guide dog

A Video of a Working Guide Dog

Do you know how hard it is to video Fiji guiding me across a road? It should be easy, right? But maybe not so much when you have one hand on the guide dog harness and the other hand providing dog treats at each step of the process. Because that leaves no hands to hold the phone to record the whole thing.

So, when a friend asked if she could video Fiji working as part of a lesson for one of the schools she works with, I jumped at the chance. Even better, she asked if Fiji and I could speak to the learners as well, which I’m always happy to do. Okay, I got to speak to the learners. Fiji only had to look cute- which she does very well!

Shani gave me the video – so here it is!

Craig, please add link here.

Guide Dog or White Cane – and the Winner is…

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A few days ago, I had two meetings at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. For various reasons that aren’t relevant to this post, I wasn’t able to take my guide dog Fiji with me. Instead I used my white mobility cane.

I have many blind and visually impaired friends who prefer to use a white cane as their primary mobility aid and they’re superb at it. But me, well… Let’s just say that because I generally use a guide dog, my cane skills aren’t that great.

Both rely on effective O&M skills – orientation and mobility for those who don’t know our jargon. Orientation is the ability to know your location using your other senses, and mobility is the ability to get from one place to another.

Here’s what I mean. I’m not used to walking into obstacles. Fiji usually walks me round things that are in our way. When using a white cane, I feel that life is much like a full body contact sport. I only know obstacles are there when I hit them with my cane tip, bounce off them, or fall over them. Also, I think I missed out when they were handing out senses of balance since I don’t have one. It’s okay when I’m with Fiji because she helps to balance me, especially when walking down stairs, which is probably my least favourite part of getting out and about. This absence of a sense of balance is magnified wen I’m using a white mobility cane – I simply don’t feel steady on my feet. And finally, I seem to battle to find straight. Again, that isn’t a problem with Fiji since I can leave it up to her. But when using a white cane, it’s up to me and I seem to spend my entire journey tacking from one side to the other.

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I know my cane skills would improve significantly if I were to use them more often, especially when travelling on my own. Because traveling independently with a cane leaves me feeling anxious, incompetent and unable. Which I hate.

I recently decided I needed to do something about that.

I’ve already contacted the O&M Instructor from the Cape Town Society for the Blind to set up a lesson so I can brush up on my obviously rusty cane skills. I also want to get a new, longer white cane since I’ve started walking faster since working with Fiji and a longer cane will give me a slightly longer reaction time when I encounter obstacles. I’ve also set myself the goal of becoming braver about using my cane independently so I can practice the skills I need.

Does this mean I’m going to use Fiji less? Absolutely not. Fiji will always be my first choice as a mobility aid. But it will definitely be valuable for me to be more comfortable using a white cane for those times when I can’t have Fiji with me.

To go back to the start of the post and answer the question, I firmly believe the winner will be me…. Because any way I can improve my levels of independence will help me be more effective in what I do.

Panic and Perseverance

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Sometimes the only way to get over our fear is to face it. And that’s what I had to do on Friday…

Here’s the back story: two weeks ago, I fell while walking with my guide dog, Fiji. In truth, I wasn’t badly hurt but it’s taken me time to heal from the various scratches and grazes on my hand, arms and knees. And I haven’t walked with Fiji while healing. The other thing you need to know is that they’ve been digging up sidewalks and roads to install fiberoptic cables in our neighbourhood, a fact that may or may not have contributed to my fall. But that’s not what this post is about.

Fiji’s been remarkably patient while my knees healed enough to climb steps without pain. Thankfully, during my time off most of the fiberoptic installation has been done. So I knew we wouldn’t be dodging teams of workmen when we ventured out for our first cautious foray on Friday.

What I hadn’t expected was how nervous I’d be about walking. Don’t get me wrong – I trust Fiji and her impeccable training. And it’s not like my fall was in any way her fault – I did it all on my own! but I still had to confront the disturbing question that kept nagging at me – what if I fall again?

I decided to take it one step at a time. And everything was fine. Until we stepped up onto one specific sidewalk.

I don’t know if other blind people experience this, but if something’s changed on a route I know well I have a momentary panic that maybe, just maybe I’m not where I think I should be. Which is scary. But then sanity reasserts itself and I know it’s only the spot where I’m standing that’s changed a little.

So, when I stepped onto that sidewalk and found soft, slippery sand instead of the grass surface I was expecting I had one of those moments. Then, as I moved past that panic and continued on my route, I found the drainage gutter I use as a navigational aid was MIA… well, it was covered by that same soft, slippery sand. So that was another of those moments. And by the time I reached the end of that seemingly interminable block I was a nervous wreck. In utter relief I stepped towards the down kerb to cross the road and leave that now-alien landscape… only to discover the entire sidewalk had crumbled.

Of course I made it safely to the end of my walk. And, of course, Fiji and I navigated that piece of sidewalk perfectly fine on our return journey – perhaps not with as much confidence as we usually do, but we made it just fine. And next time we walk it, it’ll be even easier. As will the time after that. Right up to the point that the company doing the fiberoptic installation come back and fix all the sidewalks and then we’ll have to go through the process of panic and perseverance all over again.

That’s just part of life!

Paws for Thought on My 2019 Wishlist

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I was perturbed to read mom’s last article and see no mention of me in her intentions for the year. So I’m going to correct her oversight and hope she pays attention to my Wishlist for 2019.

You’ll notice my needs are a lot simpler than mom’s. it’s okay that she wants to achieve lots of different stuff in 2019 – writing books, challenging herself, and continuing to build her profile and her business in all sorts of areas. But me, all the things I want to do are easily achievable. At least, I think they are.

So, here’s my Wishlist for 2019:

  • Walking with mom – go for 5 walks a week – if I were greedy, I’d ask for double that. So I think I’m being ultra-generous in just asking for 5, don’t you?
  • Working with mom 01 – I know mom enjoys practicing the routes she knows regularly and that’s fine with me, but it gets a little boring sometimes. So, I’d like for us to learn at least 1 new route this year.
  • Working with mom 02 – I think mom did quite well getting out and about with me last year. I want to challenge her to continue doing so, and to take me with her to lots of exciting new places as well as our old familiar haunts.
  • Running with dad – go for 3 runs a week. I know my doggy sister Allie and I can’t always run with dad since sometimes he has to do LSDs (long, slow runs for those non-runners who read this), and we’re too fast for LSD. But it’s important for Allie and me to keep up our mileage and keep our trim waistlines, so 3 runs a week should be okay.
  • Communicating – this year I want to do more Facebook posts and videos, because they’re fun. I’ll need to figure out a better way of stealing mom’s iPhone or laptop to stay in touch with my human and doggy friends on social media, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.
  • Eating – I want to try to Persuade mom to give me 3 meals a day. I know this may be a stretch goal but I think we should all try to reach for bigger goals sometimes. Besides,, mom has 3 meals a day, so why shouldn’t I?
  • Playing – in 2019 I want to play lots with my doggy sisters Emily and Allie. I know this is probably the easiest goal for me to achieve since we already play lots, but I’m including it for completeness’ sake.

There you go – my Wishlist for 2019. I realize I may need to retrain mom a little to achieve some of them. I also know some of them may not be easy but, like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

And I assure you I’m already dreaming about that third meal!

On Independence 03 – It’s a Poor Workman Who Blames His Tools

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Many years ago I met an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his sight. His family were trying to find ways to help him begin picking up some of the things he’d loved doing before. Yet, each time I offered him an idea of some of the tools he might be able to use, his response was
“I won’t be able to use it because I’m blind.”

There’s an old saying that it’s a poor workman who blames their tools. And with the remarkable range of tools that are available to help us access information and navigate the world in which we live, I don’t believe we, as visually impaired people, can in all honesty claim that a lack of usable tools stops us from living independent lives.

Whether I’m using my guide dog Fiji to help me navigate from one place to another, a screen reader to help me access applications on my laptop or iPhone, using image conversion apps to access written information, or using a simple coffee mug to help me measure out rice for a risotto meal, tools are an essential part of my daily life – and they’re pretty much everywhere I look.

But being able to access a tool isn’t enough on its own. Even having the knowledge of how to use the tool isn’t sufficient. Because a tool is only as good as the person who’s using it. And it’s only when we use a tool to help us accomplish a task that it increases our independence.

I know for myself that I’ll only start using a new tool if I can see the value in doing so. If a tool will help me accomplish a task faster, or more efficiently, or if it’ll help me achieve a goal. In other words if it’s adds to my life.

I currently have a few apps on my iPhone that I’ve never used. I downloaded them because they sounded interesting. But I’ve never needed to use them so I haven’t even opened them. Eventually I guess I’ll either find a use for them… or I’ll simply delete them and move on.

Tools can be an important factor in helping a blind or visually impaired person to achieve greater levels of independence, but only if we are empowered with the knowledge of how to use them effectively and if we can see the value they’ll add to our lives. I am truly grateful for all the tools I have at my disposal – with them I can do almost anything I want or need to do.

PS: Fiji asked me to assure you that she‘s far more than just a tool – she’s a companion, a source of hours of enjoyment and entertainment and a great exercise partner for me as well.

The photo shows me and my favourite tool walking down a road.

Paws for Thought – But not When I’m Running!

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I’m really missing mom right now. I miss having her around… and I definitely miss working with her and guiding her to where she needs to go. I’m sure she’s having a wonderful time in Germany – wherever that is – and that she’ll be home soon.

But I miss her and can’t wait for her to come home.

I also really miss dad… and being able to take him on a run every now and then. So that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

There are huge differences in working with mom and running with dad. When I work with mom I watch out for her every step, checking what’s happening in front, beside and above me as well as what’s happening right at my paws. With mom I know to stop at steps and how to tell her if we need to step off the pavement to avoid an obstacle. I also have special techniques for helping mom cross roads, go up and down flights of stairs, find strategic route markers so she knows where we are and go round cars that are parked by the side of the road (we often have to walk on the side of the road where we live). And I know how to find escalators, which might just be my favourite part of my job. And mom rewards my good behavior by giving me small treats – which I definitely deserve.

With dad we mostly just run. Sure, there are places we stop (like at the train crossing and main road) but generally we don’t stop running for other things. It does mean I have to be super-aware of looking to see if any evil squirrels are around, but we’re usually running too fast for me to pay them much attention anyway. With dad I don’t stop for steps or find strategic poles since he doesn’t seem to use his sense of touch to help him discover where we are. And when I’m running with dad I can simply be a dog, rather than a guide dog.

The only problem is that dad doesn’t give me treats…. Which I’m sure I could teach him to do if I really tried hard.

Oh, I wanted to tell you that the photograph shows me proudly wearing the race medal I got for completing the 5 km Day of Races with mom last year, which is the only medal I’ve been given despite all the running I do…and I got it for walking with mom, rather than running with dad.

Which only goes to show that humans really don’t make sense.

Pro’s and Con’s of Travel: My Personal Perspective

Cds 2016 11 26 08 38 08As I sit considering what clothing to pack for my imminent adventure in Germany and Poland I find myself idly constructing a list of the pro’s and con’s of travel from my own particular perspective.

the pro’s are fairly easy. I love experiencing new places and using my remaining senses to build a picture of the place we’re visiting. I know it’s a very different way to see the world. People often say they don’t understand why I travel, let alone how. For me there’s something special about experiencing a place using my senses of hearing, taste, scent and touch. And, of course, discovering the stories that surround the cities and sites we visit so I can use my (rather over-active) imagination to imagine myself into the lives of the people living there.

I also learn more about my own life and skills when I travel. Somehow, leaving my usual routine gives me new insight into what I’m able to do and often gives me a more objective way of seeing my own life.

Travel also teaches me about different cultures. While I’m privileged to live in a wonderfully diverse country, travelling makes it easier to observe diversity since we’re actively trying to experience the reality of a different place and people.

For me, those are a few of the pro’s of travel. So what are the con’s?

Let’s be honest, most of us love our home comforts – knowing where everything is in our kitchen, being able to arrange our clothing the way we like, and especially the comfort of our own bed. We don’t have any of those familiar comforts when we travel. For many that’s a decided disadvantage. And I’m no different – I like my own space and the way I’ve adapted it to serve my needs.

For me there’s also the challenge of leaving my beloved guide dog behind and being dependent on a sighted guide. Okay, I know that sighted guide is my husband and that he really doesn’t mind assisting me and describing what’s around me. But still, its hard to leave behind the glorious sense of independence that working with Fiji gives me. Besides, she’s so attentive and loving (and occasionally demanding) that it’s hard knowing I can’t simply reach down and feel her curled up next to me. I miss that when we travel.

These are the thoughts buzzing round my head as I prepare for my trip. And, while I can’t wait to head off on my latest adventure, there’s a small part of me that’s already looking forward to coming home.

Proposed New Accessibility Emoji

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I love using emoji – sometimes they so exactly capture what you’re trying to convey, where you’d need a whole bunch of words.

So I was intrigued when I listened to a recent episode of the Assistive Technology Update podcast and heard an article about some new emoji that are being considered – including emoji of guide and service dogs, people in wheelchairs, people with white mobility canes, hearing aids and prosthetic limbs.

I was interested to note that it is Apple who have put these new emoji forward for consideration – well done, Apple!

Here’s a link to the article about the new emoji from the Assistive Technology Update podcast show-notes. Why not take a look and tell me what you think.

http://bit.ly/2IQaIoq

Paws for Thought on the Holidays

Cds 2017 02 07 19 56 37Hello everyone and welcome to 2018 – I hope I’ll be able to get back to posting on mom’s blog at the same time each month now the holidays are over.

Talking… umm, barking… about the holidays, have you ever wondered what human holidays are like from the perspective of us dogs? Well, here’s my thoughts on the subject.

Mom told me that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of a special human puppy. I’m not sure I understand –isn’t the birth of all puppies a cause for celebration, especially if they’re going to grow up to be guide dogs. I’m just not sure why one specific puppy should cause the world to celebrate… but maybe I’m missing something.

I know lots of humans also put up trees and decorate them with pretty, chewable toys and lights. We haven’t had a tree in the two years I’ve lived here but maybe that’s a good thing – my doggy sister Emily believes Christmas trees are evil and should be destroyed, or at the very least barked at!

I do enjoy the concept of a big, scrumptious Christmas dinner – except that somehow we dogs never seem to be allowed to partake, no matter how loudly we ask. And I also love the gifts… especially the pieces of wonderfully chewable Christmas paper that land up strewn on the carpet for us dogs.

There are certain things I particularly love about the holidays. Dad is home from work so I get to go on more morning runs with him. I guess the downside of that is that I walk my routes with mom less often, but then again, we get to go to all sorts of exciting new places and see loads of human and doggy friends so that’s okay.

All in all, I really enjoyed the holidays and am looking forward to an exciting and busy 2018 – hope to see you all out and about soon!

Now I’m off to check with mom if we can go back to me sharing articles with you on the first Tuesday of each month – mom’s become a little slack about that in the last little while!

Snow and Wind, Sight and Sound

I love living in Cape Town. But I have to admit this isn’t my favourite time of year – yes, the summer weather is warm and everything… but it’s also the time that we are plagued with heavy winds. For many people, the heavy wind is something of an inconvenience. But for those of us without sight, it’s a significantly bigger problem!

As a blind person I rely heavily on my sense of hearing, especially when crossing roads – I need to listen to what the traffic is doing so Fiji and I can cross safely. Heavy wind distorts or masks the sound of cars and that makes it significantly harder for Fiji and me to navigate our immediate environment. Do you know what it’s like having a car appear as if by magic right behind you?

I’ve been trying to find a sighted equivalent and came up with the concept that it’s probably a little like a sighted person trying to find their way through a heavy snowfall, or perhaps a dense fog. The point is that to all intents and purposes you’re deprived of a sense that you generally use to find your way round. That’s what walking in heavy wind is like for me.

Not much fun, is it?

I admit that I was very pleasantly surprised on one occasion when we were waiting to cross Main road in heavy wind. A traffic policewoman approached and offered to stop traffic so we could cross. Of course, that happened to be the day I had someone walking with me so I didn’t really need her help. But it just goes to show that the saying that there’s never a policeman around when you need one isn’t always true!

So, the next time the wind starts howling, try to visualise yourself peering desperately through a snowfall or impenetrable fog… and spare a thought for Fiji and me standing on the side of a road straining to hear the growl of car engines between the gusts of wind.

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