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It may seem hard to believe in 2017, but yes, you can still be discriminated against even when you have a disability. That was the hard lesson that a legally blind Georgia woman learned when she was asked to sit in the back of a local church because of her service dog.

Cynthia Coleman of College Park, Georgia was searching for a new church home and thought she found the perfect fit, until she says she was discriminated against for being legally blind and requiring a service dog to accompany her into church service. The Root reports that Coleman, 58, felt disrespected and unwelcome at the church when they saw that she was accompanied by her service dog Hook, and was subsequently asked to move to the very back of the church.

The Root detailed the full encounter:

“They just left me no choice. It was like, ‘Either you move to that back pew or you leave their church.’” told [local Atlanta] news station WXIA. Coleman, who is legally blind, has no vision at all in her right eye and no peripheral vision in her left eye. She was searching for a new church when she discovered one about 2 miles from her home and decided to try it out.

Coleman told WXIA that she called the church ahead of time as a courtesy and was assured that the church would be able to accommodate her and her service dog, Hook. At first she and Hook were welcomed warmly, but as they settled in for Sunday’s service, things quickly went awry.

“Sitting down for about five or 10 minutes, and about four or five deacons approached me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. Somewhat aggressive,” she said. Coleman said that she was told she could not sit up front and had to move to the back with the service dog, with church officials apparently telling her that they were afraid that Hook would get agitated or not know how to act during the service. “I explained to them that if I sat in the back pew, then it was just really not an option because I wouldn’t be able to see. I could only hear,” she said.

Coleman went on to state that she didn’t want to shame the church and declined to identify it by name, but she still feels that she was discriminated against as a disabled person and hopes that the church changes its ways in the future:

“It was discrimination. It was discrimination. I had never in my life been discriminated against. Never. And to be discriminated against for the first time as a disabled person in a church is disgusting,” she said. “Had they said, ‘We don’t know how this works; can you help us?’ It would have been a different situation, but they treated us as though we were the leper in the church, and I just didn’t appreciate it.”

“I was about in tears because we don’t choose to be blind and we don’t choose to be disabled. I almost felt like the leper in the church,” she said of her experience. “In a public place, especially in a church, we should be welcomed with open arms.”

 

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