Yesterday evening, while out for a meal with my friend Brian, I was reminded of the former programme on BBC radio 4 entitled “Does he take sugar?” The programme derived it’s title from the question posed to the non-disabled companion of a disabled person, as to whether the person with a disability wanted sugar in his tea. The obvious point being that the question should have been directed to the disabled person (not to their companion), as by addressing the non-disabled individual the man/woman posing the question was patronising the disabled person.
To return to my meal yesterday evening. As a blind guide dog owner I have been eating in this restaurant for approximately 18 years. The food is (almost invariably good) and the service (usually excellent). Yesterday evening our waiter was attentive and the food arrived promptly and tasted as a good Indian curry should taste. However the waiter proceeded to address Brian (who is fully sighted/non-disabled) and asked “Is the dahl his”, “is the chicken his”.
The above was most odd as I have (as I said above) been eating in this restaurant for some 18 years or so. I sometimes pop into the place alone and enjoy a quiet meal and on these occasions the waiter in question has interacted with me in a civil and friendly way. It is, therefore most bizarre that yesterday evening he chose to basically ignore me and interact with my non-disabled friend.
To ignore a disabled person and interact with their companion is deeply disrespectful. It is, in effect treating the person with a disability as a non-person (as though they where incapable of thinking and acting independently). In the vast majority of cases those with disabilities are more than capable of answering for themselves and treating them as non-persons is deeply demeaning. There are, of course exceptions to this. For example a minority of people with very severe learning disabilities are not capable of making decisions for themselves and do need others to act and speak on their behalf. However many other people with learning difficulties do live independently and are capable of speaking for themselves and the assumption should always be that an individual is able to represent him/herself unless their exists strong evidence to the contrary.
Some people fear what they have not encountered and this may help to explain why they disregard the person who is disabled and choose instead to interact with their non-disabled companion. More education is needed to drive home the point that those who are disabled are persons in their own right and are possessed of thoughts, hopes and desires in the same way as are their non-disabled peers. I will, I feel sure encounter other incidents of this nature. It is deeply depressing and all I can do is keep my temper and politely request that the person doing the patronising please address me and not my non-disabled friend.
As I neared my home yesterday evening, a man called out from the other side of the road, “Do you have a light, please?”
“No, sorry”, I replied and continued on my way home.
As I walked on, I heard the voice of a young woman, “no, don’t, it’s a blind dog!”
Being registerd blind, I wondered what the point would be of me having a “blind dog”. One hears of the blind leading the blind. However, I, having no desire to become intimately connected with a telegraph pole or other such obstacle will stick with my trusty guide dog, Trigger!
The above occurance is far from being an isolated one. Indeed I have lost count of the number of occasions on which people have refered to my guide dogs (I am now working with my fourth) as “blind dogs”. My heart goes out to all those visually challenged dogs manfully leading their owners to who knows where. A medal should be struck in their honour and, of course the blind who entrust themselves to these fine animals should also be honoured for their … bravery!
To be serious for a moment, the evening was dark and the panic in the young woman’s voice made me conjecture (perhaps in error) that her companion might have been up to no good and, seeing that I was accompanied by a guide dog the lady’s conscience kicked in. As I say, I could be barking up entirely the wrong tree here. I was, nonetheless extremely glad to reach home yesterday evening.
As a guide dog owner for some 30 years, I was interested to come across this article, “Service Animals: A ‘Chosen’ Career Path or a Life of Servitude?”, by Joy Thomas, a teacher and guide dog owner, https://www.crixeo.com/service-animals/.
In her article, Thomas examines the views of those who maintain that the use of service animals (such as guide dogs) is cruel, and contrasts them with others (including scientists and those who train service animals).
The latter group are of the opinion that most service animals enjoy their work and that the bond between a working animal and it’s handler/owner is sometimes stronger than the connection people have with their pet dog.
I have on occasions been asked whether my guide dog, Trigger gets bored. My answer is that he is with me 24 hours a day (not always in the same room but within easy call). Dogs are pack animals and crave companionship.
Being with me is, for Trigger an essential component of his security. Unlike many pet dogs he is not left alone for protracted periods during the day but accompanies me to the office, the supermarket and my favourite watering holes!
He is constantly stimulated, which enhances his wellbeing.
It is (usually) dogs that languish at home, for long periods (not working/service animals) that suffer from bordom/lonleness.
One of the advantages of being blind, is that it enables me to live in a world composed of many and varied surprises. To take one example, when opening a can I am never quite sure whether it’s contents will delight my taste buds with Baxters vegetable soup (please note that other brands are available)! Or custard …! It is, I often think fortunate that my guide dog, Trigger eats a complete dried food, otherwise who knows what I might be enjoying the next time that can opener goes to work …
Today I popped into my local supermarket and purchased (amongst other items) 2 boxes of microwavable porridge and 1 box of Earl Grey tea bags (again other varieties of tea are, of course available)! On reaching home I found that I had 3 cardboard boxes and was faced with trying to ascertain what each contained. By placing the boxes together I discovered 2 where of the exact same size while the third was of different dimmentions. Given that I had bought 2 packs of porridge I therefore correctly concluded that the odd one out in my interesting collection of boxes must, of necessity be the tea. Had I purchased a greater variety of packages I would, almost certainly have required sighted assistance to determine what each contained.
Things are easier for visually impaired people than was previously the case. For example all medication now comes with braille labelling, which as a user of this medium is extremely helpful to me. Again most bleach now comes with a braille label clearly identifying it as such, although many other poisonous products, for example toilet cleaner do not.
There are solutions to enable visually impaired people to label products, for example a hand held device allows those with sight difficulties to record a short note on a plastic card identifying products which can then be affixed via an elastic band or string. However this solution relies on sighted assistance to identify the item in the first instance thereby enabling the VI individual to label it.
A hand held scanner has been developed allowing blind people to identify products and I am considering purchasing one. In the meantime I remain thankful that my guide dog eats dry rather than tinned food …!
Being blind and a guide dog owner, the following post struck a chord with me (http://viscourse.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/public-property.html). In it, Deborah, a visually impaired guide dog owner, describes how a lady interrupted her conversation with a friend in order to ask whether she could pet Deborah’s guide dog. When Deborah said “no” the interrupter left in a huff, which to me is remarkable given that she had rudely interposed in a conversation in order to gratify her desire to pet Deborah’s (working) guide dog.
I, like Deborah find that unthinking people regard visually impaired individuals as public property. The worst instance I can recall of this occurred some time ago. I was crossing a busy road when a gentleman began stroking my guide dog, Trigger in the midst of stationary vehicles! On other occasions people have asked me deeply personal questions regarding my relationship status. Such enquiries would not have been addressed to a non-disabled person, yet those posing them think it is acceptable to ask whether I have dated disabled or non-disabled women.
I recognise the importance of educating people and am usually happy to answer questions provided they are sensitively phrased and put in a respectful manner. I am also delighted for people to say hello to Trigger but only when they ask politely and by so doing they don’t put my safety and that of Trigger in danger.
Noone, whether disabled or non-disabled should be considered as public property.
Sometimes I find
Myself wondering, as heels pass
“Who is that lass?
Is she young or old?
And what colour are her eyes?”
On occasions perfume, as of a flower
My senses, and I construct castles in the air
Wherein I while away many an hour
Thinking on the tender flower
Where other bees than me
How the senses can deceive.
The girl I perceive
As being in the flush of youth
Is, in truth
(I blush) To admit it, sometimes a lady of mature years
Who has, perchance shed many tears
Over lovers past
And, by heavens no young lass!
And lustful, as any sighted male
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (the UK charity which trains assistance dogs for visually impaired people) is campaigning to raise the issue of the danger posed by electric cars to those with sight loss.
Electric vehicles make little noise which make them particularly dangerous to people who are visually impaired and rely on their hearing to get around safely.
The sea in my ear.
It’s waves ever near
Go swish swish.
They would withdraw.
But what if the roar
Leaving a deafly peace?
To be blind and without sound
Is to some a horror profound.
Yet many who in silence dwell
Do not consider it hell.
Society puts it’s fear
On those who can not hear
In the blind
An object of pity
For it is easy to patronise
Those with no eyes.
“I could not cope
And would abandon hope”
While the disabled shrug
And get on with their day.
My thanks to my friend John for drawing my attention to this interesting interview with visually impaired writer and Guardian columnist Susie Steiner, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0766g1s). The interview, which starts approximately 10 minutes into the programme, covers matters such as the impact of blindness on Susie’s writing.
A review of “Mobility Matters: Stepping Out In Faith ” (http://doublevisionblog.com/2016/02/24/book-review-mobility-matters-stepping-out-in-faith/).
As a visually impaired guide dog owner, I was interested to read this review of a book regarding one lady’s experience of mobility training, using a long white cane. Prior to getting my first guide dog, Drew I used a long white cane and have happy memories of it getting stuck in cracks between the pavement or bent into the shape of a banana following a close encounter with a lamp post or tree (oh happy days)!
Yesterday I fell into conversation with a colleague who asked how visually impaired people, who are not guide dog users cope as regards mobility. I was surprised by the question as the majority of those who are partially sighted or blind do not, in fact use guide dogs but utilise (as in the case of the above) a long white cane. In my view its vital that guide dog owners should possess the capacity to use a cane as the dog may become ill or, on rare occasions it may not be possible (or advisable) to use their four legged friend. For example several months ago my present guide dog, Trigger had several benign lumps removed which meant he was not able to work for 10 days. During this period I worked from home and utilised my white cane when out and about.