Introduction

The Importance of Accessible Service Dogs: What I’ve Learned as an Atlas Summer Intern

The Importance of Accessible Service Dogs: What I’ve Learned as an Atlas Summer Intern

This summer, Atlas had the joy of welcoming Michelle, an intern from Princeton University. Throughout her internship with us, Michelle worked on a wide range of important projects. Her talent, dedication, and hard worked shined in everything she did. We are extremely grateful to have had her join our team. Here is what Michelle has to say about her time as an Atlas summer intern and what she learned about service dogs and disabilities.

What I've Learned as an Atlas Summer Intern

“For my first two days as a remote intern at Atlas Assistance Dogs, I had the opportunity to virtually attend Atlas’ annual board retreat, where I was quickly thrown into the midst of the service dog training world and the inner workings of a disability nonprofit. Though I did learn much from the retreat about the multiple aspects associated with managing a nonprofit, one of the sessions that really stuck (and still sticks!) with me was a 2-hour Q&A with a panel of Atlas clients and volunteer Team Facilitators. As I listened to their testimonials of how Atlas’ programs allowed them to obtain a service dog with the support of others, I realized the life-changing impact and independence that service dogs could truly bring to individuals with disabilities. Indeed, as I worked within different areas and projects throughout my internship, I consistently saw how Atlas was changing the lives of those in the disability community through their efforts, whether it was by providing disabled individuals with opportunities to become service dog trainers or by supplying clients with more attainable resources to train their service dog.

Before interning at Atlas, however, I was initially a bit unfamiliar with the service dog industry and the more specific purposes of service dogs in the disability community. While I knew of the general benefits that a service dog could bring to individuals with visual or hearing impairments, I was surprised to learn that there were also specialized assistance dogs for those with other diverse disabilities, such as psychiatric service dogs, autism assistance dogs, medical alert dogs, or diabetes alert dogs. As someone who is passionate about mental health advocacy in particular, I hadn’t previously considered how service dogs could, for instance, aid those struggling with the debilitating effects of panic attacks or with self-harming behaviors – I was only aware of the psychological benefits that therapy dogs or emotional support animals could bring. To me, knowing that Atlas was expanding access to service dogs for all individuals with a variety of disabilities – even those with mental health conditions – only made me resonate more with their mission and goals. 

Throughout my internship experience at Atlas, I also realized the importance of providing attainable options to service dog training for those who could benefit most from them. Initially, I had been unaware of the financial, ethical, and physical barriers posed by larger organizations or companies – barriers which could deter individuals with disabilities from obtaining a service dog that can truly support their needs. However, as I learned more about the scope of Atlas’ programs, I became more cognizant of how vital Atlas’ efforts were in reducing these barriers and in empowering those with disabilities to finally obtain a service dog fit for their needs. For instance, through Atlas’ Client Certification Program, disabled individuals can train their own service dog using positive and non-aversive methods, allowing them to regain autonomy within their lives in turn. To further enhance their journey in training their service dog, Atlas also provides clients with the guidance of Team Facilitators and a close-knit community of individuals who are also working towards certification. Even with the difficulties that could accompany clients training their own service dog, I admired how Atlas was still striving to make the process of certification as supportive and accessible as possible to people with disabilities.

After doing many projects in a breadth of areas during the ten weeks of my internship – ranging from outreach to governance and operations – I feel that I now have a better grasp of what I’m interested in and what I’d like to pursue after college. (Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the marketing and communication aspects most, even as an intended Classical Studies major!). This nonprofit internship was also my first experience with working in the realm of civic service and the public sector – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing so over the course of this summer. Although I’m no longer interning for Atlas, I’ve decided to continue my work with them as a general volunteer. In the time to come, I hope to keep making a positive impact within the disability community and, more generally, within the local communities around me. Thank you to everyone at Atlas for an informative internship experience and a summer to remember!”

About Michelle

portrait of Michelle

Michelle Ho is a college sophomore from Johns Creek, Georgia who is studying Classics at Princeton University. When she’s not translating Latin lines or analyzing poetry verses, she enjoys drawing, creative writing, and listening to music in her free time. Beyond her interest in the humanities, Michelle is also passionate about mental health advocacy, equity in education, and disability inclusion.

About Atlas Assistance Dogs

Atlas Assistance Dogs is a non-profit organization that fundamentally expands access to assistance dogs. We support people with disabilities to train and certify their own service dog using positive, ethical training methods. At Atlas, we believe anyone who would benefit from a qualified assistance dog should be able to have one. 

We work with people with a wide range of disabilities who wish to train their own service dog as well as offer a comprehensive Academy for professional trainers wanting to become service dog trainers. For more information about Atlas’ Client Certification program or other training services, please visit www.atlasdog.org or contact info@atlasdog.org

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