There are, as I’m sure you have figured out by now, many factors to consider when starting university. I’ve touched on technology and adaptations and how to advocate for oneself, but vision loss affects many aspects of life. As I took a realistic look at how university would work, I realized how slowly I currently travel. My university has over thirty thousand students, and many steps, curbs, and a variety of hard to see obstacles. I would be needing to run between classes every day, sometimes within a very small time window, and I also had to consider my daily commute to school. To a fully sighted person, these challenges would simply be another part of their busy day, but to a sight impaired person like myself, they presented a problem.
I began considering how I could effectively travel to and around my large university campus safely. Cane travel just didn’t seem right for me. I had run into and tripped over too many things because I was such a fast walker. And let’s face it, traveling with a skinny white stick as your only safety net does not always insure a sense of confidence. Therefore, I made the decision to apply for a guide dog.
Now, only a very small amount of people who are legally blind use guide dogs, and there are many reasons for this. Some people don’t mind traveling with the cane, some don’t want to take on the responsibility of caring for a dog, some like to get by with their small amount of remaining vision, and still others don’t like dogs all together. To work with a guide dog is entrusting your safety to an animal, and it takes time to develop a healthy bond with a dog. Also, even though the law gives people with disabilities the right to bring a trained service dog with them into public places, not everyone knows or understands the law and handlers often run into frustrating access disputes. This issue has been amplified as fake service animals have made businesses wary. Caring for a dog also takes time, patience, and lots of money. Long story short, the process of working with a guide is not easy.
However, there are many positives concerning guide dogs. A dog brings not only an increased sense of safety, but also helps you to go about your day more quickly. They are able to detect overhead obstacles that a cane cannot, and they also disobey their handler’s command if the command is unsafe to follow. This is called intelligent disobedience, and it is what causes a dog to push its handler back if they are in the path of an oncoming car. Dogs are also able to find things for their handlers like empty seats, water fountains, bathrooms, specific people, and doors. Finally, it is worth mentioning that having a working dog often brings a certain amount of respect. Many people view guide dogs as endearing and interesting, which in turn often makes you much more approachable to them. Personally, I have found that people are more comfortable talking to me when I have Cindi by my side.
It is easy to see, especially to someone living in a busy city, how a guide dog could be beneficial. There are many charities that train guide dogs, and almost all of them give their dogs to blind people at no cost. I got my guide dog, a silver standard poodle named Cindi, from an organization called Guide Dogs of the Desert. A lot of research goes into picking a guide dog school. They have different breeds of dogs, different training methods, philosophies, and policies related to both finishing your training and taking your dog home. Also, there is a strict process potential applicants must follow to receive a guide dog. One must fill out doctor’s forms, vision charts, character references, interviews, show good O&M skills, and sign many documents while applying. The process isn’t easy as the schools want to make sure that their dogs are going to people who need them and will use them responsibly.
The application process also helps the schools understand a person's lifestyle and personality which in turn helps them find a dog that will be a good match for the applicant. As you can see, a lot of time and effort goes into the process of obtaining a guide dog. The decision isn’t something a person can make lightly, but for many it is worth it.