This year at Optrafair 2013 there was a charity area for everything to do with eye sight. There was one charity in particular which really caught my eye and something I have always been fascinated with- guide dogs. Apart from the cute dogs which really drew me in I have always been fascinated by how an animal can help a blind person and I was about to find out this cute dog called Delphie is no ordinary dog.
At the guide dog stand there is a live demonstration every few hours so I went along to one of them. Did you realise when a blind person only has their stick to guide them they can only detect things that may be an obstacles that are attached to the floor such as a lamp post, wall or people. Minor obstacles (such as an uneven pavement) can be a great danger to them because they can trip and fall- a stick simply cannot detect it.
In our everyday lives I have learnt there are so many obstacles but we just don’t realise it because we are lucky enough to have our vision. Here are some examples- if we see a puddle we know to avoid it, if we see uneven pavement we will walk over or around it, if we need to take a step up to get on the pavement our eyes will tell us. They are just a few common things which happen to us everyday. It may seem so minor to us but for a blind person it can be very dangerous. If they trip and fall they will have no idea what to hold onto to help themselves.
I wanted to step into a blind person’s shoes for half hour just to really understand what they go through everyday and a film has been made by SpecsNetwork TV (stay tuned for that). I was blindfolded and as soon as I was blindfolded I felt pretty vulnerable and really alone. Obviously I couldn’t see what was going on in my surroundings and my hearing became really prominent- I was picking up every single noise and sound.
First of all Andy from Guide Dogs took me around on his arm just to talk me through some of the sensations I may experience like my hearing will become more prominent and how Delphie (the most amazing guide dog) will help me to guide me through the NEC without bashing or walking into anything. You do have to put all your trust into this dog.
As soon as this lightweight reflective harness is on Delphie knew he had a job to do which was to protect me and get me from A to B safe and sound. He was the most disciplined dog ever! As I started to walk around the NEC with Delphie I can feel I was walking at a snails pace. Normally I charge around everywhere but I wasn’t, I didn’t feel safe. All I could hear was people walking past me and me feeling scared that I would walk into them or they couldn’t see me and they would walk into me but Delphie guided me through everything.
If Delphie felts something in front may be a potential danger to me he stopped, I felt this on the harness and stopped too. Delphie then angled his body in front of my legs to guard me! He then sussed out the situation before walking again. The most interesting part was finding a seat for me and I never knew sitting down was such a dramatic experience. Well it was when I could not see anything, it was daunting.
Delphie told me the seat was there by pointing his head towards it. Then it was down to me to use my hands to feel if the seat is empty or if there was someone there or next to me. I couldn’t just turn and sit like normal. I also had to feel if there was a back for me to lean on so I didn’t fall backwards. It was all the little details in life which we take for granted and not think about because our eyes can tell us.
I was not at ease sitting down, I pretty much just sat still but Delphie leaned against my legs to tell me he was there to protect me and made me feel just that little be safer guarding me from my surroundings. It was such a relief when I took my mask off but for a blind person that is not possible!
I really enjoyed my chat with Andy when we were sitting down. It was so fascinating to find out about the charity and all the work they do. Andy is so passionate about the charity and it really warmed my heart. Here are some facts which I bet you never knew and I think everyone should!
• Guide dogs are currently helping around 5000 blind people around the UK
• Each dog like Delphie will cost around £45,000 to train. This includes a really sophisticated breeding program to ensure they are the best for the job!
• The Guide Dogs charity are not government or lottery funded
• It can take anywhere from 9months to a year and half to train a dog like Delphie
So you do the maths- it is not cheap so every penny we donate really does count. I wasn’t surprised it takes so long to train them because lets face it these are no ordinary dogs, they’ve got a job to do.
For me it was such an eye opener and putting myself into a blind person’s shoes really was a very scary experience (not like going on a roller coaster ride scary) but I was genuinely scared, I felt vulnerable and alone. Without Delphie there I would have felt lost and I just wouldn’t have known what to do. One of the most amazing things about Delphie was he has a favourite toy (A squeaky duck) as soon as that harness came off he was just like an ordinary dog playing with his toy. When the harness went on he did not get distracted by the toy, even when it was thrown in front of where he was walking! He simply walked around it and treated it as an obstacle incase I tripped over it- as if ANY normal dog would do that!
These dogs really are doing an amazing job and without passionate people like Andy who takes the time to train them, a blind persons life may be very different and they would be unable to do many things for themselves. These are things that we take for granted such as going to the shops, enjoying a walk around the park and the most simple of things like sitting down. We don’t think about it because we are lucky enough to have our vision.
In the photo above on the right is Jonathan from bellyflop TV who filmed the whole thing for SpecsNetwork TV. The video will be coming to the YouTube channel soon. Readers- I know this article is not my normal rant on glasses and fashion but being there and going through that, just think, if we don’t have our sight we can’t appreciate things like cool eyewear and fashion- so just think about that and next time you see a guide dog. You know it costs the charity around £45,000 to train each dog and we can help by donating so more blind people can benefit from this great charity.