Archive for the ‘guide dogs’ Category

Disabled Invisible? Or the Government and Most Mainstream Media Blind, Deaf and Dumb?

May 13, 2011

The 11TH of May 2011 will go down in history. Sadly, only a small sector of the British population will be aware of why.

The conservative government are bull dosing a welfare reform through parliament that will effect hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled individuals. Not only are local councils cutting services to their disabled constituents but the government is putting disabled people under siege by dramatically changing the benefits they are entitled to claim.

Not only will the long term sick and disabled only be allowed to claim Employment support Allowance [esa] for twelve months but the transformation of disability living allowance will not be recognised as something that helps disabled people live their lives. Taking the mobility component from people in residential care who are able, with that extra financial support, to visit friends and families and go to social groups that improves their quality of life, will reduce them to emotional despair. With that component gone, it will leave many isolated and unable to keep in contact with relatives and friends whilst participating in social activities that keep them integrated and active.

The extremely generalised assessment process neither assists those in need or accurately assesses disabled individuals needs correctly. And if found “fit to work” physically, is not to say someone is mentally prepared or actually able. Putting disabled people in to the “lion’s den” of the commercial workplace is going to destroy people. Having rejection upon rejection, while being virtually “bullied” by job centre Plus advisors so they can meet their targets, will mean many people are placed in frightening situations and pushed into a potentially soul destroying path.

Imagine, applying for a job, being interviewed over the telephone only to be told, when you have a disability that they are not sure how they can accommodate your needs, time and time again. Regardless of laws against discrimination, some of the reasons employers cannot employ a disabled person are not always their fault. For blind people, working with money is not practical, employers wouldn’t feel comfortable with money exchanging hands from a blind person to a sighted or vice versa in case the notes are not accurately identified or fraud is being committed. Blind people’s assessment of their own money often takes longer than that of a sighted person, so time pressure would be on them. And that’s if the technology, such as a cash register is accessible. Many are not and never will be in our lifetime.

Wheelchair users can only access buildings with ramps and lifts. And in fire situations, lifts can never be used. Not many employers are willing to take a risk of putting a wheelchair user on the sixth floor in case there is a fire. Some organisations have a buddy system but even if their intentions were their, many insurance companies would not cover the company for such circumstances.

The assessment deems myself “fit to work” if all criteria I have read and been informed about so far is accurate, because I have a guide dog. With the RNIB recently publishing a statistic 92% of employers would not employ someone with a visual impairment, where does that huge misconception that employers have no issue employing the blind come from? do the people behind this horrendous attempt at assessing disabled and sick people for work take into account that despite wanting to work, many being qualified, the employers are not able to for physical or legal reasons employ the disabled. And do these great minds who have created this ludicrous test not think that just because someone has a guide dog or a wheelchair that it can suddenly change employers or insurance companies minds? Changing the “being able to walk” criteria to “being mobilised” was a very devious thing for this government to do. Many disabled could “mobilise” themselves but for how long or how successful are many other questions that are not addressed.

Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, [if she can call herself that], stated that it is a system that is not working if there are more alcoholics and drug addicts claiming DLA than the blind. Well, Miss Miller, if your government has your way under personal independent payments, there will be very few blind people claiming dLA’s successor. Not to mention the fact that the statistics tell a different story? This is people’s futures, Ms Miller, not Jack and Ori.

The media have done nothing but promote the government’s propaganda efforts by publishing in various news sources that 94% in the Mail and 75% in the Daily Express incapacity benefit claimants are deemed “fit to work”. That figure blows my mind. Take away the fact for many disabled, they want to work but are refused employment because of their disability or lack of support into work, what about those suffering from cancer, HIV, MS, chronic arthritis that physically cannot work efficiently every day? That represents only six percent of incapacity claimants? Well, of course not. As usual, the press are promoting government support for tight reform with miscalculated, misinformed, and mostly outright . wrong statistics

The media proved yesterday how much they didn’t care about this society’s disabled. The only major news programmes to cover the march were ITV evening news who did a good piece of coverage and Channel four’s news at seven. BBC had mentioned it during the day but it was missing from it’s popular six o’clock showing on BBC 1 while it was covered on it’s website reasonably well. Sky News, one of the biggest news channels in the UK and streamed around the world mentioned it maybe once but nothing on their website at all. They were able to cover all the things going on in Libya, many foreign stories, even the sentencing of actress Lindsay Lohan but nothing on its website about the thousands of disabled marching through London to protest against the cuts.

It angers me that only the Guardian have been forth coming and extremely supportive of 11TH May protests; having constant updates on a live blog and several write ups both on its online distribution and paper broadsheet. A huge thank you to the Guardian, ITV News, and Channel 4 for having some great coverage of the protest and even interviewing Liam Burns, the shadow work and pensions minister.

None of us expect to be top of the hour news, or front page in the news papers but for crying out loud, we are still here, in our millions as a disabled community! Can this government not hear us? Do they not understand? If they want to cut the deficit, which we all agree on, why target those of us who fight enough in our every day battles with discrimination! I know cuts need to happen, but why are they cutting the quality of our lives? Why are they not recognising blindness as a disability, assessing it below even the threshold to gain a place on the into work scheme under the new ESA benefit, despite having input from organisations such as RNIB who feels their input has been ignored? How can they “assume” that my guide dog makes me more employable than a cane user who may have more sight? How can they say someone with MS can work for eight hours every day if they don’t see them in pain and unable to get up for work because every muscle in their body hurts? How can an abled bodied so called health professional, who is repeatedly passing people fit to work who clearly are not, capable of assessing someone if they’ve never dealt with that disability, some even come across it? If they are not willing to understand and take a fifteen minute snippet with a rigid questionnaire to assess someone’s abilities, it is clearly just a tick in the box and one more person off the sick and disabled list, the better, right, Mr cameron and co?

They say they’ve had conversations with organisations about these changes, but if that was true, then how was it that staff from over forty organisations representing disabled people across the board were marching alongside those people on 11TH May? Richard Leaman , Guide Dogs own chief executive marched alongside clients, dogs and staff alike to protest. Do you think if Guide Dogs as an organisation had agreed to the governments extraordinary changes that he would risk his reputation and the one of his organisation just “for kicks”?

Miller talked about the drug addicts and the alcoholics claiming both DLA and incapacity, and the media have publicised that fact over and over again, but what about those who are disabled who are going to get theirs cut? We didn’t make a life style choice to be blind, lame, deaf, or feel as though our body was on fire, we didn’t abuse the system so then why are we being punished, ignored, sidelined and forced into another system that has not worked for many?

I’ve claimed job seeker’s allowance. I claimed it for almost three years! During that time, neither I nor the job centre could find work. The disability employment advisors did not understand my needs as a blind client or how my blindness would effect me in the work place. No information was accessible to me. Not leaflets, their computer systems, the forms I had to sign every two weeks. It was only through my own research that I attended the royal national college for the blind and transferred to incapacity benefit. After I’d left college, I still couldn’t get work. And despite continued efforts to search, apply for different jobs, I am still unemployed. I was never understood and felt abandoned during that time. Ms Miller speaks of disabled people being abandoned on the current system, so what is she doing then? Throwing many into a system that is not designed to support people with extensive needs; Throwing them into a world of ignorance that no government has tried to change. She says attitudes have changed toward disabled people, really? I must have missed that evolution. We’re still pitied, avoided because people fear the unknown, shunned by others because we’re deemed too needy, patronised because we’re seen to be unintelligent and treated like second class citizens as we always have been, the media have only enhanced that point this week. And society’s attitudes have changed? Just because children are being educated more within mainstream education Ms Miller, it does not mean society’s attitudes have changed just because we’re not locked up and hidden away. The stigmas toward many disabilities still exist and many VI children are segregated within VI units within their school along with other special needs children. Being taught in the same building does not make society’s attitudes toward them any different!

Last year I started a home study degree which was funded by the university so I did not have any fees to pay. Because of the increase to come in for tuition fees, the scheme was cut at the end of my very successful first year. I couldn’t afford the fees and was forced to withdraw. I have and continue to try to gain work or qualifications to be “more employable” on a qualification basis but the truth is, unless my blindness miraculously disappears, or the attitudes of society, the employer’s being educated and insurance companies not deeming disabled people high risk enough to boot premiums to a devastating price change, I will remain unemployed from the mainstream workforce. I take offence to the many headlines calling incapacity and DLA claimants “scroungers” or “lazy” as While looking for work I’ve done everything in my power to gain employment. I’ve attempted study, I volunteer to gain work experience, I blog and participate in accessibility podcasts to widen my knowledge and experience while educating and informing the world best I can about blindness, access technology and guide dogs. I do not sit around, or enjoy four or five holidays to Spain, I do not own extravagant items or go out every weekend to clubs. I’ve tried, I continue to try to make my life productive and full but I can’t single handedly change the attitudes of employers.

Unless I gain employment within a sector for visually impaired or set up my own business, which I eventually would like to do, I will be punished for being blind and become isolated because I cannot fund my disability.

I keep hearing the phrase, “Genuinely disabled,” yet I and others seemingly do not fit into that category. As I stated earlier, the current assessment for ESA would maximumly gain a visually impaired person nine points or less and fifteen is required to qualify for the into work program. So, I clearly am not “disabled” according to these guidelines and to the media who have deemed many claimants to be “scroungers” and have insinuated “faking it”. What an actress I must be, to have faked blindness all my life!

Many do abuse the system and those people need to be caught out, no one would refute that. And that is why we are not asking this government to leave things the way they are but to listen, understand and implement changes suggested to them by the people who know. Realism and practicality need to be adopted here or else the government has outrightly broke its promise to protect the disabled and vulnerable in our society.

As MP Hunt said, stop providing abled bodied, healthy individuals from pushing out three or four children at the tax payer’s expense. If people want to reproduce, they should pay for them. My parents have worked every day of their lives and have contributed to this system and they, like others who are parents of disabled people are angry that it is more socially acceptable to get pregnant and have a child for the sole cause of living off of benefits when disabled families are having support, care and benefits cut.

Miller talks about the numbers of alcoholics and drug users on DLA and incapacity benefit, well stop them claiming it! Children born with disabilities don’t have a choice, soldiers fighting for this country don’t have a choice whether they are hit or not, police and fire service people do not have a choice if they are hurt while on duty, and yet those without the choices are the ones being punished.

This past few days, I’ve felt disappointed, angry, concerned, surprised, shocked and proud for a variety of reasons. Proud of the ones marching; proud of the efforts by those who couldn’t make it who have expressed themselves on the web; proud of some journalists who have maintained their integrity by reporting the events as they are. I was surprised how quickly my MP responded to my email that I sent her only the night of the march and even more so of her support. And yet I’ve been saddened, shocked and rather disgusted with the lack of coverage by many media outlets. No need for breaking news but it still happened! It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest march of its kind in regard to the disabled people in numbers present at a protest, and that wasn’t news worthy? I was also disappointed by the lack of response by some visually impaired people I know. Some were fantastic online yesterday and others I know marched while some remained quiet and as though it wasn’t happening to them. You may not believe writing to your MP will work, or that you’ll lose followers or friends on social networks by mentioning it, but if they’re real friends or interested in what you have to say, isn’t that better than being ignored by the government? I’ve heard people say it won’t have made a difference, maybe not but maybe it will open some eyes. It’s our future and if we don’t help shape it, then we have no real future to call our own.

Miller in my book represents nothing but an empty promise and a cruel and misconceived idea of what disability and sickness really means and how it effects those with it. She was more interested in the prime minister’s question time than the people she’s meant to represent. Even in a committee meeting about the welfare reform, she was vague, unable to give detail or straight, decisive answers to questions posed to her. Cameron’s conservatives are ignorant and malicious. Despite what they’re telling the media the reality of the assessment process, changes to DLA put the disabled in poverty and isolation, stripping them of dignity and independence. No wonder their precious media won’t report it and are more interested in US politics, affairs abroad and war because it’s not affecting them. If Hunt had denied Murdock the deal for Sky, we’d hear about that all right in its entirety but a few blind, wheel chair bound, deaf and sick people are invisible to them. Why hear the cries of the needy while you’re sat eating your finest foods and enjoying your life? Why take notice of a bunch of disabled people, “We’ll get over it,” right? Why take from the rich, corrupt bankers when you can target the ones in need? It seems they have enough money to bail Greece, Ireland, Portugal and others out of debt, give money to the rebels fighting in Libya, donate millions to countries in need and all because they neglected their own people! I feel for other countries plights, but Prime Minister, you and your government are meant to be the British government, here to make Britain better, but you’d rather help other country’s people than your own vulnerable and disabled people! If you want to cut the deficit, give us a chance to live and change the attitudes of employers and society as a whole, because without those changes, we’ll remain invisible to all while we suffer.

If that’s the society we live in, then by God help us all. Because wait until they cut child services more, or petrol prices rise again, that will be top news. I hope anyone who has blatantly ignored this demonstration of courage and pride by the disabled people of Britain never finds themselves in a similar situation. Because where will your loyal government be then? Helping Pakistan, or fighting in the middle East, or bailing out European countries or lending money to some superpower, and giving you nothing!

“The Invisible Disabled,” it seems so but I pledge to you I will not go unnoticed and neither should you. The women who fought for women’s rights were taken seriously eventually , and some would argue there were many more but many were too afraid to fight the system then. Let’s fight for our right to live good qualities of life and to gain opportunities like everyone else. Change society’s attitudes for the better, Clegg and Cameron, don’t change our lives for the worst.

[note. I am totally blind and cannot comment in detail on how people’s disabilities effect them. Hope I grasped the concept of anger we’re all feeling]

Interesting entertainment links

That’s a Cut, SunnieDae1
Broken Britain’s We have A Dream Speech, hardest Hit
Hardest Hit, Day of Action, Scope for Equality

Advertisements

Ignorance is Bliss, for the British Government

April 4, 2011

Many knew that when the conservatives took over power, those on the lower end of the income bracket would get screwed over. Others knew that the vulnerable in society, despite repeated promises from said government would be left even more vulnerable and up the creek without a paddle. While few knew that some necessary changes would need to be put into place for the economy to recover but also knew that those who cannot help themselves would bear the brunt of these changes. Wherever you stood within these three areas, you were right.

Anyone who has picked up a newspaper, read an online article from any leading British media outlets, watched the national and local news programmes within the last year know that this country is in financial disarray. Back in October when the chancellor made his budget speech, there was a promise to protect the elderly and the disabled. This promise has recently been shown for what it truly is; a glossy lie.

We all are aware cuts need to be made, no one is actually arguing that fact but the level of which this coalition government is stampeding its path is only going to end in misery for many.

I, like many others agree there are abusers of the benefits system but it is safe to say that these benefits sustain a good quality of life for many. The new assessments being brought in for those on incapacity, while weeding out those “fakers” will put many disabled people An on the breadline and B in a severe state of vulnerability. And that’s not even taking into consideration the future preposed changes to Disability Living Allowance. And why? Because this government has not thought through how the assessments will affect a wide range of individuals with varying levels of disabilities and illnesses.

Already the assessment was reevaluated because it deemed terminally ill individuals fit for work. And even after these changes to the assessment process, many disabled organisations say the assessment is too harsh and not detailed enough to assess accurately.

For example, a lady on the national news today who suffered with a brain haemorrhage 10 months ago, who lost feeling in her right side and has limited vision has been deemed fit to work. What this government has not taken into consideration, are the many barriers that a disability will bring up for not only the individual but the organisation that will employ them.

For an abled bodied person, reading, writing, moving around unaided, being alerted to dangers or alerting others to danger are natural abilities. For someone with a hearing impairment, sight impairment or physical impairment, this is not always possible. For example, one of the questions on the test is can you pull a pen from your pocket with both hands. Many people could do this, even wheel chair bound individuals, depending on their condition. Someone with a visual impairment could pull the pen from their pocket but would not be able to use it in many situations. For those visually impaired people, many would use other formats to write and read with compared to the majority of individuals. For someone who is deaf, they may not hear the suggestion. In an assessment environment, their focus is likely to be on the assessor but in the work place, other tasks could distract and they may not hear a command to take a note.

Another aspect of the criteria to receive the new employment support allowance is if you have a guide dog. Apparently, the government foresee a blind individual capable of employment if they have a guide dog. I’m absolutely uncertain how my guide dog makes me more employable than someone who is a cane user or someone who uses neither. Your choice of mobility aid has little bearing on how you perform in a job. My guide dog will not assist my work. He’ll help me get to and from and around the work place, providing I’ve learnt the route prior, as would a cane user. Clearly, someone in government has not explained to these individuals what a guide dog does and does not do. The same apparently applies to an individual using an electronic wheel chair. So, guide dog owners, electric wheel chair users, you should know that your dog and chair clearly help you do a job. And because of these reasons, we are deemed fit to work immediately and would be put instantly on job seekers allowance.

If anyone has dealt with the job centre and has been disabled and has had a great result, I.E., got into employment that you’ve maintained, congratulations, you have to be in the minority and very lucky. Many disability employment officers, like the government, have no idea what a disabled person’s needs and abilities potentially can be.

And for one moment, put aside the assessment, the criteria and walk with me into the work place. Many, and the RNIB estimate, 92% of employers would find it difficult or mere impossible to employ a visually impaired individual. OK, government, please consider the fact you tell us a million jobs have been created in the past three months and now tell us how many of those jobs are going to be doable from a disabled person’s point of view. And not even that, how many of those prospective employers, would employ someone who is visually impaired, deaf or a wheel chair user. And not necessarily because of their own ignorance, lets face it, they’re also dealing with the economy right now. And does the government know that anyone who is disabled automatically has an increase on a risk assessment for any work place or public building? If they’re not aware of this, they should be. Because, risk assessments lead to insurance and higher risks means a higher premium. Can many companies afford a higher premium?

As much as I don’t think this to be a valid reason for a company not to employ a disabled individual, I understand it in the current economic climate.

Thus far, we’ve only talked about the physical disabilities. Does this assessment take into consideration those individuals who have mental disabilities? I’m sure someone with a learning difficulty could indeed pull a pen from their pocket when asked in a calm, controlled environment. Would that be possible in a stressful work place? Highly doubtful.

In short, the changes to incapacity benefit, although necessary to a degree are being done with such ignorance that not only is this government putting people in more vulnerable situations, they’re not helping everyone into a secure job. I do not mean secure as in financial, I mean in the practicality sense of the word. Someone who is visually impaired would struggle working in a visual environment. Likewise, someone who is deaf would find it challenging to the point of stressfulness in an auditory environment. The government want people into work, but realistically what are they going to do to ensure that happens? Many disabled individuals of working age, want to work and would give anything to work. But is putting them on the poverty line with virtually little, specialised assistance into work the right way to go? And this is before I get to disability living allowance.

Many disabled organisations understand the people they work with. Research shows getting work is not as easy as the government would have everyone else believe. Putting this aside, living with a disability, regardless of work or not is a costly affair. Again, some individuals may use little of their disability living allowance, while others may fluctuate over the months and many others depend solely on it to live day to day with their disability.

I cannot speak for someone in a wheel chair, or a deaf person but I as a visually impaired individual rely a lot on my disability living allowance to buy computer equipment so I can read emails, search for jobs, shop independently, read letters and books accessibly. I also use the mobility component to get to places I’m unfamiliar with. Despite what our oh so wise government believes, my guide dog does not have a map inside of his head and I cannot type a post code and he’ll take me there. He only works from my commands. So if I don’t know an area, he won’t know it either and we could become lost and vulnerable. So, taxis are often a way to get around. I attempt to use public transportation where possible and of the do but there are times taxis are necessary and sometimes my only option. They are expensive and on occasion I have to pay someone to assist me somewhere. For example, shopping for clothes items. I need someone to help me around the store and although shop assistants can be helpful, it is not always the case.

A minister recently said that after three years you shouldn’t need any further financial support when it comes to your disability, I’d like to see him try. You have to replace equipment, I.E., colour detectors/scales or bigger things like computers or washing machines even. People do not realise that using a launderette is not a task for the faint hearted disabled individuals. For a wheel chair user, I’d imagine it troublesome getting to the place, with all of your laundry, then many machines are probably not designed for wheel chair access. For someone who is blind, using the machines at all would be impossible without tactile access or someone helping never mind actually getting there with your laundry.

For anyone to say that living with a disability can be got used to after so many years is an ignorant and cruel statement. Without living with one, how would you know?

I’m not expecting everything to be given to me on a plate, I never would. But I want this government and any future ones to not just penalise individuals and put them on the breadline with no hope out. They need to change people’s attitudes, change legislation for insurers and companies. Make public buildings accessible to all. Put the disability discrimination act into practice and enforce it because right now, disabled people still have no rights. David Cameron talked about the happiness and quality of life for the citizens of this country, I see nothing but misery ahead for many disabled individuals. Some have said without their DLA, their lives would not be worth living. Without help into work, without changing people’s attitudes, without punishing disabled people and actually help through work experience in practical jobs and having an assessment process that was realistic for the individuals being tested and not just convenient to down the governments numbers, I don’t see life in this country worth living either. It’s a bleak future for anyone suffering with a disability right now.

The government do need to save money, they do need to get disabled people into work but not without support and not at the expense of those people’s rights. A right to live. This could be done correctly and competently but as this new system stands, they will be putting their disabled exactly where many suspected they would, at the bottom of a pile of trash.

How much I appreciate My Guide Dog

November 24, 2010

On Saturday I went to the movies and on the way home from the city, on a very packed bus, I missed my stop. I got off of the bus with only a vague idea of where I was. But my trusted four legged friend trotted along side me, confident and determined to get us home.

Guide dogs don’t know where they are going but I think that night Bailey had a clue that we had to get home and the fact he’d not had his dinner yet probably helped that matter. I knew which direction to head in and maybe this is Bailey’s personality, everything does seem like a huge adventure to him but he confidently guided me even though for around 10 minutes I had no clue where I was. It was dark and we don’t often work in the dark although he is pretty good late on at night if we do work in the dark but I was simply touched on how well my pup worked.

Once I knew where we were, it was almost like he knew I’d taken over the reins again, as we were passing a wall he had a little sniff which I corrected him for and we trotted home merrily.

Having him that night, just clarified for me as it often does, why I wanted a dog and why I wouldn’t be without one. He gives me so much independence with my mobility and the ability to get myself out of sticky navigational situations he is priceless to me and my life.

So thank you Bailey 🙂

Guide Dogs, in my Eyes

November 7, 2010

[Note to Reader] I live in the UK so all information is correct as I am aware only as a guide dog owner from the Guide Dogs For the Blind Association in the UK.
Association

Guide dogs have been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember. My first memory of knowing what a guide dog was and how it related to my life was when I was seven years old and at the Adam Brooks hospital in Cambridge with my parents at an eye check up. They had a huge ornament of a guide dog in harness standing in the waiting room at the eye clinic and my dad took me over to show me what it was. I felt the smooth impressions of the labradors face, the big ears and the smooth curves of it back, on which sat a harness. I proceeded to ask my parents what it was for and they told me to raise money for guide dogs which I then asked what a guide dog was for and why it wore a harness. My parents explained it was to help the blind get around but even then, I don’t think my parents would truly appreciate the length to which a dog could assist their daughter in the future.

I was seven then, and recently had lost my sight completely and so this news that I could use a dog to get around and break free from the new prison that I’d been placed in because of my eyes made life seem a little easier to handle at my young age. I kept this memory with me for all this time and twenty years later, I’ve been a proud, successful guide dog owner for four and a half years.

Although my journey is barely beginning with the association, I feel its time I shared my own guide dog story with you all.

The rules have changed along with procedures even since I became involved with the association. And surprisingly, my journey began before I even contemplated a dog. I was taken for a visiting day to the local Guide Dogs centre that was in Bolton when I was around nine or ten. I only really remember the puppies in the kennels, jumping and being playful. My experience then was limited but I think I had already decided that I’d love to have one of those four legged companions walking by my side.

At thirteen, our local mobility service had been stripped of several mobility officers and so a long cane instructor from Guide Dogs taught me long cane work for a few years. We chatted lots about guide Dogs and dogs in general. I’ve always loved animals, their innate ability to be loyal and non-judgemental always touched me.

Friends and family continued to ask me through my younger teenage years if I had ever considered getting a guide dog and when I said yes, they automatically asked: “at 16?” I always knew I didn’t want a dog that young. I’d rather be out with friends and doing things a regular sixteen year old would do. Since then, the rules have changed and there is now no lower limit to apply for a dog. But even with that limit in place, I wanted to have freedom and wanted to go off to university with no responsibilities. Maybe if I’d had a different personality, my choices may have been different.

However, once at university, I started wondering if I had a dog would my mobility be increased? I was in a different town, with limited mobility sessions and the area was difficult to work in with a long cane. So, I called up Guide dogs and asked to have a talk with someone. That someone turned out to be my old mobility officer who worked at Guide Dogs. After a long chat with him, I knew even then I was not ready for the responsibility of a furry friend. I had plans to do an exchange programme to the US and he advised me to wait until I came back.

I heeded that advice and after my exchange a two month trip, I finally decided I was ready for the responsibility of a dog. I knew I more than ready for the mobility adjustment but nothing could have ever prepared me for the real experience.

The assessment process began with an application form which I completed in December of 2004. In the January I had a general assessment shortly followed by a mobility assessment where a trained mobility officer walked with me on a route to check my safety and overall mobility skills. After I’d cleared that section of the assessment a guide Dog mobility Instructor came out to assess how I would work holding onto the dog’s harness. The guide dog Mobility Instructor is the person who trains the dogs in the advanced part of they’re training, where the dogs are placed in harness and taught to guide effectively. A double ended handle was used with the instructor acting as the dog would. It felt strange and even that could never prepare you for the real thing. The instructor also did a further application form with me and went over information about every aspect of owning a guide dog. Feeding routines, spending routines, to things I liked to do, social activities, my level of possible work load with the dog. This is to help the team recognise when a suitable match comes in. There’s little point giving an older person a dog that wants a high work load and someone with a hefty work load having a dog with the desire to only walk to the local shops and back. The matching process is a very good one and many around me have suggested my match was perfect because of my personality.

I was twenty-one when I applied for a dog. After four months of assessment I was placed on the waiting list. January 2006, I received a call from the guide dog mobility instructor [GDMI] who had assessed me for the dog section of the assessments. She told me she may have a possible match and could she bring the dog out to meet me.

The dog and instructor arrived and we went on a route I knew well with me holding the handle of the dog’s harness. This was incredibly scary yet altogether amazing. I relished in the idea that one day soon I may have a dog at my side. This little labrador wasn’t for me though. She was sweet and not really cut out for the lifestyle she’d be living in. I liked her but as I suspect the instructor knew, there was little potential of bonding.

A week or so later, she called again and said she had another dog. In bounced Bailey. He literally jumped through the door, a ball of energy and excitement. I remember my mum saying she didn’t like him because he was so boisterous but I fell in love. He followed me around the house, even upstairs and the walk out with him was incredible. Bailey and I bonded and after a month, my GDMI called with the great news that we would be going onto class.

The Guide Dogs for the blind Association has changed over the past ten or so years in how training is done. They used to have residential training schools but the majority of teams either train in the home or train at the a hotel and the surrounding areas. So off I went to Bolton, as the old centre was still there then and waited patiently in my hotel room after eating lunch and meeting the other potential guide dog owners. And in bounced Bailey again, full of love and affection. I was so happy and couldn’t wait to start our training.

We were taught obedience skills, the voice commands of forward, down, sit, wait, stay, come, steady, and taught to control our new friends. Feeding and grooming and learning how to spend our dogs correctly was covered and a health care session was held to educate us how to take care of our new friends, filling in vet books and how to contact Guide Dogs if our dog had to have treatment outside the realm of normality. In the UK, Guide Dogs is a charity and depends solely on donations from the general public and generous businesses to keep the services and production of more guide partnerships going. Vet bills and food are covered by the association if the person is not in a situation they can pay for those things independently. You can opt to pay for one or both of these financial areas if you are able too and would like to contribute. It’s a great service and means that people are not discriminated against for enhanced mobility if they need and want it.

So, after the two weeks we were permitted to take the dogs home for a further week of training and settling in at home. I was excited and nervous. I loved Bailey already but I was uncertain if I could cope with this new responsibility once at home.

He seemed a little unsure when we got home and his instructor had left. It was just he and I until the Monday when she would return to train. I cried like a baby the next few days. We had trouble with his spending due to a heavy snow fall and unfamiliar surroundings for him. But once we were out and about with the instructor, as the dog and you are housebound until you are qualified, it felt great to get him on the harness and working in my home environment. After three days of training at home, I was pronounced Bailey’s owner, and he my guide Dog. We were fully qualified and I could now work him independently with continued checks from his instructor for around a month and working reports submitted for six consecutive months with a check annually after the six month period.

Suddenly walking down the street felt like a breeze. No more catching lamp poles, bollards, shop displays on the pavement, Bailey guided me down the centre of the path, turned left or right on command and when asked to find doors, he would. Finding the crossings to get across the streets safely was now easy as he walked up to it once asked to find it and put his nose on the pole. A quick feel for his soft wet muzzle told me the pole was there and I directed him to the kerb and we waited to cross. On my forward command he moved straight across the street and I didn’t drift dangerously or feel unsafe or uncertain with him by my side.

There are myths, or not necessarily myths but different ways of doing things in associations around the world. Our guide dogs are asked to find objects, such as doors, crossings, or post boxes, and kerbs. We don’t instruct them to go to a specific store but Bailey at least with my experience usually tries to preempt where you want to go if walking on a certain route. He often gives my secrets away and I sometimes think smells of places have him wanting to enter those establishments, pubs and Starbucks or bakeries are usually the culprits. Others would argue it’s because I frequently visit starbucks that he wants to go their but I maintain its the scent of coffee that he may recognise, as we frequent a few different Starbucks around Manchester. He’s not trained to find an empty seat, just a seat and so you have to use other senses to know if someone’s seated there already. He does not dictate when we cross the street, I’m in charge of knowing when its safe, however, if I’ve not heard something that is coming he is taught to ignore my command. He’s rewarded when he’s found something or got through a difficult section of a route with a piece of his dried food and praised vocally and physically by a pat. He is asked to lay under tables or at the side of me in restaurants or cafes and many other public places. The dog does not have a GPS system in his head and usually goes off my body language for when its time to get off of the bus, collecting things together gives him a strong indication.

Bailey helps me primarily with my day to day navigation in familiar areas. His instructor will come out if we need to adjust or learn new routes. She’ll also check on us once a year to see how he and I are doing as a partnership. The aftercare never stops with Guide Dogs here in the UK. She’s on hand with virtually any problem I may be having with working with him while the health care team are always on hand if we have a health issue.

Bailey’s worked with me for almost five years and I can’t imagine life without him now. Sadly, he will retire one day but that is still in the future hopefully. Once he’s slowed down, wanting to take an easier life Guide Dogs will assist with the process and be on hand to support all the way. I will apply for another dog as I value the mobility a four legged friend can offer but Bailey shall never be far away. Depending on my own personal circumstances will depend if he can stay with me but plenty of people, including my parents who Bailey has lived with for the whole time he’s been with me are more than happy to keep him during his retirement.

I have so much respect for this organisation. Earlier this year I began fundraising for them so that they can keep offering a number one service to guide dog owners present and future. My thanks to them for what they have given me, not only with the enhanced level of mobility, the confidence I have going places independently with him by my side but the incredible companionship I have from him and the world class service and support I receive from the Greater Manchester Team. If I ever had the money to sponsor a dog myself, I would because everyone deserves a Bailey or one of his thousands of brothers and sisters treading the pavements of the UK. Let’s hope the patter of paws continues on our UK streets and the many campaigns the association is involved with continues to blossom and changes for the way the visually impaired community move around with their furry companions is nothing but a success.

Starbucks, Allergies and my Dog?

January 28, 2010

My friend and I went to Starbucks today to catch up and use their wifi. We were about to head upstairs when an employee called to us we couldn’t go up there. When we asked why, she said the dog wasn’t allowed upstairs. I said yes, he is, he’s a guide dog. She then proceeded to inform me that it wasn’t her but a company policy as someone may have an allergy. So I learnt a new thing today, people with allergies clearly sit upstairs in Starbucks.

As you can imagine, I was very unhappy. When we started to argue with her she told us it was OK but by that point, principle had kicked in and so my friend and I started to proceed downstairs. She said that she’d okayed our upstairs visit and I bluntly informed her that we would be taking our custom elsewhere and that she needn’t fear, I would be reporting this incident. When she said, again, it wasn’t her but the company policy I informed her that it was discrimination and my friend works for the Citizens Advice Bureau and my friend added that a strongly worded letter would be winging its way to headquarters.

I’ve always found Starbucks accommodating and cannot understand this sudden change. And the reason, wow, unbelievable. Allergies? OK, so the dog being down stairs where everyone orders drinks is so much better. And what on earth will they target next, people with perfume? Because there are thousands of allergens in the air at any given moment, my guide dog, a service dog, will not be the only thing that could cause an allergic reaction.

Bailey’s Tale

January 7, 2010

Bailey’s Tale!

My name is Bailey. I have two soft ears, four legs, golden fur, a wet nose and a wagging tail, can you guess what I am?

That’s right, I’m a dog!

i’m no ordinary pet dog though. I am a special dog. With a very important job to do.

I where a harness that has a long handle attached to it that a person can hold onto. That person is visually impaired which means their eyes don’t work properly. My owner is completely blind so she cannot see a thing so she depends on me to walk beside her and make sure that she doesn’t walk into objects.

Can you guess what those objects might be?

[dustbins, lamposts, traffic lights, things left on the pavement, holes in the ground, roadworks.]

I listen to my owner and she tells me where to go. I just ensure she gets there safely. She’ll tell me to find left, find right, go straight on, forward to start, wait to stop, stay to wait, and find doors or the crossings or kerbs. I wait at the kerbs for her to tell me to cross when she thinks its safe or the beep sounds. I never know where we’re going so its always a surprise.

I’m five years old and have been a working guide dog for three and a half years. But before I qualified with my owner, I had to be trained to do all of the things I can do now.

When I was born I had eight brothers and sisters. we were checked over to make sure we were healthy and sent to a family to learn how to do all of the doggy things, like go to the bathroom outside, sit on command, lay down, stay and walk nicely on the lead.

I had to wear a jacket to show I was a guide dog puppy and in training to become an adult guide dog. That meant people couldn’t pet me without permission in case I got too excited and silly. I wasn’t allowed to be fed scraps of food or anything that wasn’t my puppy food to maintain a good, healthy weight. No one wants an unhealthy dog to guide them.

My family took me to restaurants and encouraged me to lay under the table and made sure I behaved myself while they ate. they took me on buses and trains and in the car to get me used to the sounds, smells and sights. The outside world is a very scary place so as soon as I began to learn all of the different sights, sounds, smells and environments, the better. I was taken to busy shopping areas, train stations, into lifts and up and down busy staircases. People would come from guide dogs to check I was doing OK and when I got to a year old, I was taken away from my family. The curiosity of learning new things, playing with my family was over and I was taken to kennels to start the next part of my training.

When I was in the kennels, it made me sad. I didn’t like having all of those other dogs and I missed being with a family. The kennels were nice enough with a comfortable bed and blanket, fresh water and clean floor. This training was much harder. The commands of sitting, wait, down, up were now used all of the time and we were trained to explore small areas, go over unfamiliar feeling ground, or walk near flashing lights or loud sounds to get us used to things we would come across once we became grown up guide dogs. Whenever we did something good, our trainers would pat us, tell us we did good and give us a treat which was usually a piece of our dried food.

We were only a year old when this training began and it only lasted between three to four months before we continued onto our last stages of training which was called advanced training.

The harness was put on us and the human trainer held onto the handle which felt very strange at first. They started using other commands to instruct us on where to go. We did all of our training outside on the street and within public buildings as we would be doing once we qualified.

Here are some of the commands my trainer and eventually my owner would use.

find left, which would tell us to find left.
find right, would tell us to find right.
Straight on, which would mean to continue to go straight ahead.
Forward, which would mean to start walking.
Wait, which meant to stop.
Find an object, such as a door or a crossing.
steady, which meant to calm down or slow our speed.

There are more but those are just a few to mention. But remember, don’t use these commands with a guide dog, they are only meant to be used by the owner. If we start listening to other people, we may not listen to our owners as well and this could be dangerous to them. So please don’t use any command on a guide dog either in harness or out of harness.

My trainer was good and firm and when I was a year and a haf she took me to meet a lady who might become my new owner. my trainer let me out of the van and we walked into the house. I was so excited to meet someone new and so my instructor harnessed me up and we went out for a walk together.

Suddenly, I had another person on the end of the handle which was very strange. But we worked well together and a few weeks later I was at the training hotel with her and we worked as a team to become qualified dog and owner.

Once I moved to her house, I got a nice comfortable bed and whenever I didn’t have my harness or lead on, I was able to play, cuddle and be a regular dog. I just wasn’t allowed to eat anything but my dog food and the occasional pigs ear, carrot or apple. My owner gives me those once a week and she takes me for a nice long run where I can sniff and generally be a regular dog. I have lots of toys to play with and chew on a bone to keep my teeth clean. I get brushed every day or so so my fur keeps shiny and its always a nice time to spend with my owner. She takes me to the vets to make sure I’m healthy and always takes care of me when I’m sick. She’ll tickle my tummy along with the rest of the family who always give me nice pats and tickle my ears.

I sometimes am mischievous but my owner will tell me off when I’m bad but she loves me very much. We go into busy shopping malls, walk down busy streets, go on the buses and trains together and my owner can do all of this because she has me to see for her.

All those months where I was learning different environments helped me to take her wherever she wants to go and we always do it safely. i’m not allowed to be stroked in my harness unless my owner tells the other humans they can do so, so always remember to ask. And never feed me because it encourages me to eat food off of the ground and that might make me sit. ever give me commands because I should only listen to my owner. I’m a friendly dog and as long as you ask my owner if you can pet me and she says yes, then I would love the petting and attention.

Thank you for listening to my story and I hope you are always nice to guide dogs, we do nothing but help those who cannot see to get around just like you!

DOGS AND CANES, PROS AND CONS

October 16, 2009

DOGS OR CANES, WHAT ARE THEY PROS AND CONS?

Since losing my vision completely at the age of six, I was introduced to the long cane. It was an intrusive thing that I resented for many years, not truly comprehending the advantages to using one. But then at twenty-two I qualified with my first guide dog Bailey and never really looked back. So what were the pros and cons of the cane and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the four-legged friend?

Pros of a cane

1. It can fold away in your bag if it’s a folding cane.
2. You never have to take it out, feed it, groom it, exercise it, take it to the vet, cuddle it.
3. Doesn’t cost you anything to travel abroad with it or have to make special privileges.
4. It really can go anywhere with you. [I took mine to a concert with me lol]
5. It’s always ready to work and never gets sick.

Cons of a cane

1. It gets stuck in every crack of the pavement.
2. If it has a roller tip, the roller gets clogged with leaves/dirt/crap from the floor and gets jammed.
3. After using it for a while, Repetitive strain injury may occur.
4. People look at you as though you’re an alien with it and as though you must be nuts to carry a white stick around with you.
5. YOu can’t talk to the cane, well, you could if you wanted to spend some time in the psych ward.
6. If its windy/raining hard, you can guarantee that you’ll be all over the place instead of a straight line.
7. You hit every bollard/lam pole/trash can on the pavement.

Pros to a guide dog

1. They are cute and irresistible.
2. They usually have you walking in a straight line.
3. If they are excited, you are guaranteed to walk faster to your destination.
4. They remember, usually which shops you’ve been in and if they like the shop try to take you there again. Works great for shops you like to go in regularly, I.E. Starbucks and the Apple store for me.
5. You’ve always got a friend especially if you’re lost.
6. You avoid the annoying obstacles that the local authorities love to plant in your way.
7. People tend to want to help Guide dog owners, we seem more approachable with the cute cuddlies by our sides.
8. You seem less vulnerable with a dog, this for me, being a woman is very important.

Cons of the cute cuddlies

1. They are cute and irresistible, making the public see them as a magnet for strokes, pets and all over attention seemingly when they are working.
2. They bring with them a lot of responsibility, walks, feeding, grooming, general well being.
3. They cost money, [even though guide dogs pay for their vet bills and food] you just can’t resist buying that one new bone or cute toy that your pup just would really love, and the new beds, collars, bowls, etc.
4. Sometimes they get sick and you need to care for them and can’t use them until they’re better.
5. They are still dogs, and still love to do the doggy things, I.E. sniffing, rolling in dirt, barking at other dogs, etc.
6. Not everyone likes dogs. Can get really problematic in getting into taxis or being permitted to some places If the manager/driver doesn’t like dogs, even if it is discrimination.
7. You can’t leave them alone too long so weekends away, vacations have to be planned with the dog in mind.
8. And last but not least, you get emotionally attached to those cute ears, wet nose and wonderfully waggy tail and sadly at some point that pup has to leave. It must be the most heartbreaking moment for any guide dog owner, a moment I will have to endure but hopefully not for a long time yet.

Conclusion

Despite the pros and cons of both, I can honestly say that the pup wins every time. despite the responsibility and the emotional attachment, my pup is my world and I can’t imagine not having the comfort of my eyes by my side. The cane is awkward and has a very negative connotation in society so Guide Dogs for Life for me.

GUIDE DOG WEEK

October 7, 2009

Every year British guide dogs have an entire week devoted to events to raise money, raise awareness and show appreciation for volunteers, staff, clients and the four legged lovies themselves.

This year is no different. Guide dog week started October Third and ends October 10th. Look out for events in your local area and take a moment to appreciate and maybe contribute to the work guide dog association does for visually impaired people all across the UK.

Happy guide dog week from me and Bailey.

My dog: the only child I need

September 2, 2009

I have joked about this for a long time but it only truly hit me how much I really treat my guide dog as my child today.

I have had Bailey for almost three and a half years now. He turned five in July and he is spoilt. Before I have anyone pointing fingers, I don’t mean I over feed him or let him be bad without discipline, I just mean he has lots of love and lots of toys and so many comfortable places to relax on in the house. He has a strict diet and I have never, and yes, I mean never have given him anything he shouldn’t have unless i’m attempting to coheres him into taking worming pills. He’s walked pretty much every day and I try to free run him once a week.

Here is a list of things Bailey owns.
about three bones
around 10 cuddly toys
a catching ball thing
several tug toys
a rope Frisbee
a cushion bed
a soft fabric basket
and so much more.

So let me tell you why, today it hit me how much I treat my beautiful Bailey like my child. We were walking by the park and Bailey loves this park, and he indicated he wanted to go and I stood there, patting his head, as a mother would pat their child consolingly and said: [yes, these exact words escaped my lips]
“Not today Bailey. we can’t go to the park today, darling. Maybe another day when the men aren’t busy cutting the grass”.

As I lifted his handle again, I found myself thinking as Bailey plodded along again, wow, he really is your child.

The bond between guide dog owners and their dogs is strong and it is meant to be that way and personally, give me a dog over a child any day of the week. I like kids, but having them twenty-four-seven does not appeal to me at this moment in my life. Bailey will go to bed when instructed, leave you alone when you’re busy, as long as you feed him, exercise him, toilet him, brush him, love and cuddle him, not to mention keep him healthy, he is the happiest thing alive.

So, as the title indicates, my dog, the only child I need.