the time to collaborate, get together and synergize. And you you participated on a, you know, a lunch and learn training that we did with the Tampa Bay health and medical preparedness coalition, regional, multi county coalition of emergency management professionals, health care providers, and etc. And you really gave a great piece on, you know, your expertise and service animals, sheltering, you know, those kind of things. And so I see all these different multi agencies coming together and collaborating. And you’re somebody that is just like, you know, this, this ultra collaborator, you’ve been a part of so many different fields and organizations and agencies. And, you know, I recognize collaboration as one of the most important tools in our toolbox to make real change, impactful change out there in the world, but it’s not always easy to collaborate. What have you seen in terms of barriers of collaborations between agencies, you know, trying to really get organizations to synergize? And what have you seen as some of the facilitators to get over those barriers towards collaborations?
Laura Lee Putzback 56:02
I think culture, culture of the organization, which is not always the staff, sometimes it’s the board, you know, where they see their position? Are they a combat? Are they a competitor? Because they’re competing for funds? Because remember, we all want to stay in business. Or is it an advantage to collaborate? What am I getting out of it? And so being able to just be in places where you can have those conversations is really important. I would say it’s rare for someone to pick up the phone like I did, and say, Is there something we can do to work together? Because I’m working on an issue and I can’t do it alone. There are networks and alliances and then it becomes how do we get the important issues that we think we could work on and solve together? Because there’s one thing to talk about shared issues, it’s another say we’re going to work on it. And so I have spent most of my volunteer time, being a facilitator. The two biggest projects I facilitated, were getting a Qualified Health Care Center here in our county. And that discussion came from Well, I’m going to do this and I’m like, Wait a second, are you the best partner to do this? Who else is in the community? We need to have that conversation. The same thing with the food bank. They have wanted it for 10 years. Okay, why hasn’t it happened? How do we get a core group of people on the same page? So it’s not about Do I have the most money as an agency? Do I have the most staff it’s who is the conversation starter, and who can pull together and synergize the common goal? And Center for Independent Living, I believe is a catalyst to be a facilitator for those dialogues in the area of disability.
Tony Delisle 57:49
Well, thank you for saying that. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve asked you that question. Because I do see you this is ultra-collaborator, and this is something that’s very important to me. And, you know, definitely you’ve seen, like, what you’re alluding to there, you know, with other agencies that, you know, kind of are turf for ish, maybe for self preservation reasons, like he said, like funding, you know, limited funding that, you know, we’re all vying for, and it’s more of a competitive versus cooperative environment, but others are like you are just really cooperative, engaging, your time I find to be is one of the biggest barriers. So there’s a lot of talk about, you know, breaking down the silos and your core collaborating, but oftentimes to meetings to be one of the biggest limiting factors and resources, you know, to get in together and synergizing, because of, you know, just the amount of responsibilities that we all have. So you seem to be incredibly productive, incredibly efficient in what you do. What are some of your, you know, tricks of the trade and so to speak, to do the your work efficiently to collaborate with time in mind, in terms of one of the limited resources that we all are up against?
Laura Lee Putzback 58:50
I think, on projects, the skill set I bring is project management. So it’s breaking it down into manageable pieces. You’re going to come for 90 minutes, we’re going to define the scope of what we’re going to do. Done, okay, we’ve all agreed on it, let’s send some stuff back and forth. The next step is let’s put a plan together. But we don’t need to be in a meeting, that the work can be done outside. And that you’re taking these chunks and moving forward because people end up not wanting to devote the time in alliances, a lot of times because nothing ever gets done. It’s just talking. And so having… having someone to guide the process to show productivity and outcome is how collaboration happens.
Tony Delisle 59:39
So project management can be brought to bear. I love that. That can really help out with time and efficiency. And, you know, it really does resonate with me as you’re saying bringing people together often translates to more talk and less action. And, you know, it reminds me of a quote that someone that disaster preparedness says quite often that we are really good at admiring the problem, like we can really break it down and get into the conceptual framework of the problem itself and get caught into that loop that’s necessary. You got to, you know, kind of know what you’re up against, but then the execution, you know, where the actual doing, what are some of the ways that we can go from dissecting the problem to actually take an action on the problem? What are some of the things that can really help to bridge the gap between the knowing and the doing?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:00:21
And we, you’re right, we spend a lot of time talking about it. Most times, some groups come together, they know what the problems are. The question is, what are we willing to do about it? And so I always ask two questions. If you had a magic wand, what would the end look like? And that’s where we start when we want to, we want we have all the money all the people all the time, and then Okay, in an ideal world, what’s the, what would you settle for, and then somewhere in between that project, we actually find our solution. And it’s been very helpful. It may not be that we started out thinking, who was going to, you know, be the lead on the project, or what the actual service is going to be. But we’ve solved the problem. And we’ve done something, and it fulfills a bunch of the checks that we needed to do to say, this is complete.
Tony Delisle 1:01:14
I love with your end in mind, you know, kind of starting it out, that does resonate with me as well, I like to think of the end in mind, and then kind of reverse engineer it from there, I try to work backwards. One of the things that I think that you bring to the table that I find to be really, you know, inspiring as well, is your enthusiasm to make a difference in the lives of other people. Where do you get that from?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:01:37
I don’t know, Tony, I can’t answer that. My journey in the disability world stuck because stigma was a really big part of my life. I didn’t know for 25 years that my mother had committed suicide, and I had been working in the mental health field for a while. Disability does not mean I’m not whole. Disability isn’t something to be ashamed of. And it’s not also a badge or a poster child. It’s a part of who I am, I’m a white, middle aged woman with a disability. I have purpose, and I have a great ability to contribute, I may not be able to contribute how others do. But I have something to contribute. And I believe that is true of everyone, we are not a label, we have a purpose. And our purpose is to be a contributing member of the community in which we live. And that could be family, friends, work neighborhood, and the larger community.
Tony Delisle 1:02:39
So what do you think are some of the most important values to then execute on that purpose that you have, for you? What are some of the most important valuable values that you know, are very important for you to be able to do the great things that you’re doing?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:02:54
I think it’s to have insight. I need to know, A, what I’m willing to do, you know, where my lines and my boundaries are with people and organizations. I need to know what my strengths and limitations are. And when those opportunities come, what am I willing to do to push those forward? And when I hit the struggles, or the threats, how do I respond? Because if I know the answers to those questions, or I have some sense of who I am, I then can, from an individual level impact one person’s life or many lives.
Tony Delisle 1:03:37
That’s great, insight. I think that’s a valuable thing. And I like how you always are tying it back to you know, who are we, you know, and what is our role? What can we offer? What’s our strengths, what’s our limitations? It’s very valuable wisdom, there Laura Lee. Thank you. So, I want to acknowledge you for taking the initiative to reach out to us and I know you do this for many other agencies and really ask and it’s such a servant leader mentality that I get from you. And that to me is like one of the you know, highest forms of being in this area of trying to make the world a better place through serving the needs of people who are often marginalized and you have a lot of expertise and a lot of wisdom and you do it in a way that super, you know, I find to be really humble in many ways. I think that’s very you know, often when people have all these kind of attributes of expertise and things to offer that they don’t come at you with a holier than thou, I’m better than you kind of mentality and I think you really embrace that transactional, interpersonal, you know, relationship that’s so needed, you know, to work with people to make things individualized and I just want to acknowledge you for for walking the talk and, you know, being in a place where where, from what I understand you’re retired and yet you know, with all the things that you could be doing with your life, you know, this is you living your purpose and your mission, and just being true to who you are. And that authenticity really comes out in when I engage with you and hear from what you’re doing and interacting with. And, you know, I find that to be really, really refreshing in an age where I think a lot of people aren’t in touch with who they are. And sometimes I’m not either, and there could be some inauthenticity that’s in there. So I just want to acknowledge you for for those attributes, and many more, you know, that that you have to offer, you’re certainly making the world and community a better place where your presence in it, and the purpose and the drive that you have.
Laura Lee Putzback 1:05:35
Thank you, Tony, and it is a real pleasure to work with you, and we’ll work on you’re not calling me out on the next time. Because it’s really not about me that this story that we’ve talked about today was my journey, but it could have been anyone’s journey, we have the ability to make a difference in every person we touch. And it’s up to us what those interactions are going to look like.
Tony Delisle 1:06:00
So you we have a few questions that we ask all our guests, you know, for the episodes, and we just want to, you know, get your responses to it, I find it very interesting to compare and contrast some of the responses that we get. So if you don’t mind fielding a few questions that we have to close this out. I’m going to throw them out there to you. You know, we talked before about, you know, label, you mentioned that, and we’ve said a lot about you know, the word disability. What are some of the other synonyms and these don’t necessarily be words that you’re you’re advocating to use, they can be words that are not the most appropriate words to use. But what are some of the synonyms that you heard along the way in your experience of disability?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:06:42
I’m only going to use one and it’s the word spectacle. Okay? It’s the words, okay. And it’s been used in good and bad connotations, or, you know, whether it’s because someone has made an accommodation, and a co-worker is like, oh, you’re special, because they don’t understand the accommodation? Or because, you know, they make the joke about the short bus and you’re special. So that those words are good and bad.
Tony Delisle 1:07:06
Yeah, absolutely. And what do you have any words that you would suggest? That would be more empowering to use at all?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:07:14
We’ll see, I would, I’m of the mindset, it depends. Because first I’m gonna say, Why do I need a label? I want to put it in context. You know, do I need a label because I’m a member of a group, you know, because membership at a drop in center. And I need to say I’m a member, a disabled person, part of dropping a member, you know, do I need that label? Is it for eligibility? Is it for diagnosis? Why? Why do I need the label? And then the second is, how the language, preferred language in the community, I’m in some of the disability communities, it’s person first, or identity? So do I want to be known as the person with a disability? Or do I want to be known as a blind person or person with that i is blind, a diabetic, or a person with diabetes, a member versus a consumer. So we need to understand the communities in which we operate. And then after that, even if I’m in that community, I may say, I’m not buying into that. I don’t own that personally. So it really is, what is the person’s preference? Not what’s my preference?
Tony Delisle 1:08:18
I love it. I love it. Again, you’re going back to this making sure that we’re not the experts, it’s the people we work with, and keeping them at the center of all this. So I really like it. How do we really reconcile, for me, there’s tension between, you know, to label to not label in order to receive services, you got to be diagnosed or labeled or you know, need in order to have resources thrown, there’s got to be a need that’s identified that often looks at a population that you know, is definable. But then at the same time, like you said, does it personally service in doing that there seems to be some tension there? Is there Is it is it? Is it something that we should be trying to, like, hold two opposing thoughts in our head and be able to reconcile that at the same time, or, I don’t know, help me out there Laura Lee. I struggle this with myself, you know, trying to grapple my head around that.
Laura Lee Putzback 1:09:11
Take it out of the disability arena. Think about veterans, it’s not as contentious to say I’m a veteran. It describes a very specific action and it paints the picture. So when I go to a veterans group, oh, yeah, if you’re a veteran. The context is why do I need the label? And for disabled, it has many reasons that you’re asked the question to affiliate. But it has positive and negative. And so the agencies and organizations yes have to say we are this, but then what they call the person should really be up to the context of the time and the example I will give. When I first started my career It was called mental retardation, if I were still working, and I use that language that is very offensive, because the new term is developmentally disabled. So we can’t rely on labels because A, they’re not time honored, and B, they’re personal, they do create affinity groups. And so we have to do that with the intent of I have this label, because it identifies what we do, not who we are.
Tony Delisle 1:10:32
I like that. So not everybody is as steeped in the world of disabilities as you are. And if you were to, you know, articulate, you know, to people that are not, some of the values or strengths or assets of people with disabilities, or just something you would want them to know about people with disabilities, what would that be?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:10:55
You know, we are really all the same as people without disabilities, as all humans are adaptive. And what I mean by that is, each of us use our strengths and limitations to handle the opportunities and adverse circumstances we encounter. Some of us just have different struggles, and some of those struggles, are disabilities. But the outcome of that, in my experience, is people with disabilities are resilient. They have learned to adapt and manage chronic or episode, episodic illnesses. And I find it enhances their creativity and problem solving skills. And when that happens, that translates to all kinds of relationships they have in the different communities they navigate.
Tony Delisle 1:11:42
So I’m hearing that there could be some really strength-based aspects of having a disability that can teach us adaptability, resilience, and it with that in mind, what have you personally gained from having a disability or working with people from disabilities that has helped to improve your quality of life? What are some of the strengths that you have because of disability?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:12:06
I think that first time that Voc Rehab professional told me, yeah, you can’t do that. I think pulling myself up by my bootstraps and saying, I’m the best judge of what I can do. Not someone else. I think tenaciousness, you know that it is the publisher of the paper calls me tenacious in a good way. But it’s believing that we should be able to solve the problem, it may not be with the answer that we want, but we should be able to do something to impact the problem. And I think the last thing is to be kind to yourself, because illness is hard. And it always isn’t a linear path, and to accept where you are in any given day, knowing the journey is not over.
Tony Delisle 1:12:55
So how can we be more kind to ourselves?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:13:00
I think celebrating and gratitude. I think sometimes it’s very easy, whether it’s to the external world, or our or even for ourselves, to not recognize the things that we have to be grateful for. And I’m talking very small things. And I have a gratitude journal. And sometimes I write in it. And sometimes I don’t, because it’s easy to be bogged down with the what ifs and why nots of life, and to celebrate the small successes, because it’s those small successes that are stacked on top of one another, that lead us to accomplish what we had hoped.
Tony Delisle 1:13:41
I love that. And for me, personally, you know, having gratitude, especially for this, you know, simple things can be really powerful. And like you said, celebrating those small wins, or even growth is huge, I find that many people, including myself, don’t acknowledge that. And it after a while, a lot of small things leads to big change. And I find independence is no small thing, but it is often made up of those small things that can really matter. So Laura Lee, last question. What does the independent life mean to you?
Laura Lee Putzback 1:14:20
I really think it’s the convergence. The independent life means I don’t think about my disability every day. It’s a part of who I am. But it’s not who I am. That I have the freedom to choose the path that I want to take in my life. And I have the ability with or without accommodations to have the life that I want.
Tony Delisle 1:14:46
Well, it seems like you’re a living embodiment of what it means to live the independent life. You know, it seems like you’re certainly in the driver’s seat of it, and you’re putting other people in the driver’s seat of their own lives and live In the independent life, so you’re a great role model for me and doing that good work and and certainly for learning to how to collaborate better with other agencies to really synergize and really think about the greater good of others. And really bring it back to, you know, starting with the end in mind, what is it we went out there for ourselves, and really learning who we are along the way. So, man, I really appreciate you taking time Laura Lee, to share your insights, your wisdom and your experiences with us. I look forward to having you back. I look forward more importantly even to doing work together and collaborating to serve better, you know, those that are out there who may need us and make them the community and world a better place and you know, before we sign off, I was wondering if you know, you might be able to leave us with a quote to chew on.
Laura Lee Putzback 1:15:51
My favorite quote is from an unknown poet Henrik Ibsen. Community is like a ship, sometimes you have to take the helm. So it’s not always us that are the driver and it’s time to pass the torch to many to follow.
Tony Delisle 1:16:06
I love that and I feel like nowadays with with COVID especially that you know, as a society we’re all in a lifeboat it seems like. I feel very grateful for the times where I feel like I have a paddle that I can help contribute to steering the boat in the right direction. And I recognize not everybody has that paddle but when offered the opportunity to take that panel to take that helm, to help steer that boat back community is a place that I’m very grateful for and I’m also also humbled by because that’s a that’s a very special opportunity to really truly not just help ourselves but the greater good and Laura Lee, thank you for being the embodiment of that and thank you for sharing your quote, your time, your wisdom.
Laura Lee Putzback 1:16:51
Tony, thanks to you in the Independent Living center. You guys do awesome work.
Tony Delisle 1:16:56
All right, Laura Lee. Well thank you again and to all those listening to the next time, onward and upward. Take care.
Amy Feutz 1:17:08
Thanks for listening to the independent life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe to for questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share, please email us email@example.com for call us at 352-378-7474. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live the independent life